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Value of a name

Some schools that bear famous names on the outside soon will have something special to display inside.

The signatures of Benjamin Franklin, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and William McKinley will be prominently displayed in their namesake middle schools in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, school district.

Tom Riley, a prominent lawyer in the area and a graduate of a district high school, has donated the autographs to the 18,000-student district.

According to Linda Kuster, the district's director of communications, Mr. Riley and his family have a long history with the district.

In 1947, Mr. Riley graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School, which later became a middle school. His children all attended Benjamin Franklin, and a granddaughter currently is enrolled there. This year, the school turned 75 years old.

The signatures, which have a collective value of up to $34,000, were purchased by Mr. Riley's wife in the 1960s and 1970s at a bookstore in Boston. Mr. Riley presented them to the district at a school board meeting late last month. The Rileys' remaining collection of famous signatures includes those of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill, Ms. Kuster said.

School officials plan to place the autographs under glass in specially designed cases that block ultraviolet light.

"Having them right there in the building brings the name of the building a little more to life," Ms. Kuster said.

Theodore Roosevelt's signature appears on a 1918 letter written on stationery from The Kansas City Star in which the former U.S. president declined to participate in a local election. Benjamin Franklin's signature appears on a real estate transaction from a time when the scientist and statesman was serving as a justice of the peace.

The writing of Woodrow Wilson, who was president from 1913 to 1921, appears on White House stationery in a letter addressed to a president of Lehigh University, according to John Fitzpatrick, who is in charge of the district's collections.

The signature of William McKinley significantly predates his presidency, which began 1897 and continued until his assassination in 1901, Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

The autographs make "an interesting collection with lots of research opportunities for the students," he said.

--Michelle Galley

Vol. 18, Issue 41, Page 3

Published in Print: June 23, 1999, as Take Note
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