Ron Ryan announced as Riverfest’s newest Admiral Windwagon Smith

Wichita Wagonmasters honor Ron Ryan, the new Admiral Windwagon Smith, on his way to board the Windwagon. (March 12, 2014)
Wichita Wagonmasters honor Ron Ryan, the new Admiral Windwagon Smith, on his way to board the Windwagon. (March 12, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Ron Ryan, the retired owner and president of Ryan International Airlines, is the newest Admiral Windwagon Smith.

He was named Windwagon Smith XLI and was presented his sword on Wednesday during a news conference at the Kansas Aviation Museum.

As the 41st admiral, Ryan will preside over the Wichita River Festival May 30 through June 7. Until then, some of his duties will include visiting children in local hospitals and speaking appearances about Riverfest.

“I’ve known since January, and my wife has known,” Ryan said Wednesday shortly before the news conference. “I think it must be the world’s worst-kept secret, because people have been coming up to me and congratulating me.”

A longtime aviation enthusiast, Ryan, 75, moved to Wichita in 1968 to become a pilot for Jack DeBoer Associates. In 1974, he founded Ryan Aviation Corp. with George Ablah. Later, the company’s name was changed to Ryan International Airlines. He has been a Wichita Wagonmaster since 1987.

On Wednesday, Mary Beth Jarvis, president and CEO of Wichita Festivals Inc., joked that Ryan definitely came prepared for the job – he already owns a pair of white pants. He now has the red jacket, hat and everything else he needs as admiral.

“He’s equipped,” she said. “He has all the qualities needed for which he was selected. He has a longtime dedication to the institution of the Wichita River Festival. He’s provided corporate sponsorships. He has been a part of all of our volunteer endeavors. You can also add to that his dedicated role as a business and community leader. It added up to an easy equation.”

Ryan is active in Wichita’s Midian Shrine, Kansas Food Bank Warehouse, Boy Scouts of America, Friends of McConnell Air Force Base, the Downtown Rotary, Commemorative Air Force, Junior Achievement of Wichita and several other organizations.

It is no coincidence that the news conference was held at the Kansas Aviation Museum.

The museum, Ryan said, “is a project that is near and dear to my heart.”

He serves on the museum’s board and is a recipient of the Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame Governor’s Award and Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Ryan joked that he’s thinking about mounting a jet engine on the famous wagon.

Jarvis said that because of Ryan’s avid aviation interest, the festival this year will include a day honoring flight and Wichita’s aviation legacy.

“It is perfect for an admiral that is a pilot and aviation historian,” she said. “Our admiral couldn’t be more perfect.”

Ryan and his wife, Renae, have been married since 1989.

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