Balloon Ride ‘Fantastic’ for VMI Employee
VMI tailor Ruth Beard waves as the balloon takes off from the VMI Parade Ground. View a slide show of VMI's support for the Rockbridge area's Fourth of July celebration. -- VMI Photo by John Robertson IV.
LEXINGTON, Va., July 10, 2012 – The 2012 Fourth of July Balloon Rally
offered VMI tailor Ruth Beard an “awesome” experience. Beard was one
of two VMI employees selected to receive a piloted balloon ride,
provided by the rally’s sponsor, the Lexington Sunrise Rotary Club.
It was warm already, but the sky was clear when Beard showed up on the VMI Parade Ground before 6 a.m. Thursday, July 5, to meet the pilot and crew who were to take her up in a balloon called 5 O’Clock High. That was a good sign, as stormy weather canceled all flights Tuesday evening when information technology administrative assistant Melinda Jones had been scheduled to fly. Jones will be first in line next year if VMI again has tickets to offer.
“It was fantastic,” said Beard Thursday morning after landing on property of the Virginia Horse Center, just under three miles from the launch site. “Just to see everything from the view.” Beard said she saw VMI and W&L and, as the balloon floated over the horse center, she heard the horses below.
The pilot, owner Tom Mullinax of Greenville, S.C., told Beard he was having a hard time getting the balloon down, but she couldn’t tell by the way it played out.
“The landing was different from what I expected,” said Beard. “It was smooth. He was a real professional.” Mullinax has been flying balloons for 30 years, and his wife, Judy Mullinax, heads up the chase team and crew, which in this case included area residents.
“They kept in communication,” said Beard, noting that the crew met them at the landing site just as they were coming down and, after folding up and stowing the balloon in their van, returned her to post by 8:30 a.m.
Beard said the ride was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and that it went by quickly, adding, “I just wish we could have come back in it [the balloon], too.”
Pre-Rally Storm Pressures Physical Plant
VMI physical plant employees responsible for making sure the post is looking good found themselves scrambling to be ready for the balloon rally, in spite of all their preparations.
A storm on Friday evening, June 29, brought down tree branches all over post, littering the Parade Ground and nearby grassy areas with debris and blocking roads on post.
“We got called in Friday night, and some of us didn’t get home till two o’clock,” said Marvin Clark, grounds shop foreman, “and some of us were back in at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. We just took a snow plow and plowed the debris off the road, pretty much all the roads on the hill. That storm was a nightmare.”
Clark said crews were on post again on Sunday, picking up brush and playing “catch up.”
The storm complicated what was already sure to be a busy week for physical plant employees, with VMI’s Summer Transition Program starting Monday morning, just a day before the start of the balloon rally.
“We got students and parents coming in,” said Clark, “and the place had to look right.”