EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Paul Baker wants to change Schenck High School’s name to honor a town family whose $1.8 million donation to the school will buy a new roof and extend the life of the building, he said Monday.
The 86-year-old retired millworker and East Millinocket resident wrote sealed letters to the school committee urging members to change the school’s name in honor of the MacKenzie family’s recent donation paying for a new roof, he said Monday.
Just as Garret Schenck Jr.’s sizeable donation prompted the school’s present moniker, so should Gloria MacKenzie’s family be honored for donating $1.8 million of her $370.9 million Powerball winnings to the school, Baker said.
He also believes the name change would benefit the community because the current name is often mispronounced as an offensive slang term.
“Another serious reason for changing the name, as we are finding out now, that due to changes in more modern slang, the honorable name of Schenck is pronounced like and used as an obscenity,” Baker wrote in his letter, dated Jan. 3. “This is causing some of our graduates when asked the name of the high school from which they graduated, [to] tell those asking that they graduated from East Millinocket High School rather than from Schenck High School so as to not to be ridiculed.”
The committee will review Baker’s suggestion when it meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, said Superintendent Quenten Clark, who doesn’t favor Baker’s idea and questions its timing.
“It is not the biggest problem I have right now,” said Clark in reference to the production stoppage at the Great Northern Paper Co. LLC mill on Main Street and state government beginning the annual process of determining how much state aid the schools of Medway and East Millinocket should get.
Baker said he presented his idea to the school board because town leaders haven’t done much yet to honor the MacKenzies for their generosity. He also felt that given their present gift and their stated intention to perhaps do more for the high school, naming the school after the MacKenzies was the least residents could do.
Rumored since MacKenzie came forward with the winning $590.5 million Powerball ticket on June 5, collecting a lump sum of $370.9 million that totaled $278 million after taxes, she sent word of her intent through family members who visited Clark’s office on July 23, 2013. Residents voted in September to accept the gift and the town received a $1 million first payment in November. Planning for the roof replacement is under way and the work is expected to begin later this year, Clark has said.
Baker’s initiative intends no disrespect to the Schenck family, he said. He believes that the obligation to keep the school named after Garret Schenck ended when the school moved to North Street decades ago. The building Schenck helped build in 1926-27 is now the Katahdin Christian Academy, a K-5 private school. Town leaders sold the former Opal Myrick Elementary School to the Rev. Herschel Hafford of Millinocket for $1 in July.
“They just kept the name for continuity and for tradition,” said Baker, describing himself as a proud 1945 graduate of Schenck.
Schenck High is one of two schools in Maine carrying the name. Garret Schenck Elementary School of Anson is named after the family patriarch who, as vice president of the International Paper mill at Rumford Falls, helped establish the first Katahdin-region paper mills in East Millinocket and Millinocket that founded both towns in the early 20th century.
Baker’s proposal has created some stir on the Internet. At least one Facebook page dedicated to East Millinocket has taken up discussion of it, with graduates from around the country discussing the idea. Those who leave postings on the pages seem against the idea.
Baker said he isn’t around town much, but that many residents he speaks to seem to favor his idea.
“It isn’t about me. It is about the generosity of the MacKenzie family,” Baker said.
Clark acknowledged that many students, especially girls, have expressed annoyance at how some people pronounce the Schenck name — “skank.”
“I can tell you that there is some concern on the part of female students. Mostly it is when they go away to college. They burn all the things they have that say ‘Schenck,’” he joked. “It has been just kind of the buzz that you hear about leaving the area and going to college.”
Baker said he was uncomfortable discussing the pejorative meaning usually associated with “skank,” in public and especially in his letter.
The idea of a name change to avoid an unfortunate pronunciation has been expressed before, but Baker’s was the first to assume formal — or at least letter — form, Clark said.
“One of the problems is, what do you change it to? I don’t think anybody’s got a great vision for what you change it to. It might wind up being a student-suggested name or something like that,” Clark said.
Clark said that the confusion over the school’s name can be resolved by returning to the school’s roots and renaming it Garret Schenck Jr. High School.
“That way people will know it’s named after a person and not … something else,” Clark said.
Baker feels that people will still refer to it as Schenck High School even with the first name reattached.
“I am pretty sure of one thing,” Clark said. “They aren’t going to name it ‘Clark High School.’”