Kemper Military School: Wikis


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Kemper Military School was a private military academy located in Boonville, Missouri. Kemper filed for bankruptcy and closed in 2002. The school's motto was "Nunquam Non Paratus" (Never Not Prepared).




Early years under Frederick T. Kemper

On June 3, 1844, Frederick T. Kemper (1816-1881) gave his first lesson at the “Boonville Boarding School”, an all male school designed to educate the sons of the frontier west. It started as a one room schoolhouse on the corner of Spring and Main Streets, and opened with just five students. By the fall of 1844, it had 50 students. Its first year being such a success, Mr. Kemper had the south wing of the long-time administration building constructed in 1845, and utilized the site as both a boarding school and as classroom space. Operating the school essentially by himself, Kemper changed the school's name quite regularly. From 1844 through 1899, it was known variously as the Boonville Boarding School, Male Collegiate Institute, Kemper Family School, Kemper & Taylor Institute, and the Kemper School.

In 1856, the school closed when Professor Kemper accepted a teaching and administrative position at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. However, in 1861 he returned to Boonville and reopened the school as the “Kemper & Taylor Institute” in partnership with his wife’s brother, Edwin H. Taylor. It was one of only a few schools in the state to remain open during the Civil War, partly due to Professor Kemper's willingness to accept female students for the first time. Kemper prudently chose to keep a guarded neutrality throughout the war. However, it was widely known that his brother was Confederate General James L. Kemper, who gained fame as a primary participant in Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, and later became Governor of Virginia. Kemper graduates fought on both sides during the war, and many participated in the local Battle of Boonville. After the war, Taylor left and the school again became all male. Kemper continued to run the school, known again as "Kemper Family School", until his death in 1881.

Transition to a military school

Following the death of Kemper, Thomas A. Johnston, a former student, was named as the president and placed in control of the school. Under Johnston’s leadership, the school significantly changed. Although Frederick Kemper was the founder of the school, Colonel Johnston guided the school through its largest period of growth and established its national reputation. He was known as the "Builder of the School", and oversaw the transition to a military school. During the 1880’s, no fewer than five other schools in Missouri added formal military training to their operation. Kemper students had been required to wear West Point style grey uniforms to promote a "feeling of equality" among the students since at least the early 1870s and possibly earlier. Kemper's 1873 school catalogue also indicated that the school had hired a "Drill Master" to oversee the military side of the operations, but Johnston wanted to go a step further. By the mid-1880s, Johnston became "carried away with the idea . . . that military training for boys and future citizens had great educational value", according to Colonel A.M. Hitch's Centennial History of Kemper. "He adopted a military training program and structure in 1885, employing as military instructor a recent graduate of Virginia Military Institute, and from that day to this, the military feature has been a prominent one in Kemper life." The school officially changed its name to Kemper Military School in 1899, and began to advertise itself as "The West Point of the West".

In the 1890s, Kemper's most famous alumnus, Will Rogers, attended the school. Rogers went on to gain worldwide fame as an actor, humorist, political commentator and performer until his untimely death in a plane crash in 1935.

Era of growth

The period from 1900 through 1925 saw the unprecedented expansion of the campus. The major growth in the physical plant began in 1904 when "B" barracks was enlarged, then "Math Hall" was built in 1906 (originally as a gymnasium), "A" Barracks (or Harvey Barracks) was erected in 1909, "D" Barracks in 1917, and the Johnston Field House and the indoor pool were constructed in 1924.

There was a corresponding growth in enrollment. During F.T. Kemper’s era, the school usually had around fifty students. By 1900, enrollment was around 100, and by 1915, it was up to 150. During World War I, enrollment soared, peaking at 502 students in 1918 – almost more than the school could handle. During the 1920’s, enrollment remained strong, in the mid-300’s.

As time moved on, many longstanding traditions were established. The Kemperite was first published in 1912. Kemper’s Standard of Honor was introduced in 1915. A formal ROTC program was begun in 1916, and in 1923, a junior college was added. By that time, the annual football game with rival Wentworth Military Academy and College in Lexington, Missouri had become a huge event on Thanksgiving, with both corps of cadets boarding trains and sometimes meeting on a neutral field in Sedalia or Marshall, Missouri. The Kansas City and St. Louis newspapers referred to the gridiron battle as the “Little Army-Navy Game”, and gave front page coverage to the outcome.

From the Great Depression to post World War II prosperity

In 1928, Colonel Johnston announced his retirement and selected Colonel Arthur M. Hitch, his son-in-law who had been Principal since 1907, to lead the school. Colonel Hitch ably guided the school through the severe financial crisis of the Great Depression, when enrollment plummeted, and into World War II, during which the school operated year-round with over 500 students. During Colonel Hitch's presidency, the new stadium and football fields were constructed in 1937, Academic Hall was built in 1939, and Science Hall was added in 1941. Colonel A.M. Hitch retired in 1948 and selected the son of Colonel T. A. Johnston, Colonel Harris Johnston, as the new superintendent. Johnston served for eight years, until 1956.


In 1956, the school went non-profit, and the leadership of the school passed from the "Old Guard" and became much less stable. In the first 112 years of Kemper’s history only four men had led the school. After 1956, no Superintendent served for more than a few years. Major General Joseph P. Cleland became superintendent in 1956, the Reverend Sam West in 1959, Frederick J. Marston in 1962, Colonel James P. Kelly in 1964, Dr. Joseph B. Black in 1969, Colonel Carroll S. Meek in 1973, Wilbur Windsor in 1974, General William H. Blakefield in 1976, General Lloyd P. Rhiddlehoover in 1980, Colonel Frank Duggins in 1984, Colonel Roger Harms in 1985, and Charles W. Stewart in 1993.

The unstable management had a particularly negative effect in the early 1970s, when many military schools struggled because of double digit inflation and anti-military backlash caused by the Vietnam War. Enrollment, which peaked at 544 students in the mid-1960s, bottomed out when just 89 cadets showed up in 1976. The school piled up debt, but was able to keep its doors open. The school employed different tactics to get enrollment up, including admitting female cadets in the 1970s, reviving junior college football in the 1980s, and instituting more liberal admissions policies. Kemper seemed to be on the upswing for brief periods during both the 1980s and the 1990s.

Like many other institutions, where the powers to be take advantage of their position, there were many 'recruiting' trip aboard. Then there was the ida of building up the athletic program with major renovations to Johnston Field House and recruiting of athletes.

In 2000, Kemper shut down the junior college and its expensive athletic program. The junior college football team in particular was a big money loser for the school, but achieved great on-field success and actually produced a number of NFL players, including Jamal Williams, long-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle for the San Diego Chargers, and future Green Bay Packers Torrance Marshall, the MVP of the 2001 Orange Bowl for the National Champion Oklahoma Sooners. For many years, Kemper was also one of six military junior colleges that participated in the Army's two-year Early Commissioning Program (ECP), an Army ROTC program through which qualified students could earn a commission as a Second Lieutenant after only two years of college. At one time, ECP was Kemper's signature program, but it had to be cut with the rest of the junior college. Ridgley tried to rebuild Kemper through the high school, but by 2002, enrollment was down to 124 students and the school could no longer pay its bills. On June 3, 2002, 158 years to the day after Frederick T. Kemper taught his first class at the Boonville Boarding School, the flag was lowered one final time and the Kemper Military School was shuttered.

School Records

After Kemper closed in 2002, the City of Booneville donated the schools records to the Western Historical Manuscript Collection - Columbia (WHMC-C). Access to student records is restricted due to privacy laws. Former students who are in need of a copy of their transcript should contact WHMC-C. [1]

Possible Uses for the Kemper Campus

In 2003, the contents of the school were auctioned, the school sold as a parcel. The Kemper facilities are currently owned by the city of Boonville, and known as "Frederick T. Kemper Park". The park contains 46 acres (190,000 m2) and 10 buildings on what was formerly the Kemper campus. The City currently has plans to retain ownership of the T.A. Johnston Field House and of 30 acres (120,000 m2) of open space. Johnston Field House is currently home to the Boonslick Heartland YMCA and contains a cardio theater, weight room, aerobics room, 25-yard (23 m) indoor pool, indoor batting cage, office space and 3 basketball courts. The Park also contains a regulation football field, soccer fields, lake and two baseball fields. The city hopes to rehab the five tennis courts. Additional development will be deferred until a Master Plan is conducted to determine the best use of the space. The remainder of the core campus is being marketed by Boonville's Industrial Development Authority. The campus is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2005 a group associated with the Utah-based World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools made an offer to buy the campus to open a new school for adolescents needing help with discipline, responsibility and leadership skills. The Boonville City Council rejected the proposal [2]

Movies filmed at Kemper

At one time, Kemper was asked to be the location to shoot the movie National Lampoon's Animal House. Kemper turned down the offer. Also, it was asked that the movie Taps be shot there. The president at the time, turned down the movie, even though the financial aspect was attractive. He stated that they didn't want the movie shot there as "it portrayed the military school student as a radical."

Since the campus has the feel of the 19th century, Kemper's campus has been used as the setting for a number of movies. The motion pictures Combat Academy (a very low quality take-off of Police Academy) and Child's Play 3 were filmed at the school with cadets and instructors serving as extras. The school depicted in Child's Play 3 was reputedly modeled after Kemper itself.

In September and October 2007, Kemper's abandoned campus was used for location shots of the movie, Saving Grace, about a little girl's trip back to Boonville in the summer of 1951, the year of the great Missouri River flood. Many downtown Boonville buildings were used for filming, with Kemper used as an asylum. The movie was directed by Connie Stevens and stars Penelope Ann Miller, Tatum O'Neal, Joel Gretsch, Piper Laurie and Michael Biehn. The movie was released in 2008.

Names of Kemper through the Years

  • Boonville Boarding School, 1844-1845.
  • Boonville Male Collegiate Institute, 1845-1854.
  • Kemper Family School, 1854-1856.
  • Kemper and Taylor's Institute, 1861-1865.
  • Kemper's Family School, 1865-1874
  • Kemper Family School, 1874-1896.
  • Kemper School, 1896-1899.
  • Kemper Military School, 1899-1923.
  • Kemper Military School and Junior College, 1923-2000.
  • Kemper Military School, 2000-2002

Presidents/Superintendents of Kemper

  • Frederick T. Kemper, 1844-1856, 1861-1881.
  • Thomas A. Johnston, 1881-1928
  • Colonel Arthur M. Hitch, 1928-1948.
  • Colonel Harris Johnston, 1948-1956.
  • Major General Joseph P. Cleland, 1956-1959.
  • Reverend Sam West, 1959-1962.
  • Frederick J. Marston, 1962-1964.
  • Colonel James P. Kelly, 1964-1969.
  • Doctor Joseph B. Black, 1969-1972.
  • Colonel Carroll S. Meek, 1973-1974.
  • Wilbur Windsor, 1974-1976.
  • General William H. Blakefield, 1976-1980.
  • General Lloyd P. Rhiddlehoover, 1980-1984.
  • Colonel Frank Duggins, 1984-1985.
  • Colonel Roger Harms, 1985-1993
  • Charles W. Stewart, 1993-1999
  • Dr. Ed Ridgley, 1999-2002

Notable alumni

Arts, Entertainment and Popular Culture







  • The Life of Prof. F.T. Kemper, by J.A. Quarles. 1882
  • The Boonville Daily News, Kemper Centennial Edition, May 8, 1944.
  • Hoe Out Your Row, by Col. T.A. Johnston, Lucas Brothers, Columbia, MO, 1937.
  • Bryson, Amy. "Utah-based group under fire", "Deseret Morning News", April 21, 2005. Accessed October 24, 2007.


External links


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