Now in 2022, Miller is the only one left with a balloon. Most others have given up their balloons, retired or passed away. A little less than two-years ago, the main organizer of the Thurston, Ted Watts Sr. died due to complications surrounding COVID-19. The pandemic had already cancelled the event in 2020 and then it took its leader.
The fate of the Father's Day staple event in Crawford County was up-in-the-air with the prospect that it could be grounded forever.
When balloon meister, Alex Jonard, a long-time participant in the classic, was asked if there was ever a doubt the event would return he simply stated “Not to me.”
Jonard told the crowd this was a “21-burn salute.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the weekend’s four scheduled launches did not go as planned.
Winds exceeding 10 mph is too much for safe ballooning. And it isn’t just the wind running through our hair, the balloonist has to know what the wind speed is a different elevations.
“Every balloonist wants to fly, but they also want to fly safely, “said Phil Koon, one of the Thurston Classic committee members.
Each of the planned flights were hopeful, but the weather didn’t cooperate for any of them - so no balloons went up into the skies over Meadville this year.
The organizers still did what they could to educate and entertain the crowd.
“We have a few tricks up our sleeves,” said Jonard.
They put out equipment for people to see and had some alternative fun activities.
The food trucks gave the event a festival atmosphere and they played music throughout.
At first only about a dozen people were milling around to see what was happening. By the time the balloons were all inflated and the sun was popping up over the trees, over 100 showed up. The organizers then invited them all to come down for a closer look.
Among those walking under the balloons was Dave Thurston, a decendent of Samuel and Alic Thurston who brought ballooning to Meadille in the 1800s. He walked with his wife Emily carrying their young daughter, Helen, who kept looking up and pointing at the balloons. He said he is very happy the committee is going to keep the event going.
Watts family and friends agree. “This was Ted’s baby,” Miller said. “I think it really great they are going to keep this event going.”