- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

LOGANSPORT, Ind. (AP) - For the past 90 years, Felix the Cat has been a staple of Logansport, a character the town and its high school has embraced for generations.

And earlier this month, Logansport High School celebrated Felix’s “birthday” as the school’s mascot, which began in winter 1926.

Don Oriolo, who’s the son of Joe Oriolo, the protege of Felix creator Otto Messmer, visited Logansport for the birthday and showed off his artistic skills of painting the famous feline as well as his musicality, performing the Felix theme song on guitar. He’s known to many as the “Felix the Cat Guy.”

“It’s in the ether,” he said about Logansport’s love of Felix. “It’s in everybody’s consciousness - and that’s pretty cool.”

Why Felix?

On March 31, 1926, 16 members of the LHS basketball team, accompanied by their coach, Cliff Wells, entered the former Barnes Hotel in downtown Logansport for a banquet when they spotted a small stuffed cat made out of oilcloth in a store window, current LHS Principal Matt Jones recounted.

The replica of Felix caught the eyes of the basketball team since it donned the high school’s colors of red, black and white. Wells purchased the figurine that night and the team brought it to the banquet. Wells later gave Felix to the next season’s team captain, Raymond “Curly” Hupp.

Hupp kept Felix in his gym locker for most of his senior season. But at halftime of an important game, when the Berries were trailing, Hupp took Felix from the locker and put him on the floor for “good luck,” Jones said. The Berries ended up winning the game and Felix became the school’s mascot, the first “official” mascot in Indiana - and the only school Oriolo knows of to use the cat as its mascot.

“Graduates of Logansport High School have always taken a lot of pride with the uniqueness that Felix brings to the rich history of LHS,” Jones said.

Over the years, the Felix figurine, and the many replacements of the original, have been kidnapped by rival schools, Jones said. A Peru fan took Felix in March 1930 during regionals, and the thief returned it a month later. It happened twice more in the late 1940s and the 1960s. In the latter snatch, a Royal Center Bulldog known as “Pancake” nabbed Felix.

“He stole the mascot during halftime, ran down the ramp, out the door and into a waiting getaway car,” Jones recounted. “Felix was returned a few days later.”

After replacing the figurines six or seven times, the high school decided to bring Felix to “life” as a mascot in 1984 for students to wear during games and other school events. A community fundraiser paid for a new Felix costume in 2001, and it was fully refurbished this past August.

Jones said though the Felix mascot “interacts with fans, dances on the floor and enlightens children and adults alike,” many still have high esteem for the classic figurine. One is on display at the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Museum in New Castle, and two others are in the main lobby at LHS as well as in the Cass County Historical Museum.

A trip through memory lane

When Oriolo stepped into LHS for the first time Thursday evening, Jones showed him the many mementos and Felix artwork hanging throughout the building. Oriolo said he’s known about Logansport’s love of Felix for years, adding it’s humbling to see a town grow up with the same friendly cat he did.

Messmer first showcased Felix - which means “happy” in Latin - in 1919 in the silent film, “Feline Follies.” Felix was developed for animated television and movies several years later, under the direction of Joe Oriolo, Don Oriolo’s father.

In the mid-1980s, a month before he died, Joe Oriolo put the friendly feline into the hands of Don Oriolo, who brought Felix’s fame into the 21st century. Oriolo also owns Oriolo Guitar Co. and has spent much of his career in the music industry.

On Dec. 16, Oriolo visited a few elementary and high school classes, talking with students about Felix, art and creativity. He played his Felix-designed guitar and drew Felix portraits on paper and whiteboards - 60 drawings, in fact, between two elementary school classes, he added.

Discovering creativity is important for youngsters, Oriolo said, adding that he’s a huge proponent of supporting anything intuitive and innate in kids, such as painting and performing. He said people should create without inhibition.

‘No place like it’

The town celebrated Felix’s 90th year as mascot between basketball games Dec. 16, honoring the local icon with a birthday cake and mascots from across the state joining for a birthday bash, such as Boomer, Rowdie and Charlie Cardinal.

Jones said there’s no better way to celebrate Felix than with Oriolo.

“His passion for Felix is our passion,” Jones said.

“We both have a love of Felix the Cat that’s really off the charts,” he added. “It’s obviously very important to his family and it’s very important to the Logansport family.”

Oriolo said he’s never been to a town like Logansport that has made Felix so much a part of its DNA.

“There’s no place on earth like it,” he said. “That’s what you should put on your logo: ‘Logansport. No place like it on earth.’”


Source: (Logansport) Pharos-Tribune, https://bit.ly/2ibGmyw


Information from: Pharos-Tribune, https://www.pharostribune.com

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