EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Mackenzies don’t want Schenck High School named after their family.
The idea to change the school’s name was put forward by resident Paul Baker, a retired millworker, in a Jan. 3 letter to the school committee. But in a brief statement to the Bangor Daily News by a Facebook instant message, one of the sons of Powerball winner Gloria Mackenzie rejected the notion.
“I don’t know how many times I have to say it, but we don’t want the name changed. Period,” Scott Mackenzie said in his first statement to the BDN since his mother, an East Millinocket native, came forward with the winning $590.5 million Powerball ticket in Florida on June 5, 2013.
He declined to comment further on Tuesday.
Gloria Mackenzie collected a lump sum of $370.9 million that totaled $278 million after taxes, and she donated $1 million of a total $1.8 million to the high school in November for a host of repairs, primarily the replacement of the school’s leaky roof. The Mackenzies generally have declined to comment on the Powerball win.
Baker said his proposal was not intended to convey disrespect to the Schenck name. Just as Garret Schenck Jr.’s sizeable donation prompted the school’s present moniker, so should Gloria MacKenzie’s family be honored for their donation, he said. He also believes the name change would benefit the community because the current name is often mispronounced as an offensive slang term.
“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,” Baker said.
The school board will review Baker’s idea during a meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the high school. Superintendent Quenten Clark said Tuesday that the Mackenzie family’s opposition to having the school named after them was known before the committee discussed it during a Jan. 14 meeting.
Exactly why the discussion would go forward with the Mackenzies in opposition was unclear. Clark said it was done to honor Baker’s letter. Unapproved, tentative minutes of the Jan. 14 meeting, where Clark said Baker’s letter was discussed, devote two lines to the subject.
“One member of the public was not in favor of changing the name of the school. The board will consider this at a later date,” the minutes state. Clark said the citizen was resident Phil Page, and one or two board members might have supported the idea of renaming the school.
Since then, however, several Facebook pages devoted to East Millinocket have come alive with references to Baker’s notion. A scan of the few hundred entries visible showed many people against renaming the school. Several others questioned the timing and validity of the idea, given the up to 16-week production shutdown of the Main Street paper mill announced Thursday and the area’s declining school and general populations and local economy.
Several commentators made a point of thanking the Mackenzies for their donation but added that replacing Schenck’s name with theirs was inappropriate. The Schenck family’s work during the early 20th century largely created the Katahdin region’s two paper mills, employing residents for generations and drawing national acclaim.
An effort by the Board of Selectmen on Monday to support keeping the high school’s name failed. Selectmen Clint Linscott and Mark Marston voted for it. Linscott said he made the motion because he felt the school’s name and tradition should be supported. Marston seconded it, he said, because many residents had approached him seeking the selectmen’s position on the issue.
Selectwoman Kelley Michaud, Selectman Jim Jamo and Chairman Gary MacLeod voted against the idea. The three offered no explanation for their votes. However, Michaud and Jamo indicated before the vote that they felt the school renaming was a school issue, not a selectmen’s issue. The vote proceeded because the motion had been seconded.
Linscott said he was “kind of speechless” at the three votes against his idea.
“The vote was a simple yes or no. I looked towards the school board chairman, and he said [the renaming] was up to the school board, not the citizens, but that they were checking on a legal opinion,” he said Tuesday.
An East Millinocket grade school teacher and well-known school supporter, Michaud said afterward in a Facebook posting that she stood by her vote “in the context of the meeting,” and “those who know me and my feeling for the town will know.”
Michaud and Jamo did not immediately return messages seeking comment on Tuesday.
Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously stated that Kelley Michaud is a Schenck High teacher. Michaud is an East Millinocket grade school teacher.