WKA - The Early Years

The following is a brief look at some of the early history of the Washington Kitefliers Association -- or WKA as we generally call ourselves.

WKA was formed by a group of kite enthusiasts that decided to get together to fly kites. They started flying together on a regular basis. Jack VanGilder started a newsletter to let the group know where to gather to fly kites. Some of these "Founding Fathers" included Dave Checkley, Jack VanGilder, Tony Toledo, Harold Writer, Ken Conrad, Tom Sisson, Bill Spezia, Jim Carnwath and John Dusenberry.

They were loosely organized in the beginning as it was too much fun just flying kites to deal with official details like Article of Incorporation or By-laws.

Dave Checkley was considered the "Chairman of the Board" before there was an official organization or a person named as President. He continued to hold that title until his passing. He was named as President in 1974. Jack VanGilder was the first Secretary.

According to the newsletter of September, 1974, "After only one year of operation, W.K.A. has about 95 paid-up members, the largest local group of kitefliers in the country, according to Bob Ingraham of the American Kitefliers Association. Seattle also has more A.K.A. members than any other city in the U.S."

Executive board members in 1975 included Dave Checkley, Jack VanGilder, Bill Spezia, Dave Whitman, David Freeman, John Dusenberry, Ken Conrad and Walt McColough.

In May of 1976 the club voted to authorize officers to put together Articles of Incorporation. Later in December of 1985, Margaret Holzbauer helped President Tom Sisson in writing up a Constitution for WKA. This was the first step in gaining a nonprofit tax-exempt status.

In the early years, WKA held weekly "fly-ins" at many Seattle area parks including Stan Sayers (later named Genesse Park), Golden Gardens, Volunteer Park, Gas Works, Sand Point (later named Magnuson Park), and then began traveling around to Westport, Grayland, Long Beach, Vancouver B.C. and other places. The tradition began of flying kites on New Years Day at Golden Gardens.

Included on the list of "Fly-ins" were some special events. These included "Festivals of Kites" exhibitions at the Pacific Science Center; inaugural ceremonies for the opening of the Museum of Flight; the club spread an umbrella of kites at the dedication of the Rainier Bank Tower office building in downtown Seattle; dedication of Magnuson Park; celebration for new Seattle Trolley Cars; and at one of the early Bellevue Arts & Crafts Fairs.

There were special "fly-ins" on the Seattle Center grounds at the International Fountain and the Space Needle. Jack VanGilder flew a Philippine fighter kite so high that it landed on the observation deck of the Space Needle. They also used to have "boat flys" where you flew from the back end of a boat.

For several years kites had flown next to, and later inside Husky Stadium at University of Washington football games. WKA has also flown kites at half times for Seattle Sounder soccer games in the Kingdome.

Two world record indoor kite flight records were set in the Kingdome. The old record was broken on Jan. 31 - Feb. 1, 1979 with a flight of 9 hours, 13 minutes. This record was again broken on Feb. 7-8, 1980. The new record was set at 39 hours, 53 minutes. The team was the same on both occasions. These records were set by Carl Brewer, Tom Sisson and Bob McCort.

In 1973, Jack VanGilder was the first editor of the club newsletter. He typed it on his typewriter until 1981. It was originally one page. It had grown over the years into one, two, three and then to four legal size pages by April,1986. The newsletter was expanded to its current 8-1/2" x 11" multi-page format in August, 1987 when it was determined that more pages could be printed for about the same cost. It helped that one of the members was a printer.

The early newsletters merely had a typed heading of the "WASHINGTON KITEFLYERS - Newsletter" or "WASHINGTON KITEFLIERS ASSOCIATION." Dave Checkley designed the repeating WKAWKAWKA, with the fading letters. It was first used on the newsletter in September, 1976. Later in March, 1983 WKA was superimposed on a Philippine fighter kite designed by Tony Toledo, one of the Founding Fathers. The newsletters bore this logo for four issues. Again the fading letters were used as the logo until February-March 1993 when the current red, yellow and blue WKA diamond kites logo was first used. This logo was designed by Jeffrey Reed.

In the early years the newsletters contained many articles by Jack VanGilder and Dave Checkley. Photographs began to appear in June, 1978. Dave Checkley supplied many stories and pictures from his kite tours to China and Japan. Several members accompanied the Chairman on his travels.

There have been many kite plans published over those early years by such builders as Jack VanGilder, Stormy Weathers, Ken Conrad, Bill Lee and Margaret Greger. One builder, Louise Crowley, did magnificent work sewing her kites -- totally by hand.

Education has always been an important activity for the club with many members involved. Kite building classes at elementary schools, summer camps, fairs and at Fort Worden have been a continuing tradition. Thousands of kites have been built with kids. Books have been donated to the Seattle Public Library that contained a book plate placed inside the front cover with a drawing of the Tony Toledo Philippine fighter kite.

David Checkley and Jack VanGilder, and other "high fliers" have passed on to a Higher Flying Field. They have left us with many kite flying adventures to read about in the WKA archives at Drachen Foundation, 1905 Queen Anne Ave North, Second Floor, Seattle, WA 98109-2549. 206-282-4349, or visit them on the web at www.drachen.org. We want to thank David, Jack and the others, for getting together to fly kites and for forming the Washington Kitefliers Association.

This page was put together by Sylvia Bernauer, WKA Membership