This profile was published in Kansas Alumni magazine.
Mike Stout takes admiral helm
Mike Stout puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like everybody else. But only 28 people have ever put on official Admiral Windwagon Smith pants.
For 10 straight days in the middle of May, Stout (l’61) put on those pants – and the rest of the Admiral’s uniform – to serve as the figurehead of the Wichita River Festival. The first River Festival was a single-day event in 1972. Today’s 10-day festival features more than 80 events, draws hundreds of thousands of participants and generates more than $17 million.
Stout, 63, is a partner with Foulston & Siefkin, where he has worked since 1963. He and his wife, LeAnn, have five children and 12 grandchildren. All five of his children attended KU, including two who earned law degrees.
“Mike was definitely one of the people who helped form the River Festival,” said long-time festival volunteer and Admiral Windwagon Smith XI Jim Remsberg. “When choosing the admiral this year, we had the desire to celebrate the 30th anniversary by recognizing someone like Mike.”
Although it was the 30th year of the festival, it was the 28th year organizers chose an Admiral Windwagon Smith, who reigns over the festival and serves throughout the year. Stout, 63, a partner with Foulston & Siefkin, where he has worked since 1963, remembers attending the first River Festival; a few years later he was asked to help the fledgling festival get established as an annual event. As an attorney, Stout helped establish the bylaws and create sponsor agreements.
He remained active in organizing the festival for about 10 years, including a stint as Wichita Festival Inc.’s board president and numerous roles on committees. Stout again got involved about four years ago, this time with long-range planning. But none of those roles can compare to being Admiral Windwagon Smith.
Stout attended 78 events in 10 days, ranging from the festival’s opening parade that drew a crowd of 150,000 to the sandcastle contest.
“It was a full-time job for 10 days,” Stout said. “It was every day and nearly all day. I saw 20 minutes of a whole lot of events. I shook hands with a lot of 5-year-olds.”
The admiral’s ornately decorated red coat, hat, pants and cowboy boots, as well as the sword on his side, made him a popular attraction at the events. “Everyone wanted me to show them the sword,” Stout said. “I had to quit wearing it pretty early into the festival, though. It was awkward to wear, and it had a sharp point. But the kids still liked pushing on the coat buttons and looking at the big belt buckle.”
Temperatures reached 90 degrees several times during the festival, and the red coat is heavy, the hat is wool and the boots hurt his feet. Despite the sweat, Stout was a proud, albeit exhausted, admiral.
“It was worth the time and the effort,” he said. “The festival is very weather-dependent, and I was lucky to be admiral during such a fantastic year for the festival.”