Over the past several years, the Parks Foundation in Madison has been dedicating parks around the city to the inspirational and towering figures of Madison’s past. When the time came to make a dedication for Madison’s Central Park, the Foundation held a meeting to think of who might warrant such a prestigious honor and who embodied the type of inspiration they wanted the park to represent.

A board member floated the idea that former Madison East principal Milton McPike be the name Central Park honored.

As members of the foundation went door to door every person they spoke to seemed inspired by that idea as well. The foundation was taken aback by how much enthusiasm built around making McPike Park a reality.

And so it was that dozens of people gathered on the site of Madison’s Central Park on Wednesday afternoon to witness the dedication of the downtown park to the memory of Milt McPike.

Former students, faculty and parents of former students attended the dedication including newly minted Madison School Board member-elect Gloria Reyes, who herself was a Madison East student while McPike was principal. Like all in attendance, Reyes said it was exciting and inspirational to honor his memory.

Mayor Paul Soglin was also present and spoke during the dedication ceremony.

“It is a great honor to be asked to participate in doing anything in Milton McPike’s memory,” Soglin told Madison365 before the ceremony began. “I know he was just a wonderful, wonderful guy. Educators say that the principal sets the tone and the mood in the entire school. The principal’s attitudes and values are reflected by all the teaching staff, which then affects the students. And Milt set a tone of joy in the process of learning and yet instilled a sense of responsibility in a lot of kids. At times kids may have taken the wrong step and Milt helped bring them back in the right direction.”

Milt McPike was vice principal of West High School for five years before being named principal of East in 1979. Because of his dedication and leadership, East was awarded the National School of Excellence award in 1989. McPike had a reputation for being simultaneously loving and stern with his students, showing them the road they needed to travel in no uncertain terms.

When McPike announced his retirement from East in February 2002, then-Superintendent Art Rainwater called him the heart and soul of East High School and said that “Milt is East High”.

McPike was honored in 2007 with the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award. He played in the NFL and served as a high school teacher and coach in Quincy, Illinois for 11 years.

“Milton McPike serves as an inspiration for the Madison Community,” Mayor Soglin said as he announced April 4 as Milton McPike Day in Madison and prepared to unveil the sign dedicating Central Park to McPike’s name.

Madison Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp said that the naming of McPike Park was the culmination of years of work.

“Today is the culmination of naming it appropriately,” Knepp said. “It is imperative to be able to relay his inspiration to others.”