Monken Balloon Fest Memories

Guest Blogger – Jan Monken

Monken Automotive and the Monken family  have been involved with the Centralia Balloon Fest since its inception over 25 years ago.

The Balloon Fest, held every year in August, has become a huge event since the first one that was held at Kaskaskia College.  Balloon Fest later moved to Foundation Park, east of Centralia, where it is still held today.  The Balloon Fest offers entertainment for all ages with the balloon glow and balloon races as the biggest events. Originally, the balloons only glowed Saturday evening, but now following the Friday night balloon race, the pilots will come back into the park and glow around the pond.

We have always sponsored a balloon, and as sponsors for the Balloon Fest, we get the opportunity to crew at each event.  Crewing a balloon can be hard work.  We recruit family, friends and employees to be our crew members/chase team.  Our crew members help set up the balloon for the race, chase the ballon, and help with the landing and packing it up.  Glowing is also hard work as the crew members hold on to ropes to help keep the balloon from going  up into the air.

Our first grandchildren to crew were Megan and Andrea, Kim( Monken) McMillan’s girls. I remember the first time they were old enough to fly with our pilot. The girls had so much fun the first time they rode in a hot air balloon, we could see their happy faces as they flew up over the fields and trees.

Then our grandchildren,  Katie Hartmann, Jalyn and Addison Monken became part of the Monken Chase Team.  They loved to get up at 5:00am to meet at the Bell Tower Inn for the pilot meeting. This is when the pilots are informed if the balloons will fly and where they will depart. The girls have all had the opportunity to fly up in a hot air balloon and loved every minute. This year, Megan and her family will be crewing. We are now starting the next generation to crew and fly!

In the past, Monken’s have also sponsored the pilot dinner.  One year Monken Automotive hosted the Friday evening dinner for all pilots, crew members, and sponsors.  Wearing his cowboy hat, Harold Monken, directed traffic on his horse. Some of the pilots remember that event well.

I also remember on one of the windiest evening while we were trying to hold onto the balloon during Balloon Glow, a large gust of wind came up.  We yelled for help and here came the “cowboy,” Harold, to help.  Well, Harold always thought ballooning was a piece of cake, but he found out real quick that it wasn’t as he was flipped on his back side real quick!
We have had the pleasure of having the balloonist, Bob Boswell, for many years. Bob was a paratrooper before he began ballooning. He has quit coming to our event, but he still has a balloon repair shop. Our next pilot Ken was a Fed Ex pilot, and flew balloons as a hobby.
For the past 4 years our pilot has been Jared Miller. Jared is a nurse anesthetist. We enjoy meeting and getting to know our pilots and their families.

Thanks to everyone that puts this event on every year. Happy ballooning to everyone!