Kemper Military School and College
1844-2002 (Junior College 1923-2000)
As usual, traffic on I-70 out of Columbia averaged 80 miles per hour, filling both lanes, so it was good to reach the Boonville exit. From the public library, a volunteer guided me to the Kemper campus, where both he and a passing motorist offered to provide any Kemper photos I might want. I lined up a few shots of the derelict Administration Building and then headed up town to try to find a school seal. Mid-Continent Genealogy Center at Independence has copies of the Kemper, the school yearbook.
Boonville Boarding School was founded by Frederick T. Kemper in 1844, enrolling 50 students in the first year. The first building was begun in 1845, the school continuing with 50 or so students until 1856, when it closed while Kemper taught at Westminster College. In 1861 the school resumed, surviving the Civil War by becoming co-educational, but at the war’s end, it reverted to its all-male state. After Kemper’s death in 1881, Thomas Johnson became head of the school, converting Kemper to a military school, which by 1889 was called the “West Point of the West.” Enrollment at Kemper reached 100 by 1900, and by the end of World War I, it had peaked at 502. The junior college was added in 1923. Before World War II a building phase had resulted in a new stadium (1937) and Academic Hall (1939)
The school began to decline in enrollment and focus after 1956. In the 1970’s inflation and a general anti-military sentiment brought on by the Vietnam War hampered recruitment and fund raising. In an attempt to boost enrollment, Kemper returned to co-ed status, but by 2000 the junior college was dropped, and by 2002 the high school also closed.
Bricks and Mortar
In addition to barracks and armory, the Kemper campus contained the Administration Building, Academic Hall, Science Hall, Mathematics Hall, and Johnson Gymnasium. Johnson Gymnasium was the largest gymnasium in Missouri, with floor space measuring 200 feet by 100 feet. The playing field was described as the “finest in the West.”
The city of Boonville acquired the campus after Kemper closed. Johnson Gymnasium has become a center for city recreational activity. Use or disposal of other parts has awaited a master plan. In the meanwhile buildings are showing the lack of upkeep. The city has had to fence off parts of the campus for public safety and to prevent vandalism. A collapsed tower on the Administration building has led to two public reactions: The first is that it is a crime to neglect the maintenance of these historical buildings. The second is a complaint about wasting public money on old campus building of little if any value.
The Administration Building in August, 2010 shows some of the result of lack of maintenance.
Team name: Yellow jackets
Colors: Black and Gold
Even before Kemper added a junior college program, its football teams were playing in the collegiate ranks. In addition to local high school teams from Boonville and Columbia, Kemper was playing smaller two-year and four-colleges. Traditional opponents included Central Methodist College, Missouri Valley College, and Central Missouri Normal. In the 1920’s Kemper became a member of the Missouri State Conference, along with Wentworth Military Academy, Missouri Military Academy and Chillicothe Business College. The favorite opponent was Wentworth.
From 1936 through 1941 Kemper was a football power in the region. In six years the Yellow jackets won 42, lost 8 and tied five. The 1937 team had ties with Missouri Valley and Parsons JC of Kansas set against six victories. The 1940 team had only a draw with Kansas City (KS) JC set against 8 victories.
The 1903 baseball team. Image from Ancestry.com.