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    Saturday, January 28, 2023

    Kite Man celebrates birthday by bringing joy to others

    John Rose, right, of Lisbon, works with a volunteer to fly one of his many kites during a kite flying day at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford on Saturday, June 12, 2021. Rose started the informal displays of his collection of some 300+ kites in the fall of 2018 and holds the events as weather permits on Saturdays, and some rare Sundays, from spring through fall. Kite-flying days are announced via his Facebook page.(Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    John Rose, right, watches as volunteers help get kites aloft for a kite-flying day Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford. Rose, of Lisbon, started the informal displays of his collection of some 300+ kites in the fall of 2018 and holds the events as weather permits on Saturdays, and some rare Sundays, from spring through fall. Rose says they may go as late as Thanksgiving if the weather cooperates. Kite-flying days are announced via his Facebook page. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Lisbon ― John Rose first started flying kites when he was a boy, and they were mostly made of newspaper and office supplies.

    Now, at 83, he estimates he has somewhere between 300 and 400 kites of all shapes and sizes, some even as big as 90 feet long and 30 feet wide and weighing as much as 50 pounds. He and a few helping hands take anywhere from 60 to 70 pieces of the collection to fly at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford.

    While he and his daughter, Donna Slaga, 59, are the main forces behind the displays, they don’t put in the work for their enjoyment. They do it to for the smiles they get and the stories they hear from the 3,200 followers Kite Man has on Facebook.

    “Every time we fly, there’s someone that we find that has a story behind them and how much this helped them,” Rose said.

    Over the last 10 years, since his collection really grew to its current state, Rose has been flying kites and talking with people. He’s a self-proclaimed “blabbermouth” who enjoys conversation. When he sees people off on their own at one of his displays, he said he is liable to walk up them, hand them a kite and walk away.

    Rose and his family had planned a flight for this past weekend on Oct. 1, to celebrate Rose’s 83rd birthday. The poor flying conditions forced them to move the event to the following Saturday, Oct. 8.

    Before Slaga created the Facebook page in 2018, Rose used to spend the hour or so before a flight texting everyone that he was heading out to fly. Now, communication is much easier with a quick status update.

    “I like the idea to get everyone involved. This is a happy day,” Rose said. “You leave your troubles outside the door.”

    Rose has stories upon stories of the people he’s met through his displays. He talked of one woman who would “light up like you like you turned on a switch,” he said after he gave her a kite to fly. She said she hadn’t flown once since she was a teenager.

    Rose, an avid antique book collector, added a homemade book he was gifted by a 7-year-old boy named Max to his collection. With the help of his grandmother, Max made a book with photos and the story of his time watching the kites. He signed it and gave it to Rose himself, with spelling mistakes and all.

    When Rose met a man in his 50s who said his mother never let him fly a kite as a child, Rose told him “mom’s not here.” The man spent the rest of the afternoon flying kites with his son.

    “Age is just a number,” Rose said. “There are old people at 30 and young people at 90. It’s your outlook.”

    A retired submariner in his 70s told Rose a whale kite reminded him of looking out his periscope from under the sea.

    “It’s great to bring everybody together with a smile, enjoying themselves,” Rose said.

    Slaga, who got involved with the kites at a young age, recalled meeting a girl in a wheelchair who was at the event with her family. Before she even knew it, the girl was flying a kite and asking if she could keep going. While most of Rose’s kites aren’t handheld, he makes sure to bring some that are for children.

    “All you have to do is sit there and hold it,” Rose said. “But you get to feel the tension on the line.”

    “It’s a very free feeling,” Slaga described.

    Rose said Slaga has always been “daddy’s girl,” when she was growing up. Slaga is one of three children and Rose’s only daughter.

    “Doesn’t matter what it is,” Slaga said. “No such thing as a bad day with dad.”

    Rose’s collection took a big jump when a local company, “Go Fly A Kite,” was purchased by a toy company in California some years back. Rose said he bought the rest of their inventory, though a lot of the kites were repeats of others so he did not keep them all.

    Then, about a decade back, he recalled, another kite collector in the state died. Rose bought that collection to add to his. Slaga said that some collectors believe her father’s collection is the largest in the world, but no one has checked that fact with the Guinness Book of World Records. The two estimate Rose’s collection is worth somewhere between $80,000 and $90,000, though they aren’t sure. His collection grows with each passing birthday and Christmas, with family members chipping in to buy his next piece. Some kites can run up to $1,000, depending on the manufacturer.

    The family keeps it as simple as they can. They are not a paid group, nor are they sponsored. They don’t even accept donations as they don’t want anyone to feel pressured to do so, no matter their financial situation.

    “It’s just a family with their kites who just want to come down and make it a nice day for everybody,” Slaga said.

    Rose and Slaga make up half of the crew that puts on the daylong displays for the public. Slaga’s sister-in-law, Dianna Rose, 56, is always there while the fourth spot is a revolving door. Sometimes it’s a different family member, sometime’s its a friendly stranger who loves the displays.

    Rose’s wife , Phyllis, comes from time to time to be the “director” of sorts, telling the crew which kite needs to go up in the air next. Slaga said her mother’s favorite of all the kites is a horse with legs that move with the wind.

    Rose said his favorite is one of a large, spiked fish that he keeps low to the ground. He said its the one kite children are allowed to touch and they love it.

    “It’s like putting out a jar of honey for flies,” he said. “Kids come from everywhere and they play and laugh.”

    Rose said people will react “like you made a touchdown” with thunderous applause when the latest kite goes up or one nearly misses flying into a tree.

    Rose and Slaga load up a trailer’s worth of kites the night before a fly day, which usually occurs every four to six weeks from April and into the fall. Slaga goes through the Excel spreadsheet that she uses to keep inventory of the collection and helps decides what needs to come with them.

    The crew will arrive at the park about two hours before they start to fly to set up the display. Sometimes, the audience beats them to the park. Each kite needs to be anchored into the ground properly ― with a pair of stakes and cable that can withstand 2,000 pounds of force ― so the kite is stable and the stakes won’t come up and hurt a bystander. The crew operates in pairs for maximum safety, something Slaga says she takes charge of. Rose said he’s been in a few tricky scenarios in his time where his leg has been caught in a line, and Slaga has too. She said she struggled for 20 minutes trying to save a kite one time as it pulled her toward the shore.

    Despite the dangers of flying and the dedication it takes to put on a display, Rose said he can’t think of any negatives about flying kites.

    “It’s a lot of work, but it’s not work if you enjoy doing it,” Rose said.

    The crew uses a pulley system to “walk” the kites up into the air, and then back down again at sundown when they have to go home. It’s a three-day event by the time the kites are put away in Rose’s storage room.

    While “Kite Man” has enough fans to warrant carrying business cards with a link to his Facebook page, he likes to shrug off the fame. He’s just there for the smiles and the good time.

    “The kites have so many fans,” Rose said. “I’m just a figurehead.”

    “It’s worth it if we reach someone,” he added.


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