A North Pole school will get a new name. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Board of education approved a measure Tuesday night to rename Badger Road Elementary. The road and the school are named after a North Pole area pioneer who pleaded guilty to child rape a century ago. Members of the community claim, however, that the name has long since transcended any connection to the man.
Local farmer Harry Badger pleaded guilty to raping a ten year old girl in 1916, but the crime faded in public memory. North Star Borough Board of Education member and attorney Mike O’Brien brought the Badger name’s connection to the admitted pedophile back into local public consciousness this summer, and local debate lead up to the school boards consideration of a renaming measure.
”[Badger] somehow was remembered later in his life as being a great guy,” O’Brien said. “So much so that he was elected to the legislature and had all sorts of things named after him.”
O’Brien explained his motivation to the board, and recounted a 1916 newspaper story quote from Badger’s attorney.
“The little girl in question told another little girl,” O’Brien recalled. “And that little girl told her mother. And that woman told the mother of the unfortunate child. And that the two mothers went to Mr. Badger and he admitted it. That’s a line from 1916. It could be a line from 2016.”
The historic facts aside, many in the Badger Road area community oppose the name change. North Pole resident Cheri Rensen testified before the board that the Badger name has become far removed from the man, and is more about the community.
“Badger is a common name for many businesses that are or were originally located in the Badger Road area.” Rensen said. She listed a playground, gas station, glass store and a towing company among those businesses.
Rensen noted that Harry Badger’s criminal past was discussed when the school was named in 1982, and that it was specifically changed to reflect the road, not the man. Phyllis Tegan Alexander of Fairbanks said she sympathizes with people whose sense of place is tied to the name, but testified that there are victims of rape in the community and the Badger name should not be on a school.
“What does that tell our children?” Alexander asked. “That they’re victimization is nothing, it’s to be brushed aside? I don’t care if it happened 10 years ago.”
School board member local Army Colonel Sean Williams said the issue comes down to morality.
”Quite honestly, I can’t stand by idly and allow us to continue to honor someone that’s convicted of raping a child,” Williams said.
Board member Sean Rice, whose kids attended Badger Road Elementary, said he served on the PTA and now the school board to give voice to North Pole and other outlying communities that have a history of not being listened to by the district.
”And that is where all the conflict is coming from right now,” Rice said. “Because a lot of us who’ve been out in the Badger Road area for years are tired of having things done to us without being heard.”
Rice was the only board member to vote against the measure to rename the school. A committee will be appointed to choose a new name.