"I was working at Simpson College part-time and through the college there was another part-time position that came to my attention, so I took this other part-time job and it just happened that it involved ballooning."
The job was to do a mailing for the then BFA Membership Chairman whose husband worked for Simpson College at the time. The success of that mailing led to a part-time position until 1985 when Ripperger was hired full-time by the BFA as its Secretary.
In the early years she shared an office with staff from the National Balloon Classic, the folks in Indianola who hosted the US National Championships for its first eighteen years. During those years the job was not what many balloonists might expect...
"I was there to open and process the mail initially, later I was tasked with processing membership applications and over the years the responsibilities have continued to grow," says Sharon.
Indeed they have. From a part-time mail clerk Sharon rose through the ranks (meaning she accepted more and more responsibility) to the point where until most recently she functioned as Interim Executive Director for the BFA.
Amazingly enough, Sharon (and husband Dennis) do not get involved in the sport much out of the office. "There was a time when we did some crewing and we enjoyed it, and Dennis went to several events to assist in scoring, but I have no desire to own a balloon or become a pilot, it's just not part of me; maybe because I work at ballooning eight hours a day already."
During her more than a decade of service to the BFA, Ripperger has had to tread water around some fairly strong personalities.
"You learn to adjust to the new Directors and Presidents, and you have to remember that new people coming on line bring new ideas and that's what the BFA needs to help the organization grow."
In more recent years Ripperger has been seen at various events staffing the BFA booth, meant to provide information and services to members attending the event, but also to introduce the public to ballooning. As the voice at the other end of the phone at the BFA office, Ripperger gets to meet and greet a lot of the public...
"How do I learn about ballooning, how do I get involved in the sport... yes, we get a lot of those phone calls and correspondence and I enjoy talking to the people. It's fun to talk to people and share with them how they can get involved because you know that's what will keep our sport going."
Perhaps the darkest period of the past decade for Ripperger was during the hiring and then firing of former BFA Executive Director Jim Swanstrom. Now with the recent addition of Wally Miller as BFA Executive Director, we wondered how Ripperger sees the future?
"I think the steps we've just taken to bring Wally Miller on board as a part-time Executive Director have been very positive. I feel there is a need for a Director to help focus the Board's activities and to take on some of the responsibilities that used to fall to the President. Certainly there is a need for a person to work in areas that do not fall under my field of responsibility. But, I'm not sure there is a need for a full-time Director here in the office. With the automation and instantaneous communication available today, having another person here physically in this office is not nearly so important as it might have once been.
"My role here has been and continues to be very fulfilling. With Wally coming on board I feel we are entering a new challenge. And he has some good ideas and I think that's what we need to make the organization grow... are new ideas, whether it comes from the Board, or the Director, or whoever brings those ideas in."
Under Ripperger's guidance the BFA office has grown in both responsibility and size. From a part-time mail clerk to today's office manager, Ripperger also has a full- time assistant and when the work load demands, a part-time temp is sometimes called in.
There is something calming about consistency. Something reassuring about a reasoned voice at the other end of a phone call, no matter the subject at hand. For more than a decade, indeed from Day One, Sharon Ripperger has been that voice for the BFA. So, how does she hope the BFA membership sees the BFA office?
"I hope they see the office as helpful when they call in, that we try to answer their questions, or if we can't, we try to find the person who can; that basically we're very responsive."
It's been more than ten years since Sharon Ripperger answered an ad for a part- time job to do a mailing for the BFA. Many things have changed since, but as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. On the day we spoke with Ripperger she was busy preparing what else? A mailing - sending out election ballots to the membership.