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Ron Tibbetts, the 'Bubble Man,' dies

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, June 10, 2011, at 12:30 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, June 11, 2011, at 6:26 a.m.

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Ron Tibbetts, the Bubble Man, spent Wednesday night performing at the Cessna Kids' Korner of the Wichita River Festival.

He died in his sleep Thursday morning.

His sister-in-law, Anne Tibbetts, said he would have wanted to spend some of the last hours of his life performing.

"That was his passion in life," she said. "He wanted to teach children that science was fun."

Mr. Tibbetts — with his Hawaiian shirts and outgoing personality — performed his bubble show for two decades in the area, first at the Wichita Omnisphere and Science Center and later at county fairs and festivals, private parties and school classrooms.

"I can't tell you how many times we've been out eating, and little kids will come up and yell, 'The Bubble Man' or 'Santa Claus!' " Anne Tibbetts said.

Mr. Tibbetts was born in Salina on May 18, 1949. With a father in the Air Force, he lived in a variety of places growing up, including Alaska and Georgia.

After Mr. Tibbetts served in the Air Force from 1968 to 1972, he attended Radford University in Virginia, where he earned three bachelor's degrees: in general sciences, geology and astronomy.

When he finished college, he moved to Texas, where he worked for an oil company. However, his real passion was to teach, Anne Tibbetts said.

"He didn't feel that enough young people were going into the sciences anymore," she said.

Mr. Tibbetts started working at the Omnisphere in 1987 and created his bubble show four years later as a way to draw children to the museum.

Everyday objects like strings, straws and wire clothes hangers often provided inspiration for his show, Anne Tibbetts said.

"He'd look at something and, all of a sudden, he'd realize, 'That would be a good bubble maker,' " she said. "He'd be off and running with the idea and make it work."

She remembered driving around Florida once, looking for string, PVC pipe and a child's swimming pool so Mr. Tibbetts could put some of his high school friends inside a huge bubble.

"He'd come up with the strangest stuff," she said with a chuckle.

After the Omnisphere closed in 2001, Mr. Tibbetts took his show to CityArts and, later, on the road throughout the U.S. and Europe so that he could reach more kids. On a trip to China, he even shipped Kansas water to Shanghai.

"The Chinese water was too hard and dense to make bubbles with," Anne Tibbetts said.

Each year during the Riverfest, he rode on a float during the Sundown Parade and performed his show for families.

"Little children just gravitated toward him, so it was a true pleasure to have him around," said Janet Wright, Riverfest president and CEO.

Mr. Tibbetts had a show scheduled in the Kids' Korner for Friday.

Anne Tibbetts described her brother-in-law as a man full of kindness who had a smile perpetually on his face.

"He just never met anybody he didn't like," she said.

She hopes people remember him every time they blow a bubble.

"That would be my greatest wish."

Mr. Tibbetts' father, Merlin, and a brother, Bernie, preceded him in death. He is survived by his mother, Inge Tibbetts of Derby; his brother, Herb Tibbetts of Wichita; and his sisters, Nola Spillum of Hutchinson and Cheryl Baber of Madrid, Spain.

Visitation is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday at Smith Family Mortuary, 1415 N. Rock Road. The graveside service is at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Kansas Veterans' Cemetery in Winfield. In lieu of flowers, a memorial has been established with the Wichita Children's Home, 810 N. Holyoke St., Wichita, KS 67208.

Reach Sarah Rajewski at 316-269-6752 or srajewski@wichitaeagle.com.

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