By Joe Stumpe :
Ken Atnip used to catch bad guys for a living. But no, those magnificent whiskers he sports weren’t some kind of undercover disguise. Nor did he grow them for his current gig as Admiral Windwagon for the 46th annual Riverfest.
The retired Wichita police captain gave up shaving a couple years ago while taking part in an event to raise awareness of prostate cancer.
“I just never have cut it since then,” he said. “The problem is, at my age, more falls out than grows in.”
Atnip was named Admiral Windwagon for the 46th annual Riverfest in recognition of his community service.
Adopted at the age of six months by a Boeing engineer and his wife, Atnip has fond memories of growing up in Wichita — playing Little League baseball, hanging out at the old KiddieLand amusement park on Harry and watching movies at one of several drive-in theatres.
“Boeing used to have a swimming pool on its property,” he said. “We’d go out there every weekend. Life was good.”
Atnip graduated from East High in 1975 and attended Wichita State University before figuring he “had the world by the tail and didn’t need to go to school.” A friend got him interested in police work and Atnip joined the department at age 21, returning to WSU part-time to earn a criminal justice degree. “I could do about nine hours per semester, as I recall,” he said. “Once you’re on the force, you figure that education was a lot more important than you thought it was.”
Antip spent much his career as an investigator, including commanding the SCAT (Special Community Action Team) that targeted drug- and gang-related crime.
During another period in the early 2000s, Atnip was assigned to special operations, which made him the department’s liaison with Riverfest. The main concern, he said, was keeping festival goers out of trouble. “You didn’t want them being victims of thefts, you didn’t want fights, (or) highly intoxicated people down there causing problems. You don’t want vehicles getting broken into. But we had other security concerns in a post 911 world.”
Atnip came to admire the festival volunteers, who are known as “red shirts.”
“I was really impressed with how they carried themselves and what they did for the River Festival,” he said. “They moved mountains, they got the mountains moved usually ahead of schedule, and they enjoyed doing that. I had to have a piece of that.”
He became a red shirt himself in 2003. Atnip, who enjoys working with his hands, says his main job is keeping the Riverfest warehouse “stacked and loaded. There’s always painting and maintenance.” He served as the festival’s general chair in 2013 and this year, as Admiral Windwagon, is making numerous public appearances to promote the city’s biggest party.
Atnip has been married to his school sweetheart, Mylene, for 30 years. They have a son, Chase, who graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in the Kansas City area.
Antip retired in 2011 after 33 years with the police department. He is active in the Wagonmasters, serves on the board of the Wichita Metro Crime Commission and is past president of Crime Stoppers Wichita/Sedgwick County.
Atnip called being named Admiral Windwagon “a very humbling experience. I’ve known all those (previous Admirals) before me from all of my years of working around the festival. They are, in my opinion, true giants in this community.”