A small group of aeronauts gathered recently to honor Chauncey and Marie Dunn. The occasion was the reincarnation of the Avon Balloon Classic, an annual event founded in 1984 by Tom Davies which continued until 1991 when local funding to the rally was cut. Back by popular demand, this year's balloon race would allow for only 15 participants, instead of the 35 or more included in the past.
Race Director Tom Davies selected long-time balloonist, Chauncey Dunn to serve as Balloonmeister and it was quickly decided that the Awards Brunch on Sunday would honor both Chauncey and his beautiful, devoted wife, Marie. Though the Dunns are famous for spearheading "reunions" and lots of shenanigans - rafting trips on the Colorado River, cruises to Alaska, sailing adventures to Tahiti - this reunion would be quite different. Marie has been battling cancer for many years and has endured many courses of extraordinary treatment, yet the cancer recently returned with a vengeance. Still, Marie's determination and grace continues to inspire all of
Since so few pilots could be included in the rally, Denver pilot Jon Seay helped to notify another fifty close friends, inviting them all to join us in Avon. Although a frontal passage hooked up with afternoon thundershowers on Friday, spirits were high as 100 friends from across the United States gathered at the cocktail party and pilot briefing. Chauncey arrived without Marie, who, weakened by aggressive radiation treatments, remained home in the care of her family. We held hope that Marie might feel strong enough to join us for the Brunch on Sunday.
Thunderstorms in the Vail area on Saturday morning precluded any chance of flying. Yet by mid-afternoon, our typical Colorado clear blue sky prevailed and everybody enjoyed outdoor activities such as golf, river rafting, hiking, biking and imagine, even shopping! Following another party at the Davies' everyone headed at sunset to Nottingham Park for the Festival of Nations celebration of food, music and the ever-popular balloon glow. Though only a few balloons, including the crowd pleasing Humpty-Dumpty, managed to inflate for the spectators, the perfect sunset promised good flying for the following morning .
The lakeside launch site in Avon, located just 30 miles west of the Continental Divide, is famous for exciting takeoffs and one can almost always expect strong surface winds and 180-degree shears created by the alpine terrain. Typically, however, winds carry the balloons down-valley to a broad basin where stand-up landings are the norm. Sunday morning brought us strong drainage winds of about 15 knots on the surface heading west. Upper level winds revealed shears but all westerly flowing, toward the down valley area which was reporting calm surface winds.
After some deliberation, Richard Abruzzo elected to inflate for the few sleepy-eyed folks who sat bundled nearby. As the winds seemed to diminish slightly, Richard launched and, encouraged, a few others began to inflate. Only half of the registered balloons flew that morning but all who did had terrific flights of about an hour with passengers exchanged and stand-up landings.
The mood was quietly subdued later as everyone arrived the Hyatt at Beaver Creek for the Brunch. As Marie arrived on the arms of her daughters Kelly and Cherie, everyone stood to applaud and greet her. With so many ballooning friends like the Ehrlers from Kentucky and the McDonalds from Texas and the Carters and the Wellens from Pueblo and Colorado Springs, and SO many more it was a heartwarming moment.
Since this event has never been one which included any type of serious competition and instead encouraged all to just have a good time while flying safely, Race Director Davies presented each pilot with a pewter bowl engraved with the words "First Overall - Avon, Colorado 1996." Even Mike Bauwens, passing through on his way to Battle Creek from Utah, braved the high winds to fly and pick up a first place trophy. Each had already received a special sterling silver balloon pin commemorating the event.
The special 15-minute video which Lesley Davies and Cindy Petrehn assembled from photos and old footage featured a twenty-five year retrospective of the Dunn family and other "ancient" balloonists at various balloon events and "reunions" where our memories had all been made. There was not a dry eye in the room as the lights came up and Tom presented Chauncey and Marie with unique military styled balloon medals crafted by a local Vail artist. Marie's two by five inch medal proclaimed her a "True Fighter" and no one would disagree.
The entertaining Henry "Mac" McDonald from Fort Worth took the stage and followed with his fabulous multi-projector slide show which ended with two flutes of champagne raised to the sky. Silently, glasses clinked all about the room as dear friends and families rose to their feet to toast Chauncey and Marie and to celebrate life and love. Moving quietly out onto the bright and sunny deck, this beautiful moment lingered and was shared by a circle of friends brought together by ballooning and gathered round.