Balloon Glow lights up Cedar Rapids

Thousands enjoy spectacular weather for annual Freedom Festival event

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CEDAR RAPIDS — One balloonist at last night’s annual Balloon Glow held at Brucemore’s historic lawn has been hot-air ballooning for more than 40 years.

On an afternoon in the 1970s when Susan Stamats was driving her nephew into Cedar Rapids, she saw a hot-air balloon landing in the distance.

“I thought it was the most incredible, magical thing I’d ever seen,” Stamats said. “We kept our distance because I didn’t know much about balloons. But the pilot kept motioning for us to go over.”

Stamats approached the pilot and he talked her into becoming a crew member. And eventually, he talked her into being his wife.

Stamats and her late husband, Peter Stamats, were asked to join another balloonist in glowing their balloons off Blairs Ferry Road in the late 1980s. To accommodate for space, Peter Stamats, who was serving on Brucemore’s board, booked the lawn for the first Balloon Glow.

“We had about 200 people show up,” Stamats said of the first year. “People brought their kids in wagons.”

Four hot air balloons again served as the annual spectacle for thousands of viewers at last night’s Balloon Glow, which is part of Freedom Festival.

Since beginning her ballooning career, Stamats is just two flights away from a milestone 2,500 flights, she said.

One of those flights was what encouraged another of Balloon Glow’s pilots to get into hot air ballooning.

Kevin Kamp’s best friend invited him to help as a crew member for Peter and Susan Stamats, his friend’s aunt and uncle. They offered him a meal after they were done working, so Kamp made it a deal.

“As a 16-year-old male, free food was the only enticement I needed,” Kamp said.

He went on to becoming a pilot himself and has been bringing a balloon to Balloon Glow since 2002.

“It illustrates what Brucemore has always aspired to be — we are in a sense a cultural hub for the community,” said David Janssen, Brucemore’s executive director. “Balloon Glow symbolizes that more than any other event hosted on this site.”

The balloonists weighed down their balloons, which were tethered to the ground.

“The mechanism by which they heat the air and make the balloon buoyant is what makes balloons glow,” Janssen said.

The most fun part of being a balloonist at the event is seeing children getting excited, said balloonist Pete Holden.

“Every time people are around balloons, they’re having a good time and enjoying themselves,” Holden said.

Balloonist Matt Bousselot’s favorite part of the festivities was seeing people’s reaction if they’re exposed to ballooning for the first time, he said.

“I really think that it’s a lot of fun, to get community exposure to ballooning,” Bouselot said.

The event is also a great way to welcome the community to Brucemore, said Tara Richards, Brucemore’s director of community engagement.

“It’s absolutely unique when you bring over 10,000 people onto a historical estate and you add music, food vendors and hot air balloons,” Janssen said. “There’s really nothing like it.”

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