By Travis Mounts
Mr. Haysville will be the face of this year’s Wichita River Festival.
Haysville’s most visible resident, Tim Norton – who spent nine years as Haysville city council member, four years as Haysville mayor, and 16 years as a Sedgwick County Commissioner – was revealed last Friday as Admiral Windwagon Smith XLV, Riverfest’s official ambassador. The announcement was made at the Bracket Bash, one of the events held in conjunction with last week’s NCAA Tournament at INTRUST Bank Arena in downtown Wichita.
“It’s very humbling and quite an honor. I’ve been involved in River Festival since the first year I came here with Target,” Norton said from his home on Sunday.
That was 1980. A native of northeast Arkansas, Norton came to Wichita as manager of Target in east Wichita. For many years, his store sponsored the senior celebration at Riverfest. Store employees would push Target shopping carts in the Sundown Parade, calling themselves the Red Cart Brigade.
“We did intricate maneuvers with shopping carts,” Norton said. “My employees and I built floats in my garage.”
Norton became further involved with the festival over the years. He brought his retail expertise to the retail committee. In 1996, Norton joined the Wagonmasters, who also play a key role with Riverfest.
The title of “Admiral” is given to longtime volunteers, board members and sponsors. The election process starts when candidates are nominated each year by the Wagonmaster trail bosses, past admirals and the Wichita Festivals, Inc., board of directors. The past admirals make the final selection.
Norton spoke at Friday’s announcement, took pictures, gave media interviews, and visited with attendees. On Saturday, he executed his first official duty, riding the Windwagon in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade through Historic Delano. This week’s activities include a visit with Wichita’s downtown Rotary and a stop at a seniors meeting.
Norton will conduct many of his duties with the assistance of the Prairie Schooner Mates, including Campus High School student Tannah Tilley.
Norton said the Sundown Parade, which kicks off Riverfest, has always been one of his favorite events. That is in part because of the number of years he has participated in the parade, either through his work at Target or as a member of the Sedgwick County Commission. The fireworks show is another favorite.
“It reconnects us as a community,” Norton said of the parade. “My kids would hop up on my lap during the fireworks and we’d ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah.’”
The ice cream social, bath tub races and food court also have been favorites, Norton said.
As admirial, Norton will kick off the parade and fireworks show, introduce many bands, and glad-hand at numerous events.
“You show up at all the events to be the face of Riverfest, and be visible and meet people,” Norton said.
He’ll be wearing the unique red jacket that has been part of the festival for 45 years. A new jacket was made for Norton to wear. Admirals don’t get to keep the jackets, and Norton’s jacket will go back to Riverfest for another admiral in the future. New jackets are made at different times to make sure it fits. They come from Wichita’s own Fruhauf Uniforms, which is known nationally for marching band uniforms and more.
Norton learned early this year that he had been chosen to be Admiral Windwagon Smith. His wife, Susan, and a couple of his children knew about his selection, but otherwise it was a secret until Friday.
It’s something of a coming out for Norton, who has kept a low profile since his November 2016 loss in the Sedgwick County Commission race.
“After I got out of public service, I took a year for me,” he said. He had held elected office for nearly 30 years. “I needed some time to blow out the soot. I had a lot of family time. I’ve reconnected, and this admiralship will push me back into the public eye very quickly.”
Riverfest will take place June 1-9. Norton will have a full schedule during the festival, but he’ll also be quite busy in the weeks between now and then, making appearances and promoting Riverfest.
“Get ready for a great festival. If you haven’t been in a few years, come on back down,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the March 22 print edition of the Haysville Sun-Times. Subscribe to the Sun-Times to get stories like this sooner and for all your community news. Call 316-540-0500 today to get the paper at your home next week.