Who is that Man (or Woman) in the Red Coat?

old windwagonAt 4:30 p.m., Thursday, March 12, we will reveal the identity of Admiral Windwagon Smith XLII. Who is the Admiral? What does he (or she) do? The WFI staff authority on this subject is Jill Massey, our Volunteer Coordinator. Jill, tell us all about the Man (or Woman)!

Why does he have a sword? Is that a wagon or a ship? How do you become an Admiral? Who are all those kids following the Admiral around?

These are some of the many questions we hear about Admiral Windwagon Smith, the official ambassador of Riverfest. The Admiral’s story begins with an American tall tale. Some say that Captain Smith and his Windwagon were only a legend, but wagons with sails were an actual part of early Kansas prairie history.Admiral Windwagon Smith XLI_Steve Adelson

The legend became a reality in modern times when the Wichita River Festival adopted the Windwagon and its skipper (now promoted to Admiral) Windwagon Smith as their standard bearer. Sam (Shipwright) Mobley, with much arm-twisting by his wife Margaret (assistant festival director at this time) designed the original Windwagon.

Bill and Bob Goebel and the Star Lumber gang built and donated the craft to the festival. The Windwagon is owned jointly by Wichita Festivals, Inc. and Wichita Wagonmasters. The current ship is Windwagon II. (As we wore the original one out, parade-wise, Shipwright Sam and Star Lumber came up with a more rugged one.)

John Bell served as Admiral Windwagon Smith I in 1974.admiral and friend

The position of Admiral is a high honor bestowed upon longtime volunteers, board members, and sponsors through an election process. Candidates for Admiral Windwagon Smith are nominated each year by the Wagonmaster Trail Bosses, the Past Admirals and the WFI Board of Directors, with the final selection made by the Past Admirals.

The Admiral reigns over the festival in late May and early June, and serves throughout the year. The Admiral’s main focus is interacting with the public at the festival and at a variety of public events and speaking engagements, as well as visiting hospitals, cancer centers, and other service organizations, such as Starkey, Wichita Children’s Home and Envision, with his “court,” the Prairie Schooner Mates.

These youth ambassadors are high school juniors, girls and boys from public and private schools in Wichita and the surrounding area. The “Schoonies” accompany the Admiral on visits and Civic Days. There is nothing like seeing the smile on a child’s face when the Admiral and Prairie Schooner Mates come walking in the door bearing gifts. Each Schoonie will earn over 250 volunteer hours in his or her short time with the Festival.

schooniesWe love our tradition of the Admiral and the Prairie Schooner Mates! Make sure you stop them when you are at Riverfest and give them a high five or get your picture taken with them. See you at the Fest!

Jill Massey
Volunteer Director

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