Cliff Quinn came to kiteflying in the early 1990’s as an adult approaching retirement. He had spent his adulthood in a variety of “manly pursuits”: welding, woodworking, electronics and just about anything else that you might have found in the pages of Popular Mechanics. He had a fully furnished workshop where he could escape and create almost anything. As he observed the early-90’s kite scene, he in effect, said, “I can do that”, and started on the path that many of us have experienced.
Making some simple designs that he could enjoy with his grandchildren led him to more serious projects. He quickly learned to sew with help from his wife Joyce and moved on to bigger things. Entering the kitemaking competition at a Smithsonian Kite Festival in the mid-90’s, Cliff’s skill and ingenuity were rewarded with a top prize and he was bitten by the competition bug. By 1996, he was ready to create a large-scale, ornate star kite that was clearly the memorable kite of the AKA Convention, winning both the Comprehensive Kite Competition and People’s Choice awards.
It would be logical to expect that Cliff would have followed this kite with a number of others in subsequent years, but he followed a different course that proves what a true champion he is. With the notoriety that came with his competitive kitemaking, Cliff was invited by his local cable company to create a series of kitemaking videos. He followed these with another series in which he would lead his young assistant through the kitemaking process. Both showed his kite making skills, but more importantly, they featured his friendly personality and gift for teaching.
He was approached by a variety of groups – scouts, church groups, schools - to teach kitemaking to children and adults and quickly became an accomplished teacher and mentor. Approached by Ronald McDonald House, he soon found his true niche. Ronald McDonald House gives hope to young children who have life threatening illnesses and serves their families in times where hope may be at its lowest point. Enter Cliff Quinn. At Ronald McDonald House summer camps, Cliff started by being the “Kite Man”, making and flying kites with anyone able to find a place close to him. He was especially proud of teaching blind students with only verbal instructions: from paper and wood on the desk to a flying kite high overhead.
Now Cliff is a full-fledged counselor at these summer camps, continuing his kite education for the children, but also serving as a counselor, mentor, and father-figure to children in pain. Talking about his charges brings tears to Cliff’s eyes, not to mention anyone lucky enough to listen, and the long-term effect of his efforts may be impossible to measure. But in my mind, Cliff is a champion like no other. Here is a kitemaking champion who has proven his abilities on the field but now finds satisfaction working with children who prove to be stronger than all of us. As teachers, we all say how much we learn from our students, but this idea is focused and magnified by the children at Ronald McDonald House. Cliff gives love, understanding, and the joy of kites – what he receives can’t be put into words.
Thank you, Champ!
- The Drachen Foundation