By: Deanna Rebro | Category: Recreation/Leisure | Issue: August 2009
Judi Myers, CEO, and LaQuinda Davison, director of development, invite everyone to enjoy the 14th annual Gatesway Balloon Festival, free of charge.
It’s fun. It’s festive. And this year, it’s free! You don’t have to spend a cent to enjoy the excitement, beauty and magical atmosphere of more than 30 hot air balloons filling the skies of Claremore.
The 14th annual Gatesway Balloon Festival will be held August 7 through 9 at Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs. Gatesway Foundation CEO Judi Myers says that the decision to waive the per-vehicle admission fee for the first time in the festival’s history came as a result of a weak economy. “This is a long-standing family event,” she explains. “And we know families are struggling. Our objective is to get as many people as possible to the festival, and hope they will come and have a good time and donate as much as they can afford.”
What began as a one-time event to celebrate Gatesway’s 30th anniversary has turned into an annual spectacle, with people coming from a four-state area. This year’s crowd is expected to reach 15,000.
The festival’s main attractions are brightly-lit balloon glows on Friday and Saturday evening, and a competition flight on Saturday morning. Other attractions include a helicopter flyover Saturday afternoon and full competition flights early Saturday evening and Sunday morning.
Gatesway is pleased to welcome back Claremore’s Route 66 Car & Motorcycle Show to the event. These classic car enthusiasts share the charm and history of their restored vehicles at area car shows. This year their show will reach a new and exciting dimension with a flame-throwing contest on Friday evening.
For the first time, American Escapes Co. will offer tether balloon rides for $10 per person. Between attractions, guests can visit with pilots and learn the stories behind their balloons. Plenty of arts and crafts and food vendors will be on hand for shopping and eating.
LaQuinda Davison, director of development, has been involved with every balloon festival. She says that there wouldn’t be a festival without the help of their many sponsors. This year’s list includes Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs, Fleming Building Co., Ameristar Fence Co., Zarrow Family Foundation, Don Carlton Honda, Valley National Bank, George Kaiser Foundation, St. Francis Hospital South, Manufacturing Services & Innovations, Western Fire Protection, Senator Bill Brown, Spirit Aero Systems, 92.9 KBEZ, My 41 Television and Oklahoma Magazine.
LaQuinda says she is always asked why the festival is held in the dog days of summer. From a balloonist’s point of view, the answer is simple: August weather conditions in Oklahoma are most ideal for flying. Hot air ballooning is lots more than art in the air. There is also a very precise science that involves wind speed, wind direction and visibility. Any conditions less than ideal mean a launch is scratched.
Behind all the fun and excitement is a very serious cause. All proceeds support more than 400 residents with developmental disabilities in northeastern and central Oklahoma. The balloon festival is the nonprofit agency’s largest fundraiser.
Gatesway has one large facility in Broken Arrow. It also operates 12 group homes, approximately 100 homes in Community Living Services, a sheltered workshop, and two community employment programs that provide opportunities to learn vocational skills and earn a paycheck. Specialized services and programs assist, support and educate each individual’s unique needs. All these people are highly dependent on others every minute of every day; yet state and federal funds provide less than $2 an hour to handle their needs.
Enjoy a wonderful experience and help some special people in your community. The Gatesway Balloon Festival runs from Friday, August 7, through Sunday, August 9. For a detailed schedule of events, visit www.gatesway.org.
Deanna Rebro has worked in the publishing industry 30+ years, including eight years writing for Value News. She has also worked in real estate for the past six years. Deanna graduated from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio with a B.A. in Journalism. Outside of work, she serves as Vice President on the Board of Directors for Pet Adoption League. “Every story I write is a learning experience,” she said.