Balloon show proceeds to fill charity coffers in W.Va.

March 14, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Eastern Panhandle's United Way got a lift with an announcement last week that it will receive the lion's share of proceeds from a hot air balloon show scheduled for this summer in Martinsburg.

The United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, which is expected to be fully formed following a merger in July, will receive 60 percent of the net proceeds for the upcoming Spirit of America Over Martinsburg Balloon Festival, under an agreement reached between the agency and festival organizer Nic Diehl, Diehl said Monday.

Diehl, who organized the area's successful air show last year, said the United Way will serve as the fiscal agent for the event, and could receive as much as $10,000 from the show.

"We're going to be spending about $50,000 in advertising with this show and the United Way will be a part of that," Diehl said. "They're going to get a whole lot of exposure and at no cost to them."


The balloon show is scheduled for Aug. 4-6 at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.

United Way of Berkeley and Morgan Counties Executive Director Jan Callen said the partnership will help the agency in serving other area nonprofit organizations.

"We never do raise all the money that's needed by the agencies, so any kind of additional money is most welcome," said Callen, adding the agency's participation also stems from the benefit it brings to the region. "Anything we can do to showcase the panhandle and the great quality of life in the Eastern Panhandle, we're hoping to do that."

The United Way serves more than 50 agencies in the Eastern Panhandle, including Hospice of the Panhandle, the Shenandoah Women's Center and the Boys & Girls Club.

Diehl said asking the United Way to be the sponsorship agency in exchange for gate receipts is part of his interest of helping agencies that help the community.

"Any time I organize an event I want a nonprofit to benefit from it," Diehl said. "Our goal is to raise enough money in sponsorship upfront so United Way can count on ticket sales as revenue for United Way."

The festival promises to showcase up to 30 hot air balloons, and include balloon, airplane and helicopter rides, as well as aircraft displays and children's activities. Efforts are also under way to have the largest skydiving event ever attempted in West Virginia at the show, Diehl said.

What would have been the region's second recent show was grounded by airport officials several weeks ago as a result of runway construction at the airport, said Diehl, who said he had hoped to include balloons for last year's event, the Spirit of America Over Martinsburg Airshow.

"I think a balloon festival is so aviation-related that it fits with the whole concept of the air show that we put on last year," Diehl said.

Balloonist Bob Thomas, whose company Balloons Unlimited Inc. of Virginia will be coordinating the balloon festival, said being in a hot air balloon is like no other form of flying.

"You get to see the earth from above without any noise or vibration," Thomas said. "It's kind of like a magic carpet."

Thomas said he began flying balloons, which measure about 65,000 cubit feet and can be as tall as an eight-story building, in 1976, following in the footsteps of his father, who took up ballooning in 1968. He said he's seen the number of licensed balloonists increase from seven to more than 4,000 in less than 40 years.

The festival is scheduled to begin Friday night with a Balloon Glow flight and continue with balloon races through the weekend. More information about the show is available at

If you go ...

What: Spirit of America Over Martinsburg Balloon Festival

Where: Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, Martinsburg, W.Va.

When: Aug. 4-6

For more information, go to

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