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Cool-Headed Kid Keeps Sir Isaac in the Limelight

Protest: Otter Pops icon was headed for a cold, corporate demise--until 9-year-old Kevin Kee turned up the heat.

January 27, 1996|RENEE TAWA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COSTA MESA — It wasn't that plucky 9-year-old Kevin Kee wanted to take on a $17-million ice pop company. He just wanted to save his favorite flavor from the Big Freezer in the sky.

National Pax Corp., the makers of Otter Pops ice pops, had decided to drop Sir Isaac Lime for a new flavor, Scarlett O'Cherry. Each of the Otter Pops flavors is named for a character, whose picture appears on the wrapper.

In protest, Kevin and his cousins fought the company the only way they knew how: with green crayons, the World Wide Web and "Brady Bunch"-inspired moxie.

Earlier this week, after the kids picketed the company's Riverside headquarters, National Pax officials backed down and agreed to restore Sir Isaac to his rightful place in the Otter Pops lineup (Six Zippy Flavors!).

"Sir Isaac Lime owes his life to Kevin," said Ron Cedillos, chief executive officer.

For Kevin, a Costa Mesa fourth-grader who teethed on Otter Pops as a baby, the fight went beyond Sir Isaac. He wanted the Otter Pops family to stay the same, as it had for 28 years except once, when Rip Van Lemon was dropped for Poncho Punch.

"One week, let's say they get rid of this guy, [the next week], they might have a kiwi or a watermelon or all sorts of flavors," said Kevin, a math whiz and spelling bee champ.

The fight began three weeks ago, when Kevin's stepfather, Daniel Cordova, learned about Sir Isaac's impending demise from the Otter Pops home page on the World Wide Web, an arm of the Internet.

"I was grumpy," said Kevin, who has three Otter Pops every day after school, with a Gatorade chaser. "I got real mad."

That's when Kevin's mom, 28-year-old Amy Kee Cordova, a Pez dispenser collector, remembered an episode in which a famous television family fought to keep a park from becoming a parking lot.

"I said, 'You know what? I remember watching 'The Brady Bunch,' and they went and fought City Hall . . .," she said. "You guys can do that in real life. You should always stand up for what you believe in.' "

So Kevin decided to turn Sir Isaac into a cause of his own, with the help of his cousins Chay Miller, 9; Zach Goddard, 8; and Bridgett Gloudeman, 4.

For two weeks, the older kids spent recesses collecting petition signatures at Kaiser Elementary School in Costa Mesa for Sir Isaac's revival. After school, they used crayons and markers to make picket signs, with slogans including "Scarlett O'Cherry is Unnecessary."

And they asked Daniel Cordova to post a notice on the Otter Pops home page, asking people to protest Sir Isaac's imminent departure (the home page includes Otter Pops haiku and cocktail recipes).

Meanwhile, Amy Kee Cordova called National Pax and warned them of the picket. Don't bother, she was told. Sir Isaac is history.

This made her mad. Sir Isaac had turned kids' tongues green for 28 years.

"If they had just had the flavors, it wouldn't have been any big deal," said Cordova, an office manager, "but they gave them a name, they gave them a face. "

On Monday, Cordova took the day off from work and pulled the kids out of school early for the picketing in Riverside. The kids, and eight other family members, marched with signs in the pouring rain, ready to present the company with 130 petition signatures.

Cedillos, the company chief executive officer, saw the demonstration from his window.

"Here's all these adults and wonderful kids," he said. "They had the most clever signs, and they're chanting, and they're waving . . . and it was a cold, dreary day."

Meanwhile, Cedillos had read the anti-Scarlett O'Cherry e-mail and the letters from Sir Isaac fans, including a Stanford professor who accused him of "Otter-cide."

He invited the kids inside. Kevin was scared.

"I was nervous that they'd think we were ridiculous," Kevin said.

Cedillos and other officials listened to the kids' pleas. They tried to explain that company surveys showed Sir Isaac was the least popular flavor. And Scarlett O'Cherry had been in product development for months, costing several thousands of dollars.

"We were within days of changing it," Cedillos said later.

Finally, Cedillos gave in. The kids screamed with joy and exchanged high-fives.

Later, Kevin's cousin Chay Miller said he was "happy and proud. . . . If there's something you think shouldn't happen, you could change things and probably make it right."

Before the protesters left, Cedillos and company officials loaded the kids up with 1,000 Otter Pops and a set of 3-feet-tall inflatable Otter Pop characters.

"Little Kevin, at an early age, has learned both the power of assembly and the power of the press," Cedillos said good-naturedly.

News of the kids' victory reached Brad Chamberlain, 25, owner of the Otter Pops home page. Chamberlain, a University of Washington computer science major, had not thought the picket would do any good.

"We were thinking, 'Big corporate entity. They've probably done their studies. They're probably not going to listen to us.' "

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