Annual Kites Over Grinnell festival takes flight

Local+Grinnellians+will+be+able+to+fly+their+kites+at+Ahrens+park+this+Saturday%2C+Sept.+28+from+10+a.m.+to+4+p.m.+Photo+by+Grinnell+Rotary+Club.

Local Grinnellians will be able to fly their kites at Ahrens park this Saturday, Sept. 28 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Photo by Grinnell Rotary Club.

George Kosinski

Local Grinnellians will be able to fly their kites at Ahrens park this Saturday, Sept. 28 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Photo by Grinnell Rotary Club.

This coming Saturday, Sept. 28, the annual Kites Over Grinnell will be held at Ahrens Park from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Hosted and sponsored by the Grinnell Rotary Club, this free event will feature kite flying, as well as live music, games and food.

Kites Over Grinnell was originally founded in 2002 by local minister Dan Ogata as a way for Grinnellians to come together and enjoy the outdoors. The event, during which people gathered and flew kites, continued annually for several years before eventually losing traction and stopping. However, fond memories persisted within the Grinnell community, and in 2016 residents Sis and Dick Vogel, both passionate about kite flying, revived the event, bringing in professional kite flyers from all over Iowa. The Grinnell Rotary Club then took charge.

“We took it over because it was kind of a ‘get in the park’ thing, you know?” said club secretary Bruce Blankenfeld. “[It’s] a service for the community.”

The event has been going strong ever since, and Saturday marks the fourth consecutive year of Kites Over Grinnell.

This year’s celebration holds special meaning as it is dedicated in honor of Lieutenant Colonel James Ahrens, a 25-year member of the Rotary Club who recently passed away. Ahrens is fondly remembered helping children with their kites, managing the information table, and having a general admiration for Kites Over Grinnell.

When asked about the Rotary Club’s goals, Blankenfeld said, “We’d like to have every kid in Grinnell to come fly a kite. But it doesn’t make any difference if it’s a kid or an older gentleman or an older lady, you know? We’d like to have anybody come fly a kite. The more people the better.”

Kites Over Grinnell is open to all, and everyone is encouraged to bring a kite and participate, but the Rotary Club has taken specific measures to get Grinnell’s youngest residents involved. The club distributed 900 kites to schools in Grinnell, and Rotarians have spent the past week in classrooms helping students assemble them so they can be flown over the weekend.

Though there will certainly be many school-aged community members in attendance, Kites over Grinnell is not geared solely towards small children. Hailing from all over the country, 40 professional kite flyers will be present, displaying their talent in the skies over Grinnell. Additionally, they will operate in an area separate from the younger children in order to maximize safety at the event.

In addition to the kite flying, attendees will be presented with a myriad of other entertainment options. There will be live music by local artist Dave Crawford, now a staple of the event due to his consistent performances over the past three years. As a way of giving back to the community, the Rotary Club will provide free lunches, each consisting of a hotdog, chips and a bottle of water, to the first 400 people arrive. Additionally, there will be games for children who get tired of flying kites, and archery will be set up for anyone wishing to hone their skills with the bow and arrow.

Besides being just a stroll down 10th Avenue from campus, Kites Over Grinnell has other strong ties to Grinnell College. Heriberto Hernandez, Department Chair of Biological Chemistry, has helped the Rotary Club with the celebration since its 2016 revival, when he was the club’s president. Hernandez values the experience that Kites Over Grinnell gives children from the area, saying, “It’s a family event, but there’s a lot of focus on the kids because they are the future of our town.”

Hernandez also coordinates the Grinnell College women’s swim team volunteering at Kites Over Grinnell. Team members work in the “kite hospital,” repairing broken kites and supplying replacement parts. Hernandez sees this community involvement as critical, saying, “I like that connection; for the kids to see, instead of a bunch of old guys like us, actual young college students working. The college students are more like role models for the younger kids.”

Falling on parents’ weekend, the timing of Kites Over Grinnell could not be better. The town is one defining aspect of life at Grinnell College. On Saturday, students will be able to show parents or guardians some of the best the area has to offer. Those unable to attend will not miss out entirely––kites will be visible from campus, swirling about in the sky above. Those who do attend, however, will have the opportunity to fly kites, watch professional flyers, play games, eat free food and engage with the wonderful Grinnell community.