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Corky creator celebrates his 99th year

Paul Edwards reflects on ESU

  • Paul Edwards, the inventor of Corky the Hornet, turned 99 years old Jan. 12 Edwards now resides in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Courtesy Photo)
  • In the first few pages of the 1936 yearbook for The Sunflower, a cutout picture shows a young Paul Edwards, creator of Corky, working on his creation. Edwards graduated from Kansas State Teachers College with a BSE in 1937 and was a member of clubs such as the Y.M.C.A. and the French club. (Jennifer Pendarvis)

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Up until the contest that would come to change the historical image of Emporia State, the Kansas State Teacher’s College mascots were the Yellow Jackets – “Yaps” for short.

Though Paul Edwards did not win the contest in 1936 that chose the school’s new mascot, the night that the new mascot’s name – Corky – was chosen, he had a spur of inspiration, and jumped out of bed to design the first official ESU Hornet.

“I used to run a cartoon strip in The Bulletin,” Edwards said. “And one person asked another, in the strip, ‘How did they get his name?’ And the answer was because he was always popping off…The title of the strip was Corky Comments.”

Currently living outside of Santa Barbara, Calif., Edwards was born on Jan. 12, 1915, and celebrated his 99th birthday three weeks ago.

“He’s sharp as a tack – oh, (he’s) unbelievable,” said President Michael Shonrock. “He’s kind of subtle, very thoughtful.”

Rachel Marshall, senior communication major, a columnist for The Bulletin and a secretary in the President’s office, had the oppurtunity to speak to Edwards on the phone when he called the office last week.

“Since I am an ambassador, we have had to learn about him, and I don’t even know how many times I’ve mentioned him on campus tours,” Marshall said. “The fact he is 99 and still living is awesome, but to be able to speak to him in that short amount of time will definitely be remembered forever because not all Hornets will get that chance.”

Coming to Kansas State Teacher’s College – which changed its name officially to ESU in 1977 – he studied art, and found true passion in watercolors. Edwards learned under Norman Eppink, who was in charge of the Art Department at that time and now has a gallery in King Hall named after him.

The original Corky was a bit too crowded with his four legs and too-huge mouth, according to Edwards. In the 1960s, he “amputated” two of those legs and plated a smile on Corky’s face, creating an early version of the lovable mascot that is recognizable today.

“He couldn’t dance with his girl,” Edwards said. “He couldn’t carry a football down the field with all those appendages hanging out, so that was the evolution of Corky. I’m very proud of Corky.”

Not only was Edwards an artist, but he also taught art at ESU when he returned from art school in Los Angeles. He taught drawing for a year before finding a better paying job at a dry goods store in downtown Emporia.

Love was also in the air for Edwards while in college. He met his wife through the friendship of one of her ex-boyfriends.

“She was at Ottawa University, and (my friend said), ‘I’d like for you to meet this gal,’” Edwards said. “So, I had a car. We got in my Model A Ford and went to Ottawa, and her landlady called her to the door. She had a towel wrapped around her head, but even with the towel, she was a beautiful gal.”

She transferred the next year to ESU, and the two began dating. They were married for 65 years before her passing in 2005. Edwards said she was “wonderful” and that they have a great family.

After graduation, not only did Edwards fight in the Navy during World War II, and direct a film called 20,000 Volts Under the Hood, but also went to work as an animator for Walt Disney in 1937. Edwards and a few friends drove out to California to begin working.

“He was a master,” Edwards said. “He demanded a lot of his artists, but he got it because he had some of the best collection of artists the world has ever known.”

In his spare time, Edwards still works on his favorite art medium – watercolors. The ESU Foundation will be auctioning off 20 of his paintings for the Foundation in the upcoming months.

Shonrock said that the university is planning a 100th birthday party for Edwards next year.

“I’m 99 years old,” he said. “Still in pretty good shape, but…I’ve had a wonderful life.”

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The student news site of Emporia State University.
Corky creator celebrates his 99th year