Ashland BalloonFest 2021

ASHLAND — BalloonFest celebrated its 30th birthday this year. 

From unbelievable to hilarious to heartfelt, those at Ashland BalloonFest have seen it all over 30 years.

To commemorate, the Ashland Source team did some bootstrap reporting to catalog three decades' worth of memories from the festival that focuses on all-things inflatable. 

Here are your memories: 

“I’ve lived across from Freer Field for years. Watching Balloonfest grow over the past 30 years has really impressed me.  It started out as this small event but has grown tremendously since it began.” - Barb Wilson, 61, Ashland.

“One year we came out in the morning for the flyover and one of the balloons that landed close to us said, ‘Do you guys want to learn how to pack up?’ And we all got to help with the packing up of the envelope it’s called. That was just a really fun thing to do, to see how that all works.” - Jean Minnick, 53, Bellefontaine.

“My great-grandma used to live in the condos over by the football field and we used to watch it in her backyard. That was probably 25 years ago.” - Ross Owings, 36, Mansfield.

“The balloon glow is always my favorite, seeing them all light up at night. Oh, and the food, of course.” - Kayla Owings, 30, Mansfield.

“Balloooooons,” Carter Owings, 1, Mansfield.  

“I worked at McGraw Hill back in ‘07 and I came into work on a Friday morning and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, the sky is full of balloons!’ It was so amazing. And when I went inside, one of the fellas, we were all temps most of us, and he says, ‘Oh yeah it’s the BalloonFest, they have it every year.’ Well I went right home and told (my daughter) about it and said, 'Wanna go?’ … And we’ve been going ever since.” - Mary Litt, 60s, Ashland.

“I’ve been an Ashland resident for over 20 years and have enjoyed it every year -- coming out here and seeing the community get together, the balloon glow, kids growing up into adults and everyone having families, seeing kids you went to school with and then now they’re bringing their kids, soon grandkids. It’s just a great memory. ... It’s been a family thing, coming out here. Dates have changed but we’ve always made it.” - Cody Huff, 29, Ashland.

“I’ve been to so many I can’t really recall one specific thing. I live just about three blocks from here … Running out on the front porch when you hear the balloons going overhead real early in the morning. It’s a thing we do on our street.” - Loree Ronk, Ashland.

“A year or two ago we were here during the balloon glow and ring of fire was playing and I remember loving singing along to that. That was fun.” - Macy Gannon, 16, Ashland.

“I came to BalloonFest for the balloons, but also Kathy’s Kitchen Curly Fries. Those fries are really the only reason I made an appearance.” - Sarah Keener, 24, Ashland.

“I remember waking up really early to hear all the balloons flying over. Because sometimes they’ll pass really close over our house and they’re really, really loud.” - Lucy Ronk, 13, Ashland.

“I’ve been going to BalloonFest since I was 5 because that’s as long as I’ve lived here. I live right across the street so I’ve always remembered waking up to the balloons going by.” - Jessica Cahill, 19, Ashland. 

"Getting to ride the Remax balloon." - Jan Howman, via Open Source.

“Because of BalloonFest, my kids learned the sound that the hot air balloons make because we live in that direction. And I can remember when my oldest was in a high chair and they’re doing a race and he’s hearing it. So I’d pick up the high chair and set him on the back porch so he can watch the balloon go over. They know that sound. That’s a distinct sound.” - Sherry Bouquet, Ashland, who says we don't need her age.

“I enjoy going to BalloonFest because it is a very unique experience in Ashland. You can get food, see friends and take part in the many different and fun experiences.” - Hannah Oney, 22, Ashland.

“(BalloonFest) is part of the Ashland experience! Besides the phenomenal food, I love seeing the community come together and seeing the balloons go up. It is always a fun time.” Josh Robinson, 27, Ashland.

"My daughter was two, and we all got to see the balloon glow. So that was cool." - Evan Zimmerman, 29, Ashland.

"Two hot air balloons came over to our house!" - Fiona Zimmerman, 4, Ashland. 

"We used to bring my mom, I'm not sure what year. She's gone now -- it was special, her being with us, seeing all the balloons. We used to come with the whole family and it was a yearly thing. I treasure the memories we got to spend with mom." - Candice Leasure, 66, Ashland.

“I like watching the baskets shoot fire. You can feel the heat from far away!” - Jace McCarty, 7, Ashland

"There used to be this balloon man and he was traveling the country with all these big balloons. And he sat on a chair and hooked up all these balloons in his chair and then he floated away! I don't know what year it was but he was from Albuquerque." - Rodney Leasure, 72, Ashland.

"I remember reading my book in my backyard and I saw them fly over. It was neat, it was neat." - Ann Staley, 71, Ashland. 

"I was working security for a couple years. There was a kid that got lost and we found him." - George Staley, 79, Ashland. 

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Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.