Sid Cutter 1983
Sid Cutter, who passed away in 2011, is recognized and honored as the father of hot air ballooning in Albuquerque. Sid, already a renowned aviator with a distinguished military record and a partner in Cutter Flying Services, got hooked on ballooning almost by accident. In June of 1971, he was giving tether rides in a hot air balloon he bought principally as a centerpiece for his mother’s birthday party when the balloon became untied and he found himself aloft. It was love at first flight. Months later in early 1972, Sid was asked to organize a balloon event to celebrate KOB Radio’s 50th anniversary. This event is now considered the first Balloon Fiesta. Sid was responsible for organizing the first three balloon “fiestas” in Albuquerque and continued to make major contributions to the event as it became a joint effort with the City of Albuquerque. He eventually formed his own ballooning company, World Balloon Corporation, which contracted with corporate sponsors to operate balloons for promotion and advertising, operated a balloon repair station, trained pilots, and of course provided rides to paying passengers. As an FAA Designated Examiner, Sid gave check rides to literally hundreds of pilots, certifying them for private and commercial balloon ratings. A two-time national hot air balloon champion, world runner-up, and gas balloonist, Sid continued to fly in the Balloon Fiesta well into the 2000’s. Unassuming, modest, a great storyteller, and (as he put it) a “Chamber of Commerce guy”, Sid’s creation of the Balloon Fiesta changed the face of Albuquerque and New Mexico forever.
Tom “Tommy” Rutherford 1983
In 1972 Tom Rutherford, often recognized as the co-founder of the Balloon Fiesta, was working for KOB Radio when he helped Sid Cutter organize the 13-balloon rally now known as the first Balloon Fiesta. He soon left KOB behind and joined Sid’s new corporation, World Balloon Championships (later World Balloon Corporation) to play a key role in organizing the First World Hot Air Balloon Championships, which came to Albuquerque as a result of that first Balloon Fiesta. Tom became a corporate balloon pilot, flying the famous Budweiser balloon at events all over the country, and played an important role in organizing the 1974 Balloon Fiesta and the 1975 Second World Hot Air Championships (Fourth Balloon Fiesta). Tom also served for 24 years in the New Mexico State Senate, retiring in 1996 as Majority Floor Leader, and subsequently was elected to the Bernalillo County Commission. As a State Senator, Tom’s strategic political work on legislation allowed the City of Albuquerque, to buy property for a permanent balloon field. Tom remained involved actively involved in Balloon Fiesta until 2014 and as a field announcer was the “Voice of Balloon Fiesta” for a quarter-century. For much of that time, Tom also provided color commentary for KOAT-TV's live broadcasts of the Balloon Fiesta.
Mayor Harry Kinney 1984
As Mayor of Albuquerque, Harry Kinney understood the impact an event like Balloon Fiesta has on the local economy. In 1975, when Sid Cutter and Tom Rutherford, realized they needed resources beyond those of their private corporation to run the 1975 World Balloon Championships, they asked Mayor Kinney for assistance. Mayor Kinney formed a Citizens Committee to organize the event. This committee became the foundation of the non-profit organization that became Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Mayor Kinney also arranged for City support for the event, including road crews, local police and refuse workers, furthering a long-time relationship between the Balloon Fiesta and the City of Albuquerque. The Mayor continued to support the Balloon Fiesta both as Mayor and as a private citizen for the rest of his life. He passed away in 2006.
Charles L. (Charlie) Hines
His name is not as well-known as many others associated with the Balloon Fiesta, but Charles Hines played a key role in laying the foundation for today’s Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Inc. (AIBF), the nonprofit corporation that operates the event. Charlie was one of the goggle-eyed spectators at the very first Balloon Fiesta in 1972. He was in charge of organizing chase crews for the 1973 World Championships, and in 1974 ran all of the Balloon Fiesta’s volunteer operations, so he was well-suited to assume a key role with the new corporation. Upon its formation in 1976 Charlie Hines became the corporation’s first president, and after two years became Chairman under the corporate structure then in place. Charlie remained on the Board of Directors through 1994 and also flew as a pilot in the event. He was a presence at Balloon Fiesta Park up until the time of his death shortly before the 2009 Balloon Fiesta. Charlie was a “people person” and his personal involvement with the ballooning community and other civic and governmental organizations allowed him to provide effective leadership for AIBF.
Successful businessman, co-builder of the Sandia Peak Tramway, and an early member of the Albuquerque ballooning community, Ben Abruzzo was a competitor who pushed the limits of balloon flight. He began flying balloons in the early 1970s and flew in the Balloon Fiesta through most of its first decade. But Ben is best known for his record-setting, pioneering crossings of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The historic Double Eagle II crossing of the Atlantic, with co-pilots Maxie Anderson and Larry Newman, focused worldwide attention on Albuquerque resulting in increased interest in ballooning as sport. In 1981, Ben, with teammates Larry Newman, Ron Clark, and Rocky Aoki, made the first successful balloon flight across the Pacific in Double Eagle V. In 1979, with Maxie Anderson, Ben won the first long-distance gas balloon race (the “Friends of Gordon Bennett”) held in North America since World War II. His honors include the Diplome Montgolfier, ballooning’s most prestigious recognition, along with a slew of world records and a host of other aviation awards. Ben died in an aircraft accident in 1985.
In 1971, Sid Cutter joined with eight friends to form Albuquerque’s first balloon club, the Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association (AAAA, today the world’s largest local balloon organization). One of those friends was Maxie Anderson, a real estate developer and president of a mining company. Maxie soon co-owned his first balloon with Ben Abruzzo, but both men were by nature adventurers, always looking for the next challenge. In 1977, inspired by Ed Yost’s attempt to fly across the Atlantic, Maxie and Ben took up the challenge. Their first try ended in disaster – they were lucky to survive – but their 1978 Atlantic crossing, with Larry Newman as a third crew member, made history. Eighteen months later, Maxie and his son Kris completed the first successful non-stop balloon crossing of North America. Maxie then became the first balloonist to seriously pursue flying around the world by balloon, in the process becoming the first (with co-pilot Don Ida) to successfully cross the Indian Ocean by balloon. Maxie and Don were killed in a gas balloon accident in Europe in 1983 while flying in as non-competitors in the Coupe Gordon Bennett. In the course of his short life, Maxie earned the Diplome Montgolfier and a long list of other honors, but more importantly, through his record setting balloon flights, Maxie kept the eyes of the ballooning world focused on Albuquerque.
If there is an “Ironman” of Balloon Fiesta, it might just be John C. Davis IV, perhaps the longest-serving member of the Board of Directors. John and his wife Carol were among that first generation of Albuquerque balloonists who became involved in the first Balloon Fiestas. He retired from his day job in 1977 to pursue ballooning full-time as a pilot, instructor, dealer, and FAA Designated Examiner. From the days of the first Balloon Fiesta John Davis has loved ballooning and been totally involved as a participant, official, examiner, and promoter, as well as the technical advisor to Carol’s successful world record altitude, distance, and duration flights. That same year (1977), John joined the Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors ….and 43 years later, he’s still there. He served as Board President (1982), Chairman (1983), and Balloonmeister (1988-1989). John flies both hot-air and gas balloons, organized several of the Balloon Fiesta’s early gas balloon races in the 1980s, and was a competitor in the America’s Challenge up until 2010. To this day John can be counted on to provide leadership and expertise where it is needed most.
Sheri Bachtell-Moore 1987
Sheri Bachtell Moore is the first of many strong women who have played key roles in the success of Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Inc. Sheri was a member of the first Citizen’s Committee when AIBF was formed, initially serving as bookkeeper for the group. In 1978, Sheri became the first female President of the Board of Directors, serving two terms and helping to establish the direction this new organization would take for years to come. She left the board in 1981, but as a longtime pilot (one of the early female pilots in Albuquerque) remained active in the Balloon Fiesta for many years.
Marge Ruppenthal – balloonist, administrator, and leader – became involved in ballooning in 1973, during the first World Championships, when her husband Bob showed up on their doorstep with a group of grimy British balloonists in tow. By the time the houseguests left, Marge and Bob had become balloonists themselves, and soon Marge was flying in the Balloon Fiesta in her own right. She joined the Board of Directors in 1978, serving as President in 1980 and 1981, and as Chairman in 1982. But Marge left her most lasting legacy after her induction into the Hall of Fame, as the second Executive Director of AIBF (1989-1995). She helped lead the growth of the organization through improved publicity and increased sponsorships, making possible numerous capital improvements, including the purchase of office space.
Bob Ruppenthal’s roots in ballooning go back to the 1973 First World Championships – the second Balloon Fiesta. He bought his first balloon soon after and soon put his science and engineering background to use writing some of the earliest articles on flying techniques and balloon safety. When Sid Cutter relinquished the Balloon Fiesta to the Citizen’s Committee that morphed into Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (1976), Bob was the event’s first Balloonmeister. Bob joined the Board of Directors in 1994, assuming the presidency of the board in 1989 and 1990. Bob’s most important legacy is the work he did with the State Legislature to secure the title to Balloon Fiesta Park which had joint City-State ownership. He was also responsible for the introduction of a sound system used on the field and helped to introduce more entertainment before and after launch to keep spectators involved. Bob maintained a connection to Balloon Fiesta until his death in 2013.
Jacqueline Hockey, a petite blonde dynamo of a woman is perhaps the single person most responsible for rolling out the Balloon Fiesta welcome mat to corporate visitors and VIPs. Enormously creative, with endless energy, Jacqueline somehow managed to turn patches of the dusty, dirt and brush-covered terrain where the early Balloon Fiestas were held into a little oasis of comfort for the growing number of sponsors who made the event possible. Jacqueline Hockey was a member of the Citizen’s Committee which was the foundation for the Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors and served on the Board for 25 years. The ultimate social organizer, Jacqueline created events to keep the Balloon Fiesta fun and foster the important relationships between AIBF and its sponsors. As a volunteer for both the Balloon Fiesta and the Balloon Museum, she still welcomes balloonists and guests from around the world with her charm, grace, and impeccable French.
Many people over the years have contributed to building the Balloon Fiesta, but few have done more to build Balloon Fiesta than Jim Shiver. Through three launch sites, including the current Balloon Fiesta Park, Jim Shiver quietly contributed his labors and those of his construction firm, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, to building the considerable infrastructure – roads, power, water, lights, etc. – needed to support a temporary “town” with a population of almost 100,000. Even before there WAS a field, Jim was instrumental in convincing Albuquerque Gravel Products to donate land for Cutter Field for the 1981-1985 Balloon Fiestas. Jim became a balloon pilot in 1979, but it was just one of his avocations in a life lived intensely. If it moved, he could fly, drive, or ride it: airplanes, bulldozers, tractors (on his extensive farms in Stanley, NM on the east side of the Sandia Mountains), snowmobiles, boats, horses. Jim joined the AIBF Board of Directors in 1980, served as President 1986-88, and remained a member of the board until his death in 2013. Larger than life, he could be forceful and direct, warm and generous, and always intensely loyal to his family and friends – and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Al Kinney 1994
Albuquerque businessman Al Kinney is another one of those behind-the-scenes forces who built Balloon Fiesta in the most literal sense. Al’s service to the Balloon Fiesta goes back to the second Fiesta and First World Championships in 1973, where as a volunteer he installed utilities on the field and organized concessions. He served on the Board of Directors in 1978 and from 1987 to 1994, where he was city and government coordinator, instrumental in obtaining funding from the Albuquerque Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and coordinating the city bond issue to buy Balloon Fiesta Park. Al helped coordinate sheriff deputies, buses, trash disposal, highway department, traffic, parking and use of neighboring land, all critical elements to a successful event. He passed away in 1998.
Tom “Doc” McConnell 1995
Tom McConnell M.D., former UNM professor and affectionately known around Balloon Fiesta as “Father Time,” is perhaps best known to the public as the owner (briefly co-owner) and pilot of the iconic Zia balloon. His involvement in Balloon Fiesta goes back to the First World Championships in 1973, and he has served on the Board of Directors continuously since 1980 (he was President in 1992). Much of Tom’s work on the Board has been in the thankless activities related to finances, by-laws, staff evaluation, and strategic planning, and he chaired the Calendar Committee for eight years. He has long been known as an advocate for balloon safety and one of the country’s top forensic analysts of balloon accidents; his book, “Balloon Safety” is a go-to text on the subject. Since he was named to the Hall of Fame, Tom has focused his efforts on the preservation of the Balloon Fiesta’s history. He has served on the Heritage Committee since its inception and was its chair for several years. Tom has written numerous articles about the Balloon Fiesta and is co-author of three books: “The World Comes to Albuquerque” (2011), “Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta” (2016), and the upcoming “50 Years of Magic” slated for publication in 2021. He is one of a handful of individuals in whom resides the organization’s institutional memory.
When you visit today’s Balloon Fiesta Park, you can see the imprint of Albuquerque businessman and contractor Bruce Hale. An international competitor in both hot air and gas balloons, Bruce was elected to the Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors in 1991 and served until 2008. He was Board President in 1995-96 when the organization moved to the current Balloon Fiesta Park and lobbied extensively to assure AIBF had the necessary capital to acquire and develop the land into the field we all enjoy today. Bruce passed away in 2015
James "Jim" Baca Honorary Member 1998
Jim Baca has been a well-known political figure in Albuquerque and New Mexico for four decades, but perhaps less well-remembered is the role he played in the early history of the Balloon Fiesta. In 1975, Jim was just starting his political career, as public information officer and policy analyst for then-Albuquerque Mayor Harry Kinney. The Mayor asked Jim to sit as his representative on the Citizens Committee formed to perpetuate what had by then become the Balloon Fiesta. As a member of this committee, Jim was one of the original incorporators of Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Inc., the not-for-profit corporation that to this day runs the event. Jim was also instrumental in coordinating city services (police, fire, public works) in the first years of the Balloon Fiesta. At the time of his induction into the Hall of Fame, Jim Baca was Mayor of Albuquerque; he also served two terms as a New Mexico State Land Commissioner. He retired from politics in 2009 and still keeps a toe in the political arena as a blogger.
Jim "Badtoe" Benson 1998
One of the biggest and least-appreciated jobs at Balloon Fiesta is that of Field Manager – the person who oversees the army of people and multitude of tasks and details involved in creating a “city” on the balloon field that can meet the needs of 100,000 spectators and participants. It was Jim “Badtoe” Benson who laid the groundwork for turning this function into a professional operation. Badtoe (affectionately referred to as “Field God”), was Field Manager from 1990 through 1996, just as the Balloon Fiesta was transitioning to its permanent home at Balloon Fiesta Park.
Aubrey Cookman 1998
As the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta grew in visibility and prominence, news media representatives from around the world began showing up to cover the event. The event needed someone to coordinate the myriad details involved in taking care of the press, from credentials to arranging interviews and answering questions, and in those first years, that person was Aubrey Cookman. In the event’s first years, Aubrey was a Balloon Fiesta volunteer. When Mayor Harry Kinney created a Citizen’s Committee to take over the event from a tapped-out Sid Cutter, Aubrey was one of the people appointed to the committee. He was then named to the first Board of Directors of the Balloon Fiesta and was one of the original incorporators of the organization. Aubrey remained a Board member until 1983, and during that time also served as Media Director, laying the groundwork for those who would follow in this vital role. Aubrey Cookman passed away in 2002.
Betty Perkins Honorary Member 1998
Betty Perkins, who passed away in 2008, was another of the individuals appointed to that very first Citizen’s Committee, the transitional board between Sid Cutter’s management of the event and the creation of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (AIBF) as a non-profit corporation. Betty chaired the committee, was one of the original incorporators of AIBF, and its first Chairperson. In these roles, she insisted the City help out the fledgling Balloon Fiesta to get the new field operational. Her work and dedication laid the groundwork for today’s Balloon Fiesta.
Few people’s contributions in the history of the Balloon Fiesta equal those of Jodi Baugh, who in the 1990s transformed the marketing of the event. In slightly more than a decade, Jodi created a sponsorship structure which turned Balloon Fiesta into a multi-million-dollar corporation and improved its amenities for corporate sponsors and guests. She also oversaw major improvements to accommodations for the media and the revamping of the Balloon Fiesta’s official program, and was involved in the creation of events that are still part of the Balloon Fiesta, including the Flight of the Nations and the America’s Challenge gas balloon race. Jodi stepped down after the 2002 Balloon Fiesta, but continued to help out with special events for the Balloon Museum and to support the Balloon Fiesta. She passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly in the spring of 2019.
Mark Sullivan 1999
Mark Sullivan began flying hot air balloons in 1983 and gas balloons soon afterwards, setting the course that would take him to leadership positions in the ballooning world both in Albuquerque and around the world. Fiercely competitive, Mark participated in the National Hot Air Balloon Championships and in 1995 teamed with Sid Cutter and Troy Bradley to win the 1st National Team Ballooning Championships. By this time Mark had also become a world-class competitor in gas balloons and (in 1989) a member of the Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors. On the board, Mark played significant roles in establishing the Special Shape Rodeo and the Flight of the Nations. He represented the United States in the World Gas Ballooning Championships held during the 1994 Balloon Fiesta, and the next year established the America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race, one of only two distance races in the world for gas balloons. Mark served two terms as Balloon Fiesta President, and at the time of his induction into the Hall of Fame was AIBF treasurer. Since his induction, Mark has won the America’s Challenge twice and has finished as high as third in the Gordon Bennett (2009). He has competed in more gas balloon distance races than any other active pilot. He is still a member of the AIBF board and is the current president of the Fédération Aéronautique International Ballooning Commission (CIA, or Comité International d'Aérostation), the international governing body for the sport of ballooning.