Mary Beth Jarvis, who has worked both as chief of public affairs for McConnell Air Force Base and as communications director for Koch Industries, was named Wednesday morning as the new President and CEO of Wichita Festivals Inc., the organization that puts on the annual Wichita River Festival.
Jarvis will take over the role on Nov. 1. She’ll replace longtime president Janet Wright, who announced in July her plans to retire after 13 years leading the festival.
Wright has agreed to keep working until Jarvis feels comfortable in her role, said Bill Gardner, who is the chairman of the WFI board of directors. Her last day will likely be in mid-November.
A selection committee made up of River Festival volunteers, board members, sponsors and past admirals chose Jarvis from a pool of about 85 applicants, Gardner said. Interest in the job came from all over the country.
But Jarvis’ resume immediately rose to the top of the stack, he said.
“She’s been in positions in the past where she’s really accustomed to strategically pulling things together on a much larger scale,” Gardner said.
Jarvis, 44, moved to Wichita in 1994. A captain in the United States Air Force, she served as McConnell’s chief of public affairs and was responsible for helping to coordinate large-scale events and air shows. In the mid-1990s, when the festival and McConnell teamed up to put on an air show, Jarvis worked with the festival and learned about its structure and operating style.
In 1996, she took a job with Koch Industries and held many positions there, including vice president of government and public affairs and communications director. She left Koch in the fall of 2011 to spend more time with her family, she said, including her two teenage children.
But the job at the festival enticed her back into the workforce, she said.
“It really is an opportunity to use and apply some of the professional skills that I was fortunate enough to pick up at Koch and in my Air Force career and also with my longstanding activities from a community service perspective,” she said. “I think it’s so important the work that WFI does. This community deserves great celebrations that we can enjoy and that show us how much Wichita has to offer and how much we have to be proud of in our community.”
Jarvis has served on several boards and communities in Wichita, including the Greater Wichita YMCA, the Greater Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau (now GoWichita), and Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce.
A self-described “festival geek,” Jarvis said she and her family rarely missed a festival over the years.
“I marched in parade once with Koch and once with my husband’s company, and we always went to the Koch pops concert and fireworks,” she said. “We remember when the Bubble Man and the Bubble Fest activities were in Riverside. We’ve kind of evolved through it. My kids are now teenagers, but they can’t go a year without a funnel cake and a turkey leg.”
Jarvis said that her previous work experience has equipped her with good project management skills that should serve her well with the festival.
“I have experience with problem solving and utilizing manpower, and that’s what it takes to pull events like these off,” she said. “But I still have a lot to learn. This is Kansas’ largest and longest-running community festival. I expect to learn lots of new skills, but hopefully I can hit the ground running.”
Though she said she doesn’t know specifically what changes she’ll make to the festival, Jarvis said she’s already started to gather feedback and plans to have discussions with volunteers, staff members and community members to help decide what direction to take.
“Here’s my sense: As the community changes, the festival has to evolve with it while still maintaining some of the traditions and core activities that characterize it,” she said. “Every year, it’s going to be a matter of trying to hit that sweet spot.”
Jarvis is married to Don Jarvis, who is a pilot for United Airlines and a former KC-135 instructor pilot. Their son, Kevin, is a senior at The Independent School, and their daughter, Elizabeth, is a sophomore there.