Tributes to Milton McPike have proliferated since his death Saturday, at 68, from a rare type of cancer. Such was the long-time East High School principal's impact on Madison and the thousands of students whose lives he shaped.
Another measure of esteem and affection for the late educator can be found in the choice of East High School's McPike Fieldhouse as the site of this evening's visitation with the McPike family. And yet another can be found in the possibility that even a facility that large may grow crowded during the event, scheduled for 5-8 p.m. Funeral services begin at 11 a.m. Thursday at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 E. Gorham.
My own admiration for McPike derives from two vivid memories -- one dating from the mid-1970s, another from a little more than 10 years ago.
His physical stature was intimidating. He had been big enough to be drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1962, in the 12th round, as an end. But he appeared to be aware of his potential to intimidate, and tended to try to downplay it.
One of the ways he did this was to wear a broad, disarming smile as he patrolled the halls. Another was to participate in the occasional gym class.
Back then, students had the option to elect a few weeks of bowling as part of their gym curriculum. One of my most vivid memories of McPike involves him ducking his head as he boarded the yellow school bus for the ride to the nearest bowling alley. During the ride, he would engage students in conversation and maybe share a few laughs. And then, at the bowling center, he would select the biggest bowling ball on the rack, palm it, smile, take a few steps and launch it -- I mean launch, in the sense that NASA puts rockets into orbit -- down the lane.
Time would compress, and what must have taken a nanosecond played out across what felt like several minutes. Onlookers would forget to breathe. A little more than half-way down the lane's length, the heaviest bowling ball in the joint would touch down for a smooth, silent landing. Then the sound waves would catch up to what we all were watching in slow motion. The sound of rolling thunder, an ominous rumbling that grew as the ball receded in the distance towards some cataclysmic demonstration of fundamental principles from physics class, which was followed by the big comic-book sound effect accompanying the sight of pins scattering into adjacent lanes. McPike would wheel around on his heel, wearing that enormous smile on his face. Another strike.
Two decades later, I was about to photograph McPike with a handful of East High School seniors who were on the verge of graduating. I knew the students, and in an ill-conceived effort to crack them up, in lieu of "cheese," suggested they say the name of a certain cross-town high school mascot that had a long e in its first syllable.
In an instant, McPike's proud smile turned into the kind of glower that made me fear for my life. "No!" he bellowed in a commanding voice that was at his disposal for circumstances necessitating authority. "Purgolders!" Such was his devotion to East High School and pride in its students. Then he turned the smile back on, joined the students in a chorus of laughter, and I pressed the shutter release.
I haven't been able to find the resulting photo. But in remembering McPike, photos are unnecessary. Indeed, compared to the vivid impressions he leaves, photos are insufficient.