Meet a Few of the Volunteers Behind the Quechee Balloon Festival

The awe and wonder of witnessing a hot air balloon travel up, up, and away in the sky above is one Upper Valley childhood memory that will live in my mind forever. The coming of summer means that many fun community events are just around the corner, and the Quechee Balloon Festival (QBF) is one such event that keeps families, visitors, volunteers, and community members coming back year after year to celebrate a special summertime tradition in each others’ company.

This year, the 44th annual Quechee Balloon Festival (organized by the Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce) will bring back all those fun memories from Friday, June 14 to Sunday, June 16. A celebration of community and togetherness, the Quechee Balloon Festival continues to create memorable experiences through good food, entertainment, local vendors, and a colorful spectacle as balloons launch into the sky.

The scale and success of the Quechee Balloon Festival over the years is due in large part to the team of dedicated and generous volunteers who give their time and resources to help make the event possible and enjoyable for everyone. “The Chamber couldn’t put this together with the help of our community and volunteers,” says Hartford Area Chamber of Commerce’s executive director, Havah Armstrong Walter. “I think [the balloon festival] is the warmest thank-you we could offer for all of the year-round support from our business partners.”

Walther, who recently stepped into the role as the Chamber’s new executive director in December, views the Quechee Balloon Festival as a “quintessential Vermont experience”. The local lineup of craft vendors and entertainers, along with the beautiful Quechee scenery, and not to forget, kind and helpful volunteers, makes it a favorite event for locals and visitors alike.

“I remember the first time I went to the Quechee Balloon Festival, my husband and I were still in our 20s and my in-laws were not happy that we had moved all the way to Vermont,” Walther says. “That first year, they came up on Father’s Day weekend and shared a day with us at the festival and it was the most beautiful day full of artists, balloonists, and some great bands. After that visit, they said they understood why we live in the Upper Valley.”

For 44 years, the Quechee Balloon Festival has captured the very essence of the culture and community nestled in these Vermont hills that we call home. Read on to hear from some volunteers whose kindness and generosity has enabled the festival to flourish and grow over the years. And join us this June as we celebrate another festival together; up, up, and away!

Find more information and tickets for the Quechee Balloon Festival at quecheeballoonfestival.com.


What does the Quechee Hot Air Balloon Festival mean to you?

BOB: It means fun and seeing the excitement in the eyes of all the kids there when the balloons stand up and launch. It means great festival food and entertainment on the big stage and of course, the frisbee dogs (Pups in the Air!). It’s a great event that brings people from all over the place together every year.

ELY: The festival is a wonderful event that is exciting. We get to see old neighbors and friends, all while helping people from many different states with the balloon rides.

HEATHER: The kickoff to summer! And time where my adult children, Caitlyn and Cameron, and I can work together giving back to our community. And have some fun too!

RANDY: It means an opportunity to play with the community in a way that very few people have the opportunity to do. There just aren’t that many hot air balloon festivals.

SCOTT: An opportunity to showcase our region as a destination for tourism. It is also the one event that our agency, Hartford Parks & Recreation, participates in for the benefit of the Brian Hanson Scholarship Fund. The Fund supports registrations to those in need of financial support to participate in recreational programs, Sherman Manning Aquatic Facility and the WABA arena memberships. Visitors for the Balloon Festival pay a suggested donation of $3 per car. 

How did you become involved as a volunteer at the Quechee Balloon Festival?

BOB: I do get paid for some of what I do there, as I am the emcee for the event and I’m there the entire time the gates are open and for every launch, as well as some significant setup time. I was approached by PJ Skehan a few years ago when the position became available. He was familiar with me and my work from things I did for Halloween in Quechee and my volunteering to emcee the Polar Express rides that PJ is also involved in.

ELY: I started by helping my husband Bob who is the MC for the festival. I am his official roadie. It was the second year that I officially signed up as a volunteer in the balloon booth. The excitement on the faces of people when they are getting tickets for a balloon ride is so much fun.

HEATHER: Sixteen years ago, my former manager was on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. He was talking about the Festival so I decided to sign up for a shift. I was hooked after that. I arrive at the Quechee Green Friday morning at about 7:30am and I don’t go home until Sunday night! I set up my tent and camp out (I only live three miles from the Green). 

RANDY: When I moved here from Cape Cod in 1994, I knew no one. Friends from the Chamber of Commerce recruited me to help at the QBF as a volunteer.

SCOTT: Our agency is a partner in the event. We provide the parking and crowd control setup for the event. We seek other volunteers to assist us with parking throughout the entire weekend. 

Quechee Balloon Festival volunteers help make this memorable community event possible each year.

What makes volunteering at the Quechee Balloon Festival special to you?

BOB: When I moved to Quechee in 2008, I bought a condo in the Red Barn that shares a parking lot with the festival. I got to know several of the local balloon pilots and one that also had a condo in the same building. I crewed for at least three balloonists and loved it. I also attended every Balloon Festival since I moved there since I already had a front row seat. When I was asked to take on the emcee position I jumped at it. By then the festival was already a ritual for me and I was excited to be a part of it instead of just attending.

ELY: I look forward to it every year. I love the people and seeing all the vendors; some are the same year after year and some are new. Seeing the balloonists getting ready on the field and starting to fill the balloons with air is exciting. 

HEATHER: I spent time at the Festival when I was younger. We would hang out with my uncle Jim helping  with the chase crew and getting to hang out on the field as the balloons were launching.   Volunteering brings me back to those days and makes new memories with my children. My son was six when he started volunteering (highlighting vendor spots on the map) and my daughter was volunteering with her field hockey team. My husband, Jeff, loved the Balloon Festival. The music, food, entertainment, and balloons. In his memory, several family members now volunteer because he loved it so much and invited everyone to come hang out with him. 

Quechee Balloon Festival volunteers help with balloon set up and launch.

RANDY: Since working at the festival all these years, I have an enhanced appreciation of the efforts that go into other events or festivals in general. You sort of peek behind the curtains and see what makes the QBF amazing.

SCOTT: It’s an opportunity to be with folks that are passionate about helping Hartford Parks & Recreation raise money for the Brian Hanson Scholarship Fund. In addition, it is an opportunity to socialize for a good cause. 

When was the first time you attended the Quechee Balloon Festival? What do you remember?

BOB: My first Balloon Festival was in 2008. I remember being in awe of all the balloons out in the field. There were so many and they were huge. I had never been to a hot air balloon event before and had never seen so many balloons in one place.

ELY: My first year attending was in 2015. I had just moved to Quechee and Bob was a balloon chaser for Gary Lovell. I really enjoyed the ride back with the passengers and hearing what a wonderful time they had in the balloon.

HEATHER: I was around 10 years old when my aunt and uncle started dating. He is the one who introduced my sister and me to the QBF. We became unofficial chase crew members. 

RANDY: Back in about 1994, I noticed the QBF looked a bit “ragtag”. Signs were handmade, last minute issues were the norm…over time, this all gave way to the excellent clock-like creation of our yearly QBF today.

SCOTT: As a spectator, it was with my wife and first child over 25 years ago.

What do you look forward to most about the Quechee Balloon Festival?

Volunteers during the 2013 Quechee Balloon Festival.

BOB: Seeing the people pouring in and watching them get excited for the ascensions. I especially love to watch the children because they are the most impressed and excited.

ELY: I look forward to the early morning flights. I have had wonderful conversations with passengers as they check in for the morning flight.

HEATHER: Seeing the people that I only see once a year including volunteers and repeat vendors. Seeing the kids getting so excited when the balloons launch. My favorite part is the controlled chaos when the cash gates get busy when the weather cooperates. 

RANDY: Seeing the returning pilots. They are a fun bunch who enjoy the camaraderie of ballooning.

SCOTT: It’s a busy time of year for us at Hartford Parks & Recreation. However, the festival is something we look forward to assisting with. We appreciate the outcome which provides youth and families with financial support for programs, camps, and passes throughout the year.

What is one memory you have of the Quechee Balloon Festival?

Up, up, and away.

BOB: Seeing the Balloon Glow (hot air balloons lighting up at dusk) for the first time. Now I’m the one playing for the Balloon Glow.

ELY: We had an afternoon last year that was windy and the sky divers were not able to jump onto the field. However, this was the best kite flying day and I bought a kite and joined the others on the field having a great time flying a kite!

HEATHER: June, 2018: my children worked out a way to surprise me with a balloon ride to spread some of my husband’s ashes. He said he would never go up in a balloon; well, the joke was on him! I also have a picture of each of my children and my husband on their 1st Father’s Day with him feeding them their morning bottle while we waited for the balloons to launch. 

RANDY: I remember years where the weather was perfect and the pilots got to fly the five scheduled flights; then there were the weekends that it rained and was uncomfortably cold or we had dusty hot weather where the balloons were challenged to get off the ground.

SCOTT: Last year’s washout had to be the wettest.

What’s something you’re excited about for this year’s event?

BOB: For me, it will be revamping the audio system a bit to make the sound coverage area larger and more uniform to avoid loud hot-spots which have always been a problem there.

HEATHER: Good weather and 5 for 5 balloon ascensions! That is what we all are excited for every year!

SCOTT: Hopeful for good weather, lots of balloons, and good times with a great group of Brian Hanson Scholarship Volunteers.

For someone who isn’t familiar with the Quechee Balloon Festival, how would you describe it to them?

BOB: It’s a full weekend event. It would be worth it even if there were no balloons. There are scores of vendors that are selling all kinds of things, some great food, excellent entertainment, and as a bonus, tons of hot air balloons. I would tell people to try and get a ride, but get tickets early because they sell out in hours, and it will be an experience you will never forget.

ELY: A nice festival packed full of lots of entertainment.

HEATHER: The entry fee is good for the whole weekend. There are a variety of craft, food, and commercial vendors, entertainment (music, dancers, and comedians), fair food, and of course, the balloons. But, don’t expect to see the balloons between 6am and 6pm launch times. If the weather cooperates, there will be a balloon inflated for tethered rides throughout the day.

RANDY: If your only experience with hot air balloons is the Wizard of OZ movie, you’ll be amazed how big these balloons are and what it takes to launch one.

SCOTT: A great opportunity to enjoy amazing food, music, and the balloons. The balloon glow is colorful and entertaining.

Describe a hot air balloon that you distinctly remember from over the years and why it stood out to you?

Randy Schaetzke volunteering at the 2013 Quechee Balloon Festival.

BOB: A number of years ago, there were several specialty balloons. The one I remember best was a Snoopy balloon that was shaped like Snoopy flying his dog house looking for the Red Baron.

ELY: One local balloonist has an orange balloon and I love that one.

HEATHER: I have to say I’m partial to the Balloon Meister Bill Whidden’s balloon, “Great Balls Of Fire”. I’ve flown with him three out of the four rides I have taken (he is who my uncle crewed for). The shaped balloons are always a favorite. One year, it was ”The Purple People Eater”. 

RANDY: Occasionally in our area, the woods will reach out and grab a balloon since they didn’t make it to an open field to land. That becomes an adventure to extract the balloon from dense wooded areas.

What is your favorite thing about Quechee?

BOB: Quechee is a great little town. It’s very quaint and has lots of history. I love the covered bridge, both the old one and the new one after Irene ruined it, and of course Simon Pierce. But I think mostly, it is the friendly people.

ELY: I love the river and all the antique shops.

HEATHER: I love taking pictures of the scenery, especially in the fall. 

RANDY: It’s not the boonies and it’s not the city, yet both are nearby.

SCOTT: The Village of Quechee, in the Town of Hartford, is a destination with a small town charm that includes destination type attractions like the Balloon Festival, VINS, Quechee Gorge, Quechee State Park, and several eating establishments. 

What is one thing you want other people to know about the Quechee Balloon Festival?

BOB: It has something for everyone and every age.

ELY: Even when the balloons are not able to launch, we still have a wonderful festival.

HEATHER: It is the longest running balloon festival in New England (40 plus years). Balloon pilots come from all over the East Coast. Many of them for 20 years or more.

RANDY: The QBF is a “gem” of a festival because of the volunteers and the community.

SCOTT: As a partner in this event, handling the parking and other logistics, we annually raise between $7,000 and $13,000 for the Brian Hanson Scholarship Fund. We appreciate that the Chamber of Commerce supports this cause.

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