DeKALB – Janna Perrin was grocery shopping and she saw a sign for it. Maria Torres and Amir Alkhatib were out in DeKalb when they saw the kites and decided to check it out.
“We just saw a bunch of kites flying and we thought it was a good idea,” Torres said.
The three were among thousands who attended the eighth annual DeKalb Kite Fest on the Northern Illinois University campus last Sunday.
Since the only fee is for parking, Debbie Armstrong, executive director of the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it’s really hard to tell how many actually attend.
“The first year we had about 600 people; now, it’s anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000,” she said. “A lot of people will come directly from church or they come from a long way. ...You just never see so many smiles.”
Armstrong said the festival is a family-friendly event featuring a wide variety of kites.
“It’s not a contest,” she said. “It is really for the enjoyment of everyone to come out and see the kites. There are huge beautiful kites, not like in your backyards. The whole sky is covered.”
Some who attended, like Janna and Chris Perrin of Genoa, ate a picnic lunch while taking in the sight. Many flew their own kites.
Although 2-year-old Addison Andrus was a little too young to hold her own kite, she got help from her big brother, Christopher, 4, as they attended their second fest.
“We go kiting a couple of times a year,” their mother, Ellen, said.
“You have to make sure you don’t run into someone else,” Joe Schiro of DeKalb gently instructed his 2-year-old son, Tommy.
Elora Slater, 5, of DeKalb, used a fishing rod to fly her kite.
“It’s a little easier for the little ones,” explained her father, Tom, who flies stunt kites himself. “I’ve seen quite a few people use it.”
“They told us this was the easiest kite to fly,” Maria Torres giggled about the butterfly kite she purchased from Kite Harbor of Chicago, one of the sponsors of the event. It was the first time she and Alkhatib – who ran up and down the field like a kid – had ever flown a kite.
One of the biggest attention-getters was the 75-foot white horse kite flown by Ed Grys of Shawano, Wis. Grys has been making and flying kites since he was 14.
“It’s relaxing and fun,” he said. “You can make kites in the winter and fly them in the summer.”
Grys, the area director of the American Kite Flyers Association, or AKFA, said one of the great things about kite festivals is that “janitors and lawyers” can stand next to each other, enjoying the same activity.
“Look underneath the kites,” he said. “None of the kite fliers is by themselves. That’s what’s neat about a kite fest.”
Not far away, Alan Sparling of Naperville was flying an 88-foot purple octopus – when the wind would allow.
“It’s not huge, but it’s a great fest,” he said. A former director and treasurer of the AKFA, he noted that kite fests in small towns typically draw more people than those in big cities. In some places in Europe, he said, they can draw as many as a million people.
According to Armstrong, the DeKalb festival draws people from all over the Midwest, including Wisconsin and Michigan.
“We get visitors from the suburbs and people calling all year long, asking when kite fest is,” she said. It’s always the second Sunday of September. “It’s a generational thing.”
The DeKalb festival began eight years ago when Nathan Overmann, then a fourth grader, wrote “a persuasive letter” to the DeKalb mayor asking permission to start one.
“My family had just gotten into kite flying,” he said. “I thought DeKalb needed a kite fest.”
After getting approval from both the city council and NIU, a number of sponsors lined up to make the festival possible.
“I am having fun and I know other kiters are, too,” said Overmann, who still flies kites. “I like the idea I got it started. I’m really pretty proud.”
Since most kite festivals are an annual event, Overmann, now a senior at DeKalb High School, doesn’t see any reason this one shouldn’t continue.