Marjorie Brooks, first director of River Festival, dies at age 93

Marjorie “Pat” Brooks was the first director of the Wichita River Festival.
Marjorie “Pat” Brooks was the first director of the Wichita River Festival. Courtesy photo

Her friends say Marjorie “Pat” Brooks had a gift for seeing how Wichita could be.

“She was the most creative person I’ve ever known in my life,” said Ellene Tompkins, who said she was one of Mrs. Brooks’ best friends since high school. “She had a talent for getting other people to carry out her vision.”

Mrs. Brooks, the Wichita River Festival’s first director and later Old Cowtown Museum’s executive director, died Sunday. She was 93.

Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at Cochran Mortuary, 1411 N. Broadway, with interment in Topeka.

Mrs. Brooks’ family moved to Wichita from Topeka in 1937 to start the Nifty Nut House. She graduated from North High School in 1938, Tompkins said.

For years, Mrs. Brooks volunteered with various civic organizations, plays and fund drives. Along with Margaret Mobley, she helped organize Wichita’s centennial celebration in 1970.

When the yearlong celebration was over, Mrs. Brooks became the person city leaders turned to to host the annual River Festival.

During her tenure as executive director of the Wichita River Festival, Mrs. Brooks organized the canoe races, bathtub races, Sundown parade, Wagonmasters and the concept for Admiral Windwagon Smith, according to a Wichita Eagle article from 2000.

Tompkins remembers when Mrs. Brooks came up with the idea for Windwagon Smith.

“A Disney movie had just come out. She called Disney studios and asked if there was any ban against someone using that story,” Tompkins said. “It was based on a true story, and she just went with the idea.”

The story was based on Samuel Peppard, who in 1860 built a wind-powered wagon to take him quickly across the Kansas prairie to the mountains in western Kansas Territory – now central Colorado – where gold had been discovered.

“She was always into something,” Tompkins said.

Mrs. Brooks left Wichita Festivals in 1975 and became the Old Cowtown Museum executive director in 1976.

“She was a nice lady who seemed to be creative and left her mark on Wichita,” said former mayor Bob Knight.

The family has suggested that in in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Old Cowtown Museum at 1865 W. Museum Blvd., Wichita, KS 67203 or to Friends University, 2100 W. University Ave., Wichita, KS 67213.