The Wichita Riverfest has its 43rd admiral, and he wears the red jacket well.
“This really is pretty cool,” said a fully uniformed Steve Dillard, moments after he was revealed as this year’s Admiral Windwagon Smith. “I’ve got to admit, I looked in the mirror and I said, ‘I don’t believe this.’ It is pretty cool.’”
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Dillard, who is a longtime festival volunteer and works as president and a co-owner of Pickrell Drilling Co. Inc., will serve as the ceremonial head of Riverfest activities this year. He will be an ambassador for the festival both before and during and will make an appearance at almost every event at the annual festival, which runs June 3-11 in downtown Wichita.
Dillard, 63, first volunteered for the festival 22 years ago and has served on the festival’s board of directors, acting as the chairman from 2004 to 2005. In 2006, he joined the festival’s Operations Committee, whose members are referred to as “Red Shirts,” and has worked in button sales, food service, at the River Run and at the Sundown parade. He’s also a longtime member of the Wichita Wagonmasters, a service organization associated with the festival, and he was a three-year organizer of that group’s annual Downtown Chili Cookoff.
The identity of the newest Windwagon is kept top secret for weeks every year after he is chosen by the past admirals from the ranks of longtime volunteers. Wednesday’s reveal ceremony took place in the lobby of the Ruffin building at Douglas and Broadway, and a large crowd – including 21 of the past admirals – gathered to see who got the job.
Dillard rode down the escalator of the building into the lobby, a giant cardboard Riverfest button covering his face. Once he was introduced, he dropped the big button to much applause.
When he spoke to the crowd, Dillard thanked his family, including wife Gena, and his co-owners and co-workers for forgiving his absence each year during the festival.
“I really love it and have developed a passion for it,” he said. “It’s just a great event.”
Dillard also has served as president of the Wichita Petroleum Club and as a board member at the downtown Wichita YMCA, where he is a noon-time regular. He also serves as the board chair for the Wichita Chapter of the University of Kansas Alumni Association.