COLUMBIA — A purple flag with a yellow baby doll is displayed on Charley Blackmore's front porch. The doll's hands are thrown into the air, and it has an enthusiastic smile on its infant face.
Inside Blackmore's home, an army of the little yellow babies, known as Kewpies, surrounds his computer desk. They're on T-shirts, school medallions, class rings, banners and more.
The Kewpie is the official mascot of Hickman High School. Blackmore, a 1963 Hickman graduate who is also known as "Mr. Kewpie," wears the doll proudly.
"When you can have that distinguishing characteristic about yourself when you graduate from that high school ... it's pretty amazing," said Blackmore, 69.
Blackmore is the founder of Kewpie.net, an online database of Hickman history, mascot memories and class memorabilia. The website has morphed the way former Kewpies arrange reunions and reminisce about their high school days.
Although he currently lives in Rock Bridge High School's district, Blackmore's home will always be Kewpie territory, thanks to the popularity of his Web page. According to Blackmore, his online creation has amassed an average of 750 views per day in the past three months, and 650 visitors per day in the past year.
It all began in 1998 when Blackmore was engaged to then-fiancee Debbie Burks and living in a Columbia apartment. Blackmore was preparing for his 35th annual class reunion and was absorbed in his computer.
As he gathered information about fellow class members on the Internet, Blackmore said Burks grew agitated with his lack of attention toward her.
"She never used any rough language at all, but she told me, 'Why don't you just see if you can find every F-ing person that went to that high school?'" Blackmore recalled.
Ding. The light bulb switched on over his head.
"I said, 'Why not?'" Blackmore laughed.
Burks died in 2000. But in October 1998 after the reunion, Blackmore, who has worked as a postman and disc jockey, started the Kewpie.net Web page. And as the strength and power of the Internet skyrocketed in the early and mid-2000s, so did his website's capabilities.
"I assembled a database of all the people who went to Hickman High School, all the way back to Columbia High School in 1897, and I put a list of all the names and the year they graduated just so people could look them up," Blackmore said.
His first big step: to upload every page he could of his high school's yearbooks, titled the Cresset, online in 2011.
"The university (MU) would have gladly done it for me for $25,000," Blackmore said.
Instead, Blackmore bought a $2,000 scanner and did it himself. Almost every page from the 103 versions of the Cresset since 1912 was scanned and uploaded to a Zenfolio file where they can be read cover to cover.
Other than the yearbooks, Blackmore designed Web pages of Hickman's senior class pictures with song excerpts of Billboard Hot 100 hits that were popular during each graduating class's four years of high school. Click on a link from the late 1960s, and you'll hear a lot of The Beatles. Click on 2012, and you'll likely hear Rihanna.
The website hosts other features, including pages about+ Kewpie nickname history, reunion slideshows, an extensive email directory and other links Kewpies looking to reconnect with their high school can click on.
The website's popularity in the past 16 years gave Blackmore an opportunity to start two academic scholarships: The Kewpie.net Scholarship, worth $1,000 per recipient, and Charley Blackmore's Class of '63 Scholarship, worth $500 per recipient. Both were created after Blackmore's 45th class reunion in 2008 and are largely funded by alumni and donors wanting to give back to current Kewpies.
"The money just started pouring in," Blackmore said.
The Kewpie.net Scholarship has a $46,600 balance with $12,000 awarded over the past six years. The Class of '63 Scholarship has a balance of $21,600 with $6,000 awarded over the past six years.
Currently, Blackmore is searching for more. Kewpie memorabilia, photos and high school memories are always of interest to the man who has become defined by his Kewpie commitment.
And his Mr. Kewpie nickname is only a label for the dedication he has sustained with his alma mater.
"I think it (the nickname) doesn’t signify anything more than just a person who is very loyal to the school," Blackmore said. "Very loyal to the Kewpie."
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