Mystery thief returns portrait of founder after several months

For a short while, Beatrice McDonald disappeared.

Someone must really appreciate McDonald’s likeness. It might be her decidedly 60’s-style haircut. Or her groovy, black-framed, wing-tipped glasses. Or perhaps her prominent secretarial work in the 70’s and 80’s, and her rich history with UAA.

Whatever the reason, someone lifted McDonald’s portrait off the wall of the Beatrice McDonald Hall and made away with it in mid-November. The 25×29 inch color picture, complete with a golden frame and small plaque, hung representative of a woman who had been with the university since its fledging adult night school days.

The portrait heist is certainly one of a kind. Its disappearance left building management and campus police scrambling to locate its whereabouts, searching through the nooks and crannies of the BMH. Eventually a call for the portrait’s return was posted on the Green & Gold website, with a no-questions-asked disclaimer.

And just a few days ago, someone kindly felt inclined to return it.

“This is really something new,” said Chris Mizelle, the maintenance and operations director of Facilities & Campus Services. “I’ve worked at UAA for 30 something years now and this is definitely a first.”

Beatrice McDonald, a previous associate professor of office administration, was among the original faculty members of the community college when it first opened out of West High School in 1954 as the Anchorage Community College. The woman strove to expand the college’s associate arts program in office administration, and advocated heavily on the behalf of secretaries statewide. Her efforts made her an honorary member of the Alaska Native Secretaries Association and one of the university’s great founding advocates.

- Advertisement -

Before winter break rolled around, maintenance crews had gone through many of the campus buildings performing touch-ups and refurbishments to the paintings and portraits on the walls. This process requires the art to be taken down, and oftentimes held for brief stints in storage after cleaning. When the portrait was first reported missing from the BMH, many presumed it had simply been misplaced.

“There was some initial confusion whether the portrait had even been stolen at all, or whether it was just lying in storage somewhere,” said UPD Deputy Chief Brad Munn.

But according to Mizelle, McDonald’s lovely face had been cleaned and returned back to its rightful hanging place before it went missing in mid-November.

Someone in the building called in to report its absence, said Mizelle. With upcoming construction in the BMH slated for mid-summer, the portrait’s vacancy had been overlooked in the general hubbub surrounding preparations.

“It’s one of those things you don’t notice is missing—until you notice,” Mizelle said.

The entire BMH, including its storage spaces, back rooms and broom closets, was thoroughly combed over. After a meticulous search, the portrait remained absent. Building managers suspected foul play, and on Dec. 22, reported the portrait missing.

According to Mizelle, a local artist had created the portrait and it holds no set monetary value. Obviously, however, it holds importance to McDonald’s family members and descendants, several of whom called the UPD expressing concern over the portrait’s disappearance. (None were available for comment on this article.)

And then, quite without fanfare and less than two months after it had been taken, the portrait was returned to the UPD. Building managers restored McDonald’s portrait to its rightful place on Jan. 18.

“There were no outward signs of damage or anything to it,” said Mizelle. “It looked just fine.”

Added security has yet to be discussed now that the portrait has been returned, but Mizelle said some changes will be made.

“Obviously we’re going to make it so you can’t just walk up and pull it off the wall anymore,” he said.

The portrait snatching has started up quite a few comments among UAA students, as many walk past McDonald on a weekly basis as they head to class.

“Well it came back, so I guess it’s no harm no foul,” said Alicia Thomas, a junior physical education major.

Others have a more gleeful take on the portrait’s Pink Panther-esque disappearance.

“I think it’s hilarious,” said Ryan Moyer, a senior philosophy major. “I think it’d be wonderful if this became an annual tradition—the repeated taking and returning of Beatrice McDonald.”

According to Deputy Chief Munn, the portrait’s returnee was female.