THE HISTORY OF ECHO COMPANY
KEMPER MILITARY SCHOOL
Kemper Military School was founded as the Kemper Family School on Monday June 3, 1844. For 150 years it has produced alumni who have become leaders throughout the nation and the world. As the oldest military school west of the Mississippi, it remained dedicated to providing a structured environment where self discipline, time management, duty, academic excellence, and leadership were the primary goals. Frederick T. Kemper, the founder, was born in Madison County Virginia. His family arrived in the first great wave of German immigrants to America in the early 18th century. Professor Kemper’s early academic experiences were through private tutors and small schools in the Tidewater area of Virginia. He left the family farm in 1836 to complete his education at Marion near Palmyra, Missouri.
He studied there for five years and graduated valedictorian in the class of 1841. He remained at Marion for three years as an instructor. In 1843 he opened a private boarding school with his uncle in Philadelphia, Missouri The school lasted only one year in its Marion County location, as Kemper was induced to move to Boonville, Missouri in the spring of 1844.
The first school was a one room affair on the corner of spring and Main Street. Founded by Frederick T. Kemper (1816-1881) as an all male school to educate the sons of the frontier west. The Kemper Family School opened with just five students, but by the fall of 1844 it had a student population of 50. Its first year being such a success, Mr. Kemper had the south wing of the school constructed in 1845, and utilized the site as both a boarding school and as classroom space. Operating the school essentially by himself as a local boarding school for boys, the school changed its name quite regularly.
From 1845 through 1856 it was known variously as the “ New Boonville Academy”, the Boonville Boarding School and Teachers Seminary” and, “Male Collegiate Institute”.
In 1856, the school was temporarily closed when Professor Kemper accepted a teaching and administrative position at the newly established Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. However, in 1861 he returned to Boonville and reopened the school in partnership with his wife’s brother, Edwin H Taylor. The school now was called the “Kemper and Taylor Institute” This was one of the only schools in the state to remain open during the civil war.
Professor Kemper’s brother, Brigadier General James Kemper, Army of Virginia, Confederate State of America (CSA), was one of the Brigade Commanders for Major General George S Pickett. During the Battle of Gettysburg, on July 4th 1863, Brigadier General Kemper personally lead his brigade in the famous “Pickett’s Charge” against Union forces entrenched on Cemetery Ridge. Suffering nearly 90% casualties, General Pickett’s Division was repulsed. General Kemper, who survived the war went on to become the Governor of the State of Virginia.
On the other hand Professor Kemper chose to keep a guarded neutrality throughout the war. Although the school remained neutral, graduates joined both armies and served with honor. Two of Professor Kemper’s best students, Jeff B McCutchen and William M Quarles were both MD’s serving on the staff of General Sterling Price, Missouri Brigade, CSA. McCutchen died of wounds received during the Battle of Boonville on June 16th 1861. The Battle was fought less than a mile from the school.
On or about 1871, to differentiate Kemper students from the local population Professor Kemper placed his students in military uniforms as a way of insuring the student’s safety and the local populations respect. Little else added to Kemper programs for the next 14 years and Professor Kemper and his wife Susan, regained sole management of the school until Professor Kemper’s death in 1881.
Following the death of Kemper, Colonel Thomas A Johnston a former student was named as the president and placed in control of the school. It was under the leadership of Colonel TA Johnston that the campus was significantly changed and became the outstanding institute of its time. He added the military training program and structure, then changed the name to “ Kemper Military School in 1899. For nearly 50 years Colonel Johnston guided the school through its largest period of growth.
The period from 1900 through 1925 saw the unprecedented expansion of the student population and campus structures. The student population averaged 145 students per year until WWI. By 1918 the population had soared to 502. The Standard of Honor was introduced in 1915, ROTC was introduced in 1916.
In 1928 Colonel Johnston announced his retirement and selected Colonel Arthur M Hitch, his son-in-law, to lead the school. It was under Colonel Hitch that the school was guided through the peril of the Great Depression and WWII. In 1934 Colonel Johnston passed away and one year later one of the most famous alumni, Will Rogers (1897-98) did likewise.
Colonel Hitch retired in 1948 and selected the son of Colonel TA Johnston, Colonel Harris Johnston as the new president. In 1956 the school went non-profit. The first president under this new organization was Major General Joseph P Cleland. General Cleland stepped down in 1959 and the Reverend Sam West was appointed President. West served until 1962 when another Kemper Alumnus and former state senator was selected, Colonel James P Kelly, who served from 1964-1969. Doctor Joseph B Black replaced Kelly at the end of the 1968-69 school year and served until the 1972-73 school year when Colonel Carroll S Meek was asked to assume the presidency.
In June 1974 Wilbur Windsor took the presidency and served for two years until 1976. From 1976 through 1980 General William H Blakefield became the 12th president of the school, followed by General Lloyd P Rhiddlehoover and then by Colonel Frank Duggins in 1984. Colonel Roger Harms became the15th president of the school and in the spring of 1993 Harms was replaced by Charles W Stewart.
Now faced with bankruptcy and the near certainty of collapse, the Board leadership turned to Dr. Ed Ridgley, a Kemper Alumni, and decorated war veteran. Dr. Ridgley restored the schools dignity and brought a calm steady leadership. Many called Ridgely “The last best hope for one of America’s treasures”. In the words of most…he almost made it!
Anyway, the school closed and the flag was lowered one final time. The contents were auctioned, the school sold as a parcel. They took our history for a few dollars like some kind of Judas. So why are we so happy? We of Echo Company?! Because in the traditions of the great men who founded and guided our beloved school we ended as we began, with dignity and with our heads high. We trained thousands of leaders, made immeasurable contributions to the defense of our great country, and showed that even in defeat there can be honor.
So, today there is Echo Company. One final formation for the men of Kemper who honor the traditions, the spirit, the code, the STANDARD OF HONOR. We are the men of the hill who stand together defiant in the face of horror. If you believe as we do, that the Standard is a living document, that peer leadership works, that indeed “…the object is to develop in harmony the physical, mental, and morale powers, not to make mere scholars, but to make men.” Then maybe you can be one of us.
Echo Company was formed shortly after the closing of Kemper. The named being derived from the “echo” inside the empty buildings. Our motto, “We Are Ready” is our salute to the Kemper coat of arms herald “nunquam non paratus” or, never not prepared. We are prepared for whatever may come!
What we believe:
- That the Alumni have given far more than their share to secure the future of Kemper
- The Standard of Honor is a living document not a museum piece
- That there is value in military education
- That the divine hand of God has calmed our troubled water and closed our cherished school.
- That there should be an organization which fairly represents the best interests of the school and is not engaged in a money making hijinx.
- That the eternal Corps of Cadets, both living and dead, is represented wherever Old Boys gather from Kemper.
Echo Company has no dues, accepts no donations, has no regularly scheduled meetings, and exists for the enjoyment of the members we serve.