Fireflies in the sky

Malena Caruso

Balloon Classic and Food Fest energize Kent State Stark

It was just before dawn Friday, and on the horizon amber flashes of flames from hot air balloons went off in a poetic rhythm.

Steven Meeks, chairman of the Jackson-Belden Food Fest and Fireworks, witnessed The Dawn Patrol from the ground and described the hot air balloons as “fireflies in the morning sky.”

According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Festival Web site, The Dawn Patrol was new to the Balloon Classic Invitational this year and allowed the pilots to get an early idea of wind speeds and directions at different altitudes.

While the participating balloons took the 5:30 a.m. flight, hundreds of people scurried about setting up the final touches for the festival’s 4 p.m. start time.

The Balloon Classic Invitational and Jackson-Belden Food Fest and Fireworks served as a kickoff to the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement festivities.

Ruthanne Wilkof, president of the Jackson-Belden Chamber of Commerce, said employees and volunteers begin setting up a week and a half ago and worked around the clock to transform the running track at Kent State University’s Stark Campus into the food fest.

The planning for this year’s event started just after last year’s festival ended, and Wilkof said all the planning paid off.

“This is the smoothest it’s ever been,” said Wilkof, in her eighth year as the Chamber of Commerce’s president.

As the food fest took shape, balloonists prepared their balloons for the evening flight. Seventy-two balloons participated in this year’s Balloon Classic Invitational.

“It takes about an hour to get the balloon ready for take off,” said Butch McClure, a Jasper Engines and Transmissions balloon team member from Bloomington, Ind. “Then we have enough fuel for about a three-hour flight. When the balloon lands, if the area isn’t too bad, it takes an hour to pack it up.”

The pilot and the rest of the balloon team that is on the ground communicate by two-way radio while the balloon is in flight. The pilot of the Jasper balloon, Warren Smith, radioed down to McClure to let him know when he found a safe, open area to land.

Further down on the Stark Campus, Beth Schumacher of Schumacher Homes put the finishing touches on the company’s sponsor tent. The theme for the tent was a Wizard of Oz inspired, “There’s no place like a Schumacher Home.”

Ruby slippers and even Toto sat atop the tables as centerpieces, while the replicas of Dorothy and her friends were the main focus of the tent.

“The planning for our tent started in about April after I came up with the theme,” Schumacher said. “It’s all come together in the last two weeks though.”

Contact general assignment reporter Malena Caruso at [email protected].