Almost a decade after his death, Milton McPike’s legacy still looms large in Madison. Now, the Madison Parks Foundation wants to rename Central Park in his honor.
McPike was Madison East High School’s principal from 1979 until his retirement in 2002. Under his leadership, East High was nationally recognized by the Department of Education for its academic excellence in 1989. Reader's Digest honored McPike in 1990 as a hero of American education. He was named Wisconsin’s Principal of the Year in 1997.
The Madison Parks Commission is expected to vote on the renaming at its next meeting on Dec. 13.
After McPike’s passing, graduates of East High School attempted to persuade the Madison School Board to rename East after him. Although the campaign was unsuccessful, alumni established a college scholarship fund for East students in McPike’s honor and the school’s field house was named for him in 2005.
Bob Hemauer, a member of the board of directors of the Madison Parks Foundation, said the city is long overdue to formally honor a man who “inspired generations of Madison students.”
“We thought of Milt McPike given his contributions at East High, and even at West as a grade-level principal," he said. "We think it is a great thing for Madison and the parks system."
As the 10-year anniversary of his death approaches, Hemauer said, "We think it would be a great way to honor that occasion by having this community-wide park, that all of Madison comes to, be renamed for him.”
The Parks Foundation began its campaign to rename the park earlier this fall. Board members said several east side neighborhood associations and the Madison East High School administration support renaming Central Park after McPike.
Currently, the group is collecting petition signatures from residents to present to the Parks Commission at the December meeting.
Stephanie Franklin, executive director of the Madison Parks Foundation, said this campaign is the first time the foundation has worked to rename a park.
“His name is synonymous with that whole area. Anyone who has been here for any length of time knows him,” Franklin said. “We are really excited about the project. This is a really good way to honor someone who did some great things in this community. You don’t get to do that every day.”
Central Park was dedicated in 2007. The park, located along Wilson Street between Brearly and Baldwin streets on Madison’s east side, was a mix of vacant land and facilities for local manufacturers. Today, the park is home to a skate park and hosts several community events like La Fête de Marquette and Central Park Sessions.
Bill Barker, former president of the Madison Parks Commission, said there was no emotional attachment to the name Central Park. It was a description of the park’s location.
Barker thinks renaming the park in McPike’s honor is necessary to recognize the contributions of people of color to Madison.
“Mr. McPike made a significant contribution to the community. It sends a good message that we are an inclusive community that values the input of everybody,” Barker said. “Why don’t we have a park named for some Ho-Chunk folks or more parks named for women? It is time we did. That is a fine thing and can’t do anything in this city but increase the respect for the parks system.”
Ann Shea, the public information officer for the Madison Parks Commission, could only confirm one park in the city named after a person of color, Orlando Bell Park on South Thompson Drive.
Bell served as Madison's chapter president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and director of the South Madison Neighborhood Center. The park was renamed for Bell in 1997.
Maureen Lokrantz, chair of the Madison Parks Foundation, said many parks are named after people who donated “time, money and land” to the parks system. In addition to those criteria, park policy allows parks to be named in memory of people who “devoted outstanding amounts of time, talent and effort” to advance the Madison community.
Lokrantz said honoring McPike is a “natural fit.”
McPike’s widow, Sharon McPike, said she welcomes the renaming of the park as a way for the community to remember her husband’s contribution to Madison.
“He drove by there every day on his way to East,” she said. “Naming the park after Milt would be a great honor.”