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Organizers, flyers emotional over kite festival finale

Becky Vargo • May 21, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Steve Negen raised a toast in an emotional farewell as a group of family and friends closed down the 30th annual and last-ever Great Lakes Kite Festival late Sunday afternoon at Grand Haven State Park.

The owner of MACKite and organizer of what he noted was the second largest festival in Grand Haven said, despite the fog, cool temperatures and some rain, “it was absolutely spectacular.”

“To end with sunshine and Chicago Fire landing their kites. You couldn’t ask for anything more,” Negen said. “And my whole family was by my side. It was pretty special.”

Negen said when you put 30 years into something, it’s pretty important to you.

“It’s part of your life,” he said.

But Negen said he and his wife, Lynn, decided it was time for the festival to end.

“It’s sad,” said Norton Shores resident Pat McWain, as she watched volunteers pull up stakes around the performance area.

Once they discovered the kite festival, they made a family event of attending it every year, said Pat’s husband, Fred.

The McWains said they love coming to Grand Haven for the kite festival and other activities. Pat said she hoped someone else would start it up again.

Russ Faulk said he attended his first kite flying competition in Grand Haven before becoming a member of the nationally recognized Chicago Fire kite flying team.

“I’m a little said,” he said. “We’re used to gathering here with a bunch of friends from all over. We’ve been staying in that green house over there for 17 years.”

Ann Vondriska, who has announced the event for the last 15 years, said she was sad, but she also understands why the festival is over.

“It’s a lot of work,” she said. 

The organizers and the kite flyers have become like family, Vondriska said. And some of them have actually become family. 

Vondriska met her husband, Dan Brinnehl at the event. Brinnehl said that Negen got him started coming to Grand Haven.

Vondriska’s son also got married to someone he met at the kite festival.

“There’s people who got married here,” Negen added.

“So many things happened here outside of the festival,” Vondriska said. “It’s just amazing that we’ve been able to be a part of it.”

Still, spectators shouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of kites flying on the beach at this time next year.

“A lot of the kite flyers will be back here,” Negen said. “They’re all coming back to have fun and enjoy Grand Haven. Now I can join them and have fun.”

The start of the event was slowed by rain Saturday morning, but once the rain stopped, the wind started and the kites flew. 

Most of the performances were against a very foggy background on Saturday. Huge crowds showed up anyway to witness the final festival.

Hundreds of spectators, wrapped in blankets against the wind and 50-60-degree temperatures, gathered around the performance court to watch teams from as far away Quebec City in Canada, dance their kites to music

Rain spit again on Sunday, but didn’t slow down the festival.

Dying winds, or winds out of the wrong direction did keep some of the bigger kites grounded on Sunday, Negen said.

The Great Lakes Kite Festival started in the late 1980s as a competition, but changed to a festival format in 2000, Negen said.

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