COLUMBIA — It’s Muriel Battle High School — that is, if the Columbia School Board approves.
After an extra month of deliberation, a committee has decided the new high school in northeast Columbia should be named after Muriel Battle. She and her husband, Eliot Battle, 85, were educators who helped integrate Columbia's schools.
Muriel Battle taught first and eighth grades at West Junior High School. She became assistant principal, then principal.
"That is fantastic," Eliot Battle said when told the news. "I am so proud right now. I tell you, I feel really heavy-hearted."
"You've made my day," he said, his voice thick. "I'm going over to the Hindmans for dinner, and I am going with a much bigger appetite."
Battle paused again. "I'm going to call my kids and let them know," he said.
The Battle name had been submitted to the committee as "Muriel Battle" and "Eliot and Muriel Battle." The board has a guideline against naming buildings after living people, and Eliot Battle had requested that his name be taken off the list if necessary. Muriel Battle died in 2003.
"It would be just as much of an honor for it to be named after Muriel," he said earlier Monday, before the committee met.
School Board President Jan Mees, who is on the naming committee, said the board might consider revising the policy for future building names.
Ranita Dement, assistant principal of West Junior High, heard the news as the committee members left the building after the meeting. Dement was among the 84 people to submit Battle as a name idea.
"I'm ecstatic," she said.
Thirteen of the committee's 17 members were present. Eight voted for Muriel Battle High School, and three voted for Lakewood, referring to the school's location in the Lake of the Woods area. Apparently, two people did not vote, but that could not be confirmed immediately after the meeting.
The committee also wanted to recognize the other person whose name made it to the top three choices: Neil C. Aslin, a former district superintendent whose name was submitted by 87 people. The committee will recommend that the expanded administration building at 1818 Worley St. be named after him: the Neil C. Aslin Administration Building.
"I think that what we did, most importantly, was weigh the community input," said committee member Andy McCarthy, assistant principal at Hickman High School.
District sixth-graders, who will be the first freshman class at the high school when it opens in 2013, voted earlier this fall to make the Spartans their mascot.
Mees said the board is "fairly likely" to approve the recommendations.
"They have never said no to a name," said Wanda Brown, assistant superintendent for secondary education.
Brown said the name must be identifiable with the school and that she thought "any outstanding educator" would fit that description.
In an earlier interview, Battle said he and Muriel emphasized education in their home, and he commended his wife for making sure their “four outstanding children” had a solid academic foundation. Muriel Battle took care of them before pursuing her doctorate in education, and they have since gone on to successful jobs.
“There’s no father any place who is more proud than I,” Battle said.
The oldest Battle daughter, Donna Pierce, writes for several food magazines and is working on a cookbook — Muriel Battle had a good reputation for her cooking. Pierce recently retired from the Chicago Tribune. At the beginning of her journalism career, she worked for the Columbia Daily Tribune and the Columbia Missourian.
Carolyn Thomas, another daughter, is an attorney in Cook County, Chicago. She works in defense of abused and neglected children.
Muriel Jean Browder, named after her mother, recently retired from owning four McDonald’s franchises in Kansas City.
The couple's son, Eliot Battle, Jr., graduated from Howard University and had a three-year fellowship at Harvard. He is now an internationally recognized dermatologist, Battle said.
Eliot Battle received an honorary doctorate from MU in December 2009.
“It was one of the highlights of my life,” Battle said.
He and his wife spent most of their lives together. When they met, he was 9 and she was 3. Eliot said Muriel's grandfather was the first African-American physician in Mobile, Ala., and worked across the street from a furniture business owned by his grandfather.
At age 13, Eliot took a job working as a paperboy for Muriel’s father, the editor and publisher of the Mobile Press Forum. After Eliot completed high school and college, he joined the Army.
He fell in love with Muriel on furlough. While visiting his father at home, he went to the junior/senior prom with his brother, who was the same age as Muriel. Eliot said when he saw her that night, he knew in his heart she was the girl he wanted to marry.
“I saw her and flipped,” he said. “From that point on, it was the two of us. I let her dance, of course, with the guy who took her, but I had a lot of the dances in between.”
The coupled danced through their 52 years of marriage.
“The music would play, and no matter what the beat was, we were on the floor,” Battle said.
The Battles also loved to travel, and they spent several weekends taking trips to New York City. Sometimes, they saw as many as five shows in one weekend — Muriel had been a speech and drama major in college at Florida A&M in Tallahassee.
"She graduated in May 1950, and we married in June," Battle said.
This year would have marked their 60th anniversary. They celebrated their 50th anniversary by going on a cruise, one of their favorite kinds of vacation.
“The first time she suggested it, I balked, but then we went,” Battle said. “From that time on, all she had to say was ‘let’s,’ and I’d say, ‘cruise.’”
This Thursday, he will leave for his 12th cruise, this one to the Bahamas. During the trip he will celebrate his 86th birthday with family and friends.
A family tree hangs on Battles’ wall, along with photos of Muriel and a large portrait of her. He keeps a scrapbook of their memories: dancing and dinners, vacations and celebrations.
He said he loved everything about her. “Everything."