His high-flying hobby as 'The Kite Man'

  • Updated: January 5, 2013 - 6:21 PM

Retired teacher, known as the 'Kite Man,' crafts thousands of flyers out of plastic

Dave Herzig

Dave Herzig still has the page from a 1979 craft magazine that changed his life. It offered a simple way to build a better kite. A third of a century later, the guy known as "the Kite Man" is turning out about 2,000 kites a year.

Drawing on a customer base ranging from Cub Scout packs to first-grade classes to Alzheimer's groups, Herzig's business card sums it up succinctly: "Have Kites - Will Travel."

"The look on kids' faces when their kites go up," Herzig said, "that's absolutely priceless."

His father was a little more grounded. A Czech immigrant who left the old country at 12, Stanis Herzig served as the superintendent of water and sewers in the west-central Minnesota burg of Renville. Dave was the second-youngest of seven kids -- six of whom became teachers.

For 38 years, Dave taught fifth-graders in Minnetonka. His wife, Shirl, logged 28 years teaching second-graders. Now retired, they have three grown sons, two little granddaughters and a house full of kites. They built their red clapboard house in 1966. Some of Dave's favorite kites hang high on the walls of the sun room, toasty from the gas fireplace purring on the far wall.

He came across that craft magazine when he was looking for new art projects for his students. His early kites were duds, patchwork quilt monstrosities of Elmer's glue and tissue paper that refused to fly. Then Herzig starting using plastic garbage bags with wooden dowels for support to make parachute-like kites.

"Darn if it didn't fly better," he said.

He found a local company that sold thin plastic bags in an array of bright colors. He has plastic crates full of the stuff, carefully cut into the sled kite pattern with an open swoop on the top.

"Someone came up with the design and mentioned that they were flexible flyers," he said. "Well, that name was copyrighted by the sled company, so they backhandedly called it the sled pattern."

Throw in some binding tape to solidify the corners for the wood supports. Then pick one of his patterns -- stencils of butterflies, dragons, unicorns, you name it -- and kids can trace their favorite designs quickly, add some tails and get to the point of his workshops: flying the kites.

Herzig has been a 20-year board member of the Minnesota Kite Society (www.mnkite.org). He's put on Frosty Fingers Kite Flies at the St. Paul Winter Carnival and celebrated astronaut-turned-U.S. Sen. John Glenn's high-flying career at a kite workshop at Ohio State's football stadium.

He charges $5 per kite at his 90-minute workshops, kite string included, plus $100 to $150 for his time and gas.

"I own hundreds of kites," he said. "Some are little and can fly off your wrist, and others are 12-foot-tall mesh deltas."

He has checked "learning to sew" off his bucket list, enhancing his kite-making skills.

"Balance and symmetry are the keys," he said.

Whether he's talking about kite making or life, well, that's up in the air.

CURT BROWN

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