A simple plan to honor man from Wilkes bogs down

By Scott Sexton | Journal Columnist
Published: April 24, 2008
Updated: 04/24/2008 12:30 am

It seemed like such a simple request. Former classmates and friends of a U.S. Army officer killed in combat approached members of the Wilkes County school board on June 4, 2007, and asked if they would rename a baseball field in his honor.
Maj. Larry Bauguess Jr., a 36-year-old paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, was killed on May 14, 2007, in Pakistan while helping to mediate border fighting between Pakistani and Afghan soldiers.
Because he grew up near Wilkesboro, graduated from Wilkes Central and loved baseball, Bauguess' friends thought that renaming Central's ball field and perhaps building a small memorial nearby would be a fitting tribute.
"This isn't just something we haphazardly thought up," said Keith Deveraux, a friend and fellow member of Central's Class of 1989. "Larry was the highest-ranking officer from Wilkes County to die in combat since the Civil War. That alone ought to merit something, not to mention making the ultimate sacrifice while defending our country."
Truer words have never been spoken.
But the idea got bogged down. It was sent off to a committee for study -- an unavoidable fact of life before any governmental action -- and devolved into an emotional spat involving money.

Policies, protocols
When his friends came to the school board on June 4 to make their request, they noted that Bauguess died trying to help settle a border dispute, an act of peace.
Who would oppose a memorial in his honor?
Rather than voting right away, board members thanked Bauguess' supporters and indicated that they would form a committee to make a recommendation on any name change. The small group that had pitched the idea left hoping that the memorial would be done by August.
It didn't happen.
First, there was the matter of school-system policy. According to the school board's policy manual, schools and other educational facilities can be named in honor of an individual "who has helped students in the school district succeed through financial contributions or educational leadership."
That's where things went awry. Deveraux said that the committee decided that Bauguess didn't qualify under the educational leadership and instead focused on the financial contribution clause.
"No one has given us an amount," Deveraux said. "The board has not said ‘X' amount of dollars is what it would take."
It's not that simple, school officials counter. "The board hasn't voted or said anything," Superintendent Steve Laws said yesterday. "If we're going to rename the field, we want to see a proposal. We have a policy and a protocol for the renaming of facilities."

A suggestion
The issue resurfaced on April 8, when Wilkes Central retired the No. 15 jersey worn by Bauguess.
As part of that celebration, supporters of Bauguess reminded the Wilkes Journal-Patriot that they were raising money for the project and hoped to expand it to include an endowment fund to perhaps help pay for the upkeep on a memorial or to help underprivileged kids pay for baseball gear.
That's when the catcalls began against the school board. A thread on a local Web site's chat room lit into school officials over the financial aspect. "The government wants to be paid a lot of $ to recognize the sacrifice of citizens who fought and died for this country?" one e-mailer asked.
"I can see where people would seize on the ‘financial contributions' clause," Laws said. "But the issue is proper memorialization. Come back to the board with a proposal."
OK, here's one. The school board can rename the field for Bauguess any time it wants. It would only take three votes and wouldn't cost much to put up a plaque or a sign.
Next, keep raising money. And when the fund gets big enough, build a small rock memorial wall to honor all former Wilkes students who have died for our country. The guess here is that Bauguess, a decorated officer in the U.S. Army, would have wanted it that way.

Scott Sexton can be reached at 727-7481 or at ssexton@wsjournal.com.

For more information or to make a contribution, go to