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Foundation strikes a familiar chord to honor Les Paul in Waukesha school name

District considering renaming Central Middle School

Rock 'n' roll pioneer Les Paul, who was born and is buried in Waukesha, could soon have a middle school named in his honor. The Waukesha School District is looking at renaming Central Middle School Les Paul Middle School.

Rock 'n' roll pioneer Les Paul, who was born and is buried in Waukesha, could soon have a middle school named in his honor. The Waukesha School District is looking at renaming Central Middle School Les Paul Middle School. Photo By The Les Paul Foundation.

April 15, 2014

Sue Baker knows what Les Paul's reaction would be to having a school — especially in his hometown — be named in his honor.

"He would be very humbled and gracious," Baker said. "But I can almost hear him say, 'You want to do that for me?'"

Baker and the Les Paul Foundation, which supports music education, engineering, innovation and medical research, wants to have Central Middle School changed to Les Paul Middle School.

Frets in the process

Baker, the program director of the Les Paul Foundation, said the process began when she wrote a letter to Waukesha School District Superintendent Todd Gray more than a year ago asking if the district would consider changing the school's name to recognize the man known as "The Wizard of Waukesha" for his work in the music industry.

Gray then put together a committee of district officials and community members to discuss the possibility.

The name change was brought to the district's Finance and Facilities Committee meeting last week as a discussion item. When the committee next meets on Monday, May 12, a recommendation could be given to the School Board for its meeting two days later.

"Changing a school is an infrequent event so it is one of those momentous type of decisions that the board will have to make," said committee Chairman Joseph Como. "But I believe as far as possible candidates to rename a school, Les Paul is a good consideration."

Sounding out the school

While he concurred the name change could be "a great opportunity," Central Middle School Principal Rob Bennett called the idea "work in progress." He said there are still too many unknowns to put a deadline of how quickly this will move forward.

In addition to Gray's committee, Como said Bennett formed his own committee to get a better indication of how those within the school feel about a change.

"A lot needs to be answered," Bennett said. "A lot of communication and a lot of listening and research has to be done."

Baker, who met Paul while she was the executive director of the Waukesha County Museum and knew Les Paul for the last 10 years of his life until he died in 2009, said she's also been in contact with Bennett and endorsed his idea to educate students before any name change takes place.

"I thought that was genius," Baker said. "We're looking at doing it well as opposed to doing it fast."

Baker said the Les Paul Foundation has made a commitment to help offset the cost but is waiting on a cost estimate from Bennett and Gray that she can present to the foundation's board of trustees. Expenses would include signage within the school, letterhead and other branding.

His school, his honor

Central was chosen because Paul, who is the only person to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, attended the school when it was Waukesha Junior High and Waukesha High School.

"It would a great honor for Les," Baker said.

Renaming the school has other advantages for the city, Baker said.

"The students are paramount and the future lies with the youth but looking beyond that there's already nationwide interest and international awareness about Les, with next year being the celebration of Les Paul's 100th birthday," she said. "Renaming the school in time for the 2015 celebration would be ideal and would put a lot of attention to our city as it relates to Les Paul tourism."

Baker, who lives in Waukesha, noted that while Paul spent much of his life in New York, she said he always reminded his audiences he was from Waukesha. Having a school named in his honor would now be a permanent reminder for generations of students, Baker added.

"Les wanted his foundation to help students in need and he wanted us to use his foundation to reinforce to those who are economically challenged to learn and play the guitar," Baker said. "That's what we do and we want to go way beyond that."

Editorial: Waukesha NOW says renaming Central Middle School to honor Les Paul would be a good decision.

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