With the heat reaching 95 degrees by 1:45 p.m. Saturday, July 16, the question of how many would come out to California Balloon Invitational held at Windmill Ridge was answered when droves of cars began coming out starting at 5 p.m. Thousands came out to watch the hot-air balloons race which went from the development on the east side of town to a farm field northwest of town. Jessica Dunn was one of many performers who entertained on the stage sponsored by Burgers' Smokehouse and Mike Kehoe Ford.
"I think the event went really well," Dunn said. "We performed earlier in the day and it was really hot. But when we performed after 5 p.m. we had quite a few people out there."
Dunn said performing in front of a big crowd was intense and actually made her a little nervous. She said the event went better than could have been expected and said she would absolutely like to see it in the future.
"I thought it was so much fun," Dunn said. "It would be really cool to have again, especially because it is a free event you can come out and enjoy."
Balloons, in quotation marks, pilots and sponsors, in parentheses, included Hare Balloon "Take a Chance II" Jim Wolters (Capitol Plaza Hotel); and Hound Balloons "Boomer" Gary Whitby (Kenneth Vaughan, Developer); "Freedom" Mike Thomas (Burgers' Smokehouse); "Aurora (The Roman Goddess of Dawn)" Herb and Cheri Heriford (Lutz Barbecue); "Bright Idea" Ken Schroeder (Quality Used Cars); "Tropical Sunrise" Brian Carlson (First Financial Credit Union); "Hocus Pocus" Tony Goodnow (Commerce Bank); "Freedom" George Thomas (Law Office of Ann Perry); "St. Louis" David Rapp (AA Propane and Trucking); "Mike Kehoe" Gary Sines (Mike Kehoe Ford-Lincoln); "Central Bank" Jan Sines (Central Bank); "Lucky Charm" Denis Sutter (Something Sassy Salon); "TJ Toy" Rick and Karmen Goosey (California Area Chamber of Commerce and Ozark Ham and Turkey Festival); "Ozark Flyer" Dallas Matney (Xtreme Body and Paint); "Blue Horizons" John Mountain (Joyful Expressions); "Airhawk" Steve Libel (Midwest Factory Outlet); "Cherry Bomb" Theron Riley (Mr. G's); "Final Frontier" Carol Sherman (Bond Pharmacy). Amanda Sabia (sponsored by New Beginnings Family Worship Center) and Alan Lawson (sponsored by the California Veterinary Clinic) also piloted balloons which names were not available.
After the race the winners were presented. Pilots who won were Goosey (1st), Gary Sines (2nd) and Rapp (3rd). Sponsors who won were the California Area Chamber of Commerce and Ozark Ham and Turkey Festival (1st), New Beginnings Family Worship Center (2nd) and AA Propane and Trucking (3rd). All the pilots also received gift baskets donated by local businesses at the pilot dinner.
Stephanie Stokes, owner of Something Sassy, received a special "Outstanding Sponsor" award not only for her donations, but the time and effort organizer Ernie Timbrook Jr., said she put into the race.
"It was awesome," Stokes said. "When Timbrook Jr. came to me with the idea I was very excited and thought it would be awesome for the town to host something like this. There was a bigger turnout than I thought there would be. I was happy people showed up and had a good time while bringing business to California. There were a lot of visitors from out of town. I appreciate everyone for coming out and all the local businesses for helping support and put it together."
Timbrook Jr., said things went smoothly as all the vendors and balloonists showed up. The race also was went well as the balloonists raced and chased Timbrook Jr. in the hare balloon and came within inches of one another. The event had an excellent crowd which was triple the size he was hoping for.
"Seeing more and more people come out kept exciting me," Timbrook Jr. said, "because when you organize all of it with just you and some friends and put so much into it, it means a lot to see the community come out together and really enjoy it. It adds another successful event for California."
Timbrook Jr., said he could definitely see them having the event annually if they can get the community support to sponsor the balloonists.
"I had excellent feedback and have not heard anything negative," Timbrook Jr., said. "I have deep appreciation for Kenneth Vaughan who donated the land, Burgers' Smokehouse and Lutz Barbecue for providing the meal and Creative Awards for providing the trophies along with all the other sponsors who helped make the event a success."
For photos check out the July 20 issue of the California Democrat.