By Patrick Joseph O’Connor
Kirby’s Beer Store, located across 17th Street from Wichita State University, has served as a hangout for individualists and anti-establishment types since the early 1970s. So naturally Randall Parker felt at home there.
Parker, after a stint in the U.S. Merchant Marine, began his career as a news film reporter for KAKE, channel 10. He also worked with producer Bob Walterscheid on in-house commercials, including the famous first Pizza Hut “Put-Put” endeavors. When Walterscheid left KAKE, Parker went to work for him filming commercials.
Over the years, Parker worked on a couple of local films: The Shortest Straw (Parker did the screenplay and cinematography) and Walterscheid’s King Kung Fu (Parker did lighting). He retired from Boeing in the technical art department.
He relaxed at Kirby’s, where the walls were (and still are) covered with slogans, movie stills and fading photos of the long-haired crew and customers.
Parker made it a practice to shoot the place’s Halloween parties, where the costumes and concepts were as artful as any in town. Once, he even filmed a reveler running his car into Parker’s vehicle.
“Don’t try to get away!” Parker shouted above the din. “I’ve got it all on film.”
The driver straightened his car and backed slowly away. It’s doubtful whether Parker ever collected on damages.
Parker also organized the Kirby’s 3-D Marching Band for both of Wichita’s parades: St. Patrick’s Day and River Festival. He had come across a number of old band uniforms as well as some 3-D glasses from their heyday of the fifties. He created a spectacle of miscreant “hippies” dressed in the semi-military costumes, marching along with him at the head. This pageantry played well with the unconventional bar patrons — and certainly shocked many Wichitans who lined Douglas Avenue.
Parker’s loyal Kirby’s crew did service both times, and Parker was awarded the trophy for the most Irish float in the St. Patty’s Day procession. It depicted a guillotine doing its best on the red snake of Britain. He went to the awards ceremony dressed in tan top hat and waistcoat to match.
He also came up with a character known as Windbag O’Reilly — a hard dig at the city boosters who promoted the wonders of Wichita during the River Festival. They had latched onto a legend of Windwagon Smith, who hoisted sails and was pushed cross the prairies in the 19th century. The whole festival leaned heavily on this theme. When Parker showed up in obvious mockery with his float, their response was swift and terrible: Parker was banned from future River Festival parades. So much for freedom of expression. Of course, Parker got as much delight out of this as he would have from entering.
Kirby’s was where he held court. More than once he was banned from the establishment. I don’t know if ramming his Porsche 356 kit car into the brick exterior on the east side caused one such banning. He did it after closing hour. The bricks did not suffer as much as his sports car. When asked why he did it, he simply said: “I felt invincible.” The 356 was never the same.
Over the years, Parker had an admirable collection of offbeat cars: a Volkswagen Thing, a Citroen car that the French decided only needed three lugs per wheel, and a Rolls Royce that he bought after retiring early from Boeing. He and a friend drove it back from California, but once in Wichita, Parker did not dare drive it. “What if someone runs into me?”
Randall Parker passed away around ten years ago. Has anyone taken his place?
By Patrick Joseph O’Connor