A conversation with the Admiral
Admiral Windwagon Smith - aka EastSider Ron Ryan - poses with the 2014 Schooner Mates. Contributed photo
Story by Jen Bookhout

    Eastsider Ron Ryan, retired owner of Ryan International Airlines, was recently announced as Admiral Windwagon Smith XLI for the 2014 Wichita River Festival.
    Ryan attended the first Wichitennial Celebration, which later evolved into what is known as the River Festival.
    “It was small compared to today,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to remember back that far, but I remember it was well-received and it presented a good enough image that we wanted to do it again and again and again, and now we’ve done it 41 times.”
    Born and reared in Kansas City, Mo., Ryan moved to Wichita in 1968, where he was chief pilot for Jack DeBoer. He later pursued his passion for flying by starting his own company, Ryan International Airlines, which he owned until he retired in 2004.
    “We operated large transport category aircraft,” Ryan said. “We had about 40 freight aircraft and 20 passenger aircraft.”
    Over the years, Ryan has been continually involved with the River Festival as a member of the Wichita Wagonmasters. He and his wife, Renae, provide any service they can for Festivals Inc.
    “I couldn’t do any of this without my wife Renae,” he said. “She is very involved in trying to make sure I’m in the right place at the right time, and helping Festivals any way she can.”
    After a brief retirement in Florida, Ryan and his wife returned to Wichita where they plan to stay.
    “As far as I’m concerned, it’s home forever,” Ryan said. “It has been and will continue to be.”
    The Admiral spoke with East Wichita News about his work as a Wagonmaster, Admiral Windwagon Smith XLI and some of his favorite pastimes.

    What was your initial reaction to finding out you’d been selected to be Admiral Windwagon Smith XLI?
    I was extremely pleased and humbled and honored. There’s a lot of people that have done a lot of service work in all areas for the Riverfest over the years, so there’s a lot of people deserving, in my opinion, to be the Admiral, and why they picked me, I can’t tell you, except I’m glad they did.

    As Admiral this year, what will your responsibilities be?
    Well I think the Festivals board describes it as the Admiral being the ambassador for the Festival. I’ll appear at quite a number of hospitals, children’s homes, Starkey center, and just tout the River Festival. In addition, I kind of oversee the 26 Schooner Mates that were selected from all the schools in Wichita.
    They’re a group of really fine young kids, but they also assist the Admiral in just trying to make sure the River Festival is a family, fun event.

    Who are the Wichita Wagonmasters?
    We’re a civic organization, a non-profit organization…our function is to try to raise money and help do things to benefit the community, especially other non-profits like scholarships and kids and hospital kinds of things. Also, the primary goal is the Riverfest. And we’re a group of guys, and we just have a good time.

    How is being a Wagonmaster different from being Admiral Windwagon Smith?
    It’s one in the same. I would say almost 90 percent of the Admirals have been Wagonmasters. So I know most of the Admirals before and after their service, but I don’t consider myself anything other than a Wagonmaster, doing duties for the Wagonmasters and then being a symbolic gesture, and hopefully an ambassador, for the River Festival. But the Wagonmasters have a function, in my opinion, that goes well beyond any individual or any title.

    What are some of your passions or hobbies outside of your work with the Wagonmasters?
    Flying is my No. 1 passion and hobby, but I also like power boating. My wife and I have a place at Grand Lake, and we enjoy going down there.

    I hear you’re a Shocker basketball fan What is it that you enjoy most about Shocker basketball?
    The coach and the team spirit and the fact that they have a Christian attitude that I think…just being a Christian myself I see it in the team, and I think it’s that extra edge that helps them play as a team.
    We all have our good days and bad days, and when any one of our players is having a bad day, there’s another player that’s having a good day, and it just works out well. But the coach is—people give him a lot of credit, and that’s because he deserves it. I’ve had an opportunity to get to know him on a personal basis, and he and his wife are just incredibly decent, kind people. I hope that they’ll be here for a long time to come.

    For more information about Admiral Windwagon Smith XLI Ron Ryan, visit www.wichitariverfest.com.