APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – Appleton Area School District officials have renamed a school in honor of a former principal who dedicated 16 years to making that school and the district as a whole a better place.

Friends, family, and colleagues called Ronald Dunlap the ‘Gentle Giant.’ Not only because he was a former professional athlete that stood at 6-foot-8-inches tall, but also because of how kind and caring he was towards everybody that he met.

“Ron made everybody feel like they were the most important person in the world,” said Appleton Area School District Superintendent Greg Hartjes who worked with Dunlap for years.

Dunlap played basketball for the University of Illinois Fighting Illini and the Chicago Bulls drafted him in 1968. He played professional basketball overseas in Israel.

Dunlap passed away in October 2019 at the age of 72. His family has been fighting hard to get Lincoln Elementary School, where he worked for 16 years as principal, renamed Ronald C. Dunlap Elementary School.

After long discussions and a community survey, the Appleton Area School District school board voted 4-3 in favor of renaming the school to honor Dunlap.

On Monday afternoon, district officials unveiled a sign outside the school bearing Dunlap’s name and officially dedicated the school to Dunlap.

“It’s overwhelming at times, at times it’s a little heartbreaking and at times it’s encouraging because what I see here is an obligation and a duty to support Ron’s legacy,” said Ronald’s wife Yvette.

Inside the school, students and staff from Renaissance Charter School painted a mural of Dunlap. Across the hall from the mural, there’s a display set up with pictures, newspaper articles, and awards that Dunlap had won when he was alive.

Colleagues told Local Five News that Dunlap was a tireless advocate for all students and wanted everybody to succeed. He was also a trailblazer as one of the only African American school administrators in Northeast Wisconsin.

Dunlap grew up in Chicago and colleagues said he brought a perspective on the best ways to support and advocate for minority students that were rare to find.

“He shared a perspective that we simply didn’t have here,” said Hartjes.

He served as the Appleton Area School District’s minority services coordinator as well. His family said the school getting named after him is a reminder of how impactful he was in this district and the need to continue his legacy.

“I see the possibilities, I see the impact that Ron had and I see my obligation to carry it forward,” said Yvette Dunlap.

His family has also set up a memorial scholarship in his name.