Mural ties Concord family to its Mooresville roots

Marsha Keener has loved Sun Drop since she was a little girl. "To me, there's no other cola," she said.

Keener, 54, figured a mural of a vintage ad for the carbonated soft drink would go well on the side of the historic building her family owns at 102 N. Broad St.

She and her sister, Sheila Goodson, also own Tullulah's home, gifts and antiques store inside the building, which was built in the early 1900s and once housed a general store and coal and ice houses, she said.

But when Keener took the idea to executives at Sun Drop Bottling Co. of Concord, she never imagined its president and CEO would have his own, deep Mooresville roots.

John King and his wife, Connie, ended up commissioning the recently completed mural from Davidson artist Joel Morris for $15,000.

"It's personal for us, not just business," John King told me Nov. 19, when I visited him, his wife, Keener and Morris at the mural.

King's mother, Margaret Towell King, was a Mooresville native who revived the fortunes of the Concord bottler and ran it for decades before her son, now 50, took it over in the early 1990s.

A longtime Cabarrus County civic and business leader, Margaret Towell King died at age 79 in 2002.

Three of her eight siblings are still living, including her brother Wade and her sister Phyllis in Mooresville. John King recalled many happy visits to Mooresville as a boy, with swims at the quarry at Carrigan Farms off N.C. 150 East.

John and Connie thought the mural would be a fitting tribute to his mother, the only woman member when she joined the N.C. Bottlers Association decades ago and the first woman elected president of the Concord-Cabarrus Chamber of Commerce (now the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce).

When she obtained a loan to buy new bottling equipment in the mid-1960s, it greatly reduced production costs and improved efficiency, author Edward Rankin Jr. wrote in his 2004 book about the company, "A Century of Sodas." She also implemented tight fiscal controls, Rankin wrote.

The mural depicts a Sun Drop ad from the mid- to late 1950s that Keener said she, the Kings and Morris all chose independently of one another.

The ad shows a woman wearing a bikini and sitting in a "Gold-en Girl Cola" coffee cup. A bottle of "Sun-drop Golden Cola" is also pictured.

Added to the mural are the words, "A Mooresville Hometown Tradition for over 50 Years," and "In Loving Memory of Margaret Towell King."

The mural's background is a golden yellow. "It's called 'A drop of sun yellow,'" Keener said with a smile.

The mural on the two-story building is about 16 feet tall and 28 feet wide, about the size of Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper," said Morris, who has painted two other vintage murals in downtown Mooresville.

Morris spent about two months on the mural. He often worked five or six hours a day, avoiding the hottest hours. A mechanical lift raised him high off the ground to paint.

The Kings had scheduled a private family reunion at the mural Saturday.

Friday night at their store, Keener and Goodson will host a celebration of the Sun Drop mural in conjunction with the monthly downtown Art Walk. They'll give away Sun Drop cupcakes and wristbands, and John King plans to have the Sun Drop Monster Truck on hand.

Keener said she loves that the mural is a nostalgic advertisement not only for the historic building but for the town of Mooresville as well.