Local Lifestyle

Friday, Nov 08 2013 04:07 PM

HERB BENHAM: Sky-high tribute for the Kiteman of Carpenteria

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

He made cement angels, he was a pied piper and now Gary Apsit will forever be known as the Kiteman of Carpinteria.

You can do a lot of things in your life that you think are important, and maybe they are, but how many will be remembered for "bringing a sense of magic, whimsy, humor and wonder to everything you do," as longtime Bakersfield resident Apsit was noted for doing in his obituary.

Recently, in Apsit's honor, his family and the city of Carpinteria dedicated a picnic table featuring a mosaic of kites done by Chico artist Robin Indar. It sits in front of Life Guard Station No. 2, near the corner of Sandyland and Holly, on the beach where Apsit flew kites and charmed generations of children for more than 20 years.

Apsit, who died of heart failure two years ago, did many things. He and his brothers had a plant and store on Kentucky Street where they produced and sold plaster plaques, statues, lamps, plain white plaster cowboys, clowns and nautical-themed items. Apsit also fashioned cement garden pieces -- bunnies, turtles, angels and saints. Later, he worked for Sorci Construction.

However, many of the happiest days of Apsit's life were the summers spent in Carpinteria with his family -- his wife, Staci, and three daughters, Jill, Julianna and Jori.

He was known as "The Kiteman" because of his vast, unique and colorful collection of kites he flew on the beach.

"If you were in the vicinity of Carpinteria in the late '70s and early '80s, chances are you saw either his kites in the sky or the throng of children that would follow him on the beach, waiting for him to drop toys and treats from parachutes that ascended the kite strings and dropped from the sky," his obit read.

The kite-making started when Apsit collected spent sparklers from the beach one July 4th and used them to build the tissue-paper kites, recalled his daughter, Julie Alonso.

One kite became two and two became 10. There was a kite as big as a small car, tiny ones made from tissue paper and balsa wood, fighter kites that could only be flown when the beach was empty, box kites, a Wright Brothers replica, a kite that sailed a sign that read, "Happy Birthday, Jill!," and one he launched at night with a light attached that was reported as a UFO.

"He always had a crowd around him," Staci said. "Strangers would ask him questions and before they knew it, Gary had handed them a kite and they were flying it."

Apsit usually wore a red-white-and-blue windbreaker, and stood in the same spot every day. He had a device that climbed the kite strings and dropped parachutes from the sky attached with candy, treats and trinkets he had gleaned from antique stores and junk shops to the eager children whose faces were turned skyward.

Many of those kids are now in their 30s, 40s and 50s and have children of their own. A few fly Apsit's kites.

"He'd get to the beach early to stake out his area," said his daughter, Jill Fordyce. "He could have 10 kites up in the air at once."

Apsit stored his kites and wooden spools of string in the back of his old white El Camino named White Lighting. Somehow, the kids in town would figure out where the Apsits were staying.

"Every evening there would be tiny knocks at the door asking for the Kiteman," said his daughter Jori Apsit Jellison.

"A complete stranger (a small one) would ask my dad to make them a kite. No matter what time of day it was, or how tired he was, he always obliged. He'd let them pick a tissue and ribbon color and then he would carefully glue thin wooden sticks into a cross shape."

For 20 years, Apsit made kites and taught his kids how to make them.

"My Dad has -- I still refer to him in the present --" Julie said, "a tremendous sense of humor, wonder and magic. Any baby would sit on his lap and be lulled to sleep. He was childlike himself and thus his love of kites."

Apsit delighted in the kiting vocabulary. Spine, spar, framing string and the bridle, whose main purpose, other than tying everything together, is to govern the kite's angle in relation to the wind.

His family asked if they could contribute something to Carpinteria. Matt Roberts, the director of parks and recreation in Carpinteria, was a lifeguard when "the Kiteman was flying his kites, and saw firsthand what Gary meant to everyone," said family friend Tracy Macnair Burrell.

"We wanted to create something beautiful, simple and unique, reflecting the warmth and color of a summer day in Carpinteria," said his daughter, Jill.

The picnic table includes the following inscriptions: "Only from the heart can you touch the sky" (a Rumi quote) and "In Memory of Gary Apsit, the Kiteman of Carpinteria."

***

Tuesday, Apsit's wife, Staci, met four girlfriends in Carpinteria to see the picnic table. They bought cheeseburgers at The Spot and ate them on the Kiteman's table.

The day was clear, warm, and the sky was Carpinteria-blue. You could see the Channel Islands. It was a perfect day to fly a kite.

"Everyone was telling funny stories because Gary was funny, Staci said. "I'm sure he would have been overwhelmed by the table. I miss him still." HERB BENHAM: Sky-high tribute to the Kiteman of Carpenteria

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