10 Questions with Admiral Windwagon Smith XLIV
Your Admiral for Riverfest 2017 is Wendy Johnson, a longtime festival volunteer who grew up in Wichita and has a deep love for our community. Besides serving as festival ambassador as Admiral Windwagon Smith XLIV, Johnson is involved in many civic volunteer activities and is division director of marketing and communications for the Wichita Public Schools.
We asked her about Riverfest, life in Wichita, and her experiences as the Admiral!
1. What’s the wildest Riverfest food you’ve ever tried … and did you like it?
WJ: Several years ago, one of the new features was chocolate covered bacon—on a stick. What’s Riverfest without food on a stick, right? I thought it would be just horrible, but my son tried it and said it was “the bomb.” He talked me into trying it myself and it was actually tasty!
2. Do you keep your Riverfest buttons?
WJ: Absolutely! In fact, I need anything from the 70s and 1981; I have everything else. If there are any collectors out there who have some early Riverfest buttons they’d be willing to talk with the Admiral about, that would make me very happy.
3. What’s the weirdest or funniest thing you ever saw at Riverfest?
WJ: Several years ago after Toby Keith’s song “Red Solo Cup” came out, there was a man who wandered the festival in a red unitard. He was also wearing a red Solo cup in a strategically placed location for a man. I had the opportunity to have a short conversation, and I asked him “what are you?” He said, “I’m a red Solo cup!”
4. Just how hot is the Admiral Windwagon uniform?
WJ: Ask me June 2nd after I’ve had it on all day! It will be—warm—but that’s just part of the deal. Kind of a cool aside—the Admiral’s jacket is custom-made by Fruhauf Uniforms, a 4th generation local company. They make band uniforms and police uniforms and other sorts of uniforms, that go all over the world. Hatman Jack’s in Delano makes the Admiral’s hat.
5. Do you have a favorite concert you’ve seen at Riverfest?
WJ: I have at least six, all for different reasons! The Roots last year was a crazy awesome show. There were some weather delays getting them into town, but we had to keep things rolling...so we let them know beforehand that the fireworks would start going off before their show was over. It happened near the end of the show. They finished the song they were playing and then launched into a Jimi Hendrix-esque version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The fireworks were going off in the background. It was the coolest thing I think I’ve ever seen. It was one of those things that you probably couldn’t have planned for, and it couldn’t have come off better than it did.
6. What’s your favorite thing about being Admiral Windwagon? How about your least favorite thing?
WJ: My favorite thing would have to be celebrating pride in our community...getting the chance to talk with people who love Wichita. I love being able to provide some voice, engage people, and hopefully spread that enthusiasm. I’m proud to wear the red coat and represent our community, to celebrate that pride. And of course it’s especially fun to talk to kids and answer questions about whether I’m a pirate or a captain!
My least favorite thing is that I don’t have pockets. It’s a little thing, but it’s a big thing! It’s hard enough to find white pants in January. I must have tried 20 different pairs from 20 different companies. The right pants that wouldn’t wrinkle, would wash well, etc, didn’t have pockets. And the jacket doesn’t have pockets.
7. Besides Riverfest, what are some of your favorite summer activities in Wichita?
WJ: I love live music, and look for every opportunity I can to visit places in town that celebrate local art and live musicians.
8. Now for some nostalgia...did you have a favorite Joyland ride?
WJ: The roller coaster, by far. That old wooden roller coaster. I was so sad to see it come down. I also remember these little whales that were on this merry-go-round in the kids area. Why that comes to mind every time I think of Joyland I don’t know, but it does.
9. Have you ever created a message in cups in the fence on the pedestrian bridge over Kellogg?
WJ: I’ve never actually walked up on that bridge! I may have to change that. Maybe I’ll take the Schooner Mates up there and we can wave as people are driving past, welcoming them to Riverfest.
10. What do you like best about Wichita?
WJ: The recent explosion of community pride that’s really cool, really special to see. People celebrate the Wichita flag—it has its own social media site, people create things. It’s become this symbol of a community that is getting much better about liking itself, loving itself, and celebrating all the great assets we have to be proud of. People are getting engaged in finding solutions. I love that. It gives me a lot of energy and makes me want to do my part, and I hope motivate others to do their part, too.
As Admiral Windwagon Smith, Wendy Johnson will serve as the ceremonial head of Riverfest activities. She’ll make an appearance at nearly every event, so if you see her, say hello! Riverfest runs June 2-10 in downtown Wichita.