The Inductees 2000-present
On a list of early woman balloonists in Albuquerque, Linda Rutherford’s name would be near the top. Linda was part of the “Class of ’73,” which included some of the earliest and most prominent female balloon pilots in Albuquerque. She finished in the top ten in the National Hot Air Balloon Championships in 1975 and flew as a commercial pilot for Budwiser and other sponsors. Linda was also very involved with the Balloon Fiesta from the early days. In 1979 she was appointed the organization’s first Executive Director, becoming AIBF’s first paid employee. In her ten years in this role, Linda created the foundation for today’s organization, serving as a tireless leader in the office and on the field and managing one of the most complicated, mostly volunteer, event-oriented organizations in the world. After retiring from the Balloon Fiesta, Linda moved out of the Albuquerque area to pursue other interests. She passed away in 2015.
George Hahn 2002
As a Board member (1988-2014) and President (1991), George Hahn was instrumental in creating the first written operations manual for AIBF, as well as getting the corporations’ finances, management practices and budget process in shape. But George’s involvement in the Balloon Fiesta goes back to well before 1988. George earned his private and commercial balloon licenses in 1977 and 1978 and soon after added gas balloons to his resume. Throughout the next decade, George made his mark on Balloon Fiesta as an event official, as Balloonmeister in 1986 and 1987, and as a fierce advocate for ballooning safety. In the mid -1980s George acquired AERCO, one of Albuquerque’s and the country’s oldest and most established balloon sales and repair facilities. He ran AERCO for nearly 30 years and also briefly had an ownership interest in US balloon manufacturer Firefly. As a respected instructor and FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, George trained and/or certified dozens of balloon pilots. He was an organizer and participant in numerous safety seminars in Albuquerque and across the country and gave regular safety talks to groups of pilots.
Frank Mezzancello 2004
Frank Mezzancello is one of those people whose presence and dedication makes an organization effective: the kind of ultimate volunteer Balloon Fiesta depends on. During more than 30 years of service to the event, , working mostly behind the scenes, Frank has served on every committee and been a valuable mediator who championed the cause of pilots, smoothed upset neighbors, handled emergencies on the field, and made sure concessionaires have what they need. Frank joined the Board of Directors in 1990 and was President of AIBF in 1994. The Mezzancellos are a ballooning family; wife Pat and son Steve are also balloon pilots are involved to this day in making the Balloon Fiesta a success.
J.W. Byrd 2004
As one of Albuquerque’s early balloon pilots (he earned his license in 1973), J.W. Byrd is the founding father of a three-generation ballooning family (his son, daughter, and granddaughter are all pilots), and one of the Balloon Fiesta’s first volunteers. J.W. was one of the event’s early Chief Safety Officers, and is perhaps best known as a scoring officer for both the Balloon Fiesta’s hot air competitions and the America’s Challenge gas balloon race. But if there was a job to be done, no matter how unglamorous, J.W. did it, even stretching out miles of flagging to mark out the confines of the early Balloon Fiesta launch sites. J.W. was a mentor and friend to hundreds of balloonists (many of whom he taught to fly), crew members and enthusiasts in the 30 years. J.W. passed away in 2007.
Carol Rymer Davis 2005
Carol Rymer Davis is the world’s most decorated female balloonist and from nearly the beginning of Balloon Fiesta she was an active participant. She was most often a pilot, but also served as an official. In 1979, Carol flew a small hot air balloon to 31,500 feet to establish a feminine altitude record that stood for nearly 20 years. She followed that up with distance and duration records. But even while she was setting records, she was an accessible and warm mentor to a generation of women balloonists. Carol earned a gas balloon rating in the late 1970s and to this day is the only female winner of the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett (the world championships for gas balloons). She also won the America’s Challenge and (in 1999) the ReMax Cup distance gas balloon race. She is a two-time recipient of the Diplome Mongtgolfier and holds every other major award awarded to balloonists. After her induction to the Hall of Fame, Carol continued to fly in gas balloon events. Known as a determined, driven competitor, she and Richard Abruzzo were flying in the 2010 Gordon Bennett when their balloon was destroyed and they lost their lives in a storm over the Adriatic Sea.
Steve Yazzie 2006
Always levelheaded, always fair, and almost always smiling. That is how pilots, staff, and volunteers remember Steve Yazzie, the Balloonmeister who led the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta’s flying events into the new millennium. Steve began ballooning in the late 1970s, crewing during the Balloon Fiesta and later with longtime pilot Bob Kellam. He later bought and flew his own balloons – his last was called Dances with Wolves, a nod to his Native American heritage. Steve began volunteering for the Balloon Fiesta in 1977 and started his climb up the officials' ladder as an Assistant Scoring Officer in 1987. He served as Chief Safety Officer in 1996 and 1997 and finally as Balloonmeister in 1999 and 2000. Steve holds the distinction of being the event’s first, and still to date the only, Native American Balloonmeister (his heritage is Navajo, Taos, and Ácoma). He was looking forward to many more years as a Balloon Fiesta volunteer when he passed away at the all-too-young age of 53.
Al Tetreault 2007
In an era where safety and event security have become essential to the success of any large event, Al Tetreault’s contributions to the Balloon Fiesta have a special significance. A retired police officer who in his active-duty days supported law enforcement efforts at the Balloon Fiesta, Al joined the Board of Directors in 1991 and made it his mission to develop security protocols on a par with those at the Super Bowl, Rose Parade, Kentucky Derby, and other world-class events. He developed inter-agency partnerships with local, regional, and state police forces, fire departments, emergency medical services, federal agencies such as Homeland Security and Drug Enforcement, and teams from the armed forces. These teams work together through an on-site command post and emergency medical facility. The plans developed by Al and his team include dealing with hazardous materials, evacuation plans, on-field fires, lost children, and potential injury scenarios, not to mention other scenarios we can’t go into here. In addition to planning, he has conducted training sessions with officials and volunteers. Most of Al’s efforts will never be noticed by the casual visitor – and that’s the way he likes it. In 2019 Al’s son (also named Al Tetreault) became the director of the Balloon Fiesta’s security operations, but Al continues to take an active role on the board and in keeping Balloon Fiesta participants and guests safe.
Harry T. Season, Jr. 2009
A commercial balloon pilot (licensed in 1981) with a day job at the US Department of Energy and Sandia National Labs, Harry Season is another pilot who left the Balloon Fiesta flying ranks to significantly contribute to the running of the event. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Harry served as a launch director, scoring officer, and safety officer before becoming Balloonmeister in 1992 and 1993. He joined the Board of Directors in 1989 and served as President during two of the most challenging years in AIBF’s history. In the milestone year of 2000, Balloon Fiesta hosted 1000 balloons, a landmark that has never been repeated. In 2001, Harry guided the Balloon Fiesta through the aftermath of 9/11, helping persuade the federal aviation authorities to permit the event to go forward and setting an emotional tone that made the Balloon Fiesta a catharsis and a time of healing for all who participated. As of 2020, Harry remains a member of the AIBF Board; his sharp questions and insights and his contributions to Balloon Fiesta committees perpetuate his legacy.
Pat J. Brake 2010
Pat Brake’s unique contributions began in the business world, where as a manager for New Mexico Educators Credit Union (now Nusenda), she helped many balloon owners finance their balloons. She bought her own balloon in 1984 and flew in several Balloon Fiestas before moving into the officials' ranks. Pat became Balloonmeister in 1996 and 1997, only the third woman in AIBF’s history to become the Balloon Fiesta’s chief official. She also served on the Board of Directors from 1989 to 1997. But Pat’s greatest contributions resulted from her work as the Balloon Fiesta’s Event Director from 1998-2010. She was responsible for managing staff, officials and hospitality, in addition to coordinating all flight operations for hot air and gas balloons plus any “special” flying events, and became known as one of the world’s most respected balloon event organizers. Rated in gas balloons as well as in hot air, Pat was the Event Director for the America’s Challenge for many years, and in 2005 was the first female ever to serve as Event Director for the Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett, the world’s oldest aviation competition (founded in 1906). Her honors and awards include ballooning’s most prestigious recognition, the Diplome Montgolfier.
Bruce King Honorary 2010
Those who worked with Governor Bruce King all agree that we will never know or appreciate the impact his support made on creating today’s Balloon Fiesta. Bruce King is the longest-serving Governor ever in New Mexico history. In an era when NM Governors were term-limited and could not succeed themselves in office, Governor King was elected to three non-consecutive terms spanning a quarter-century (1971-75, 1979-83, and 1991-95). The first Balloon Fiesta in 1972 came in the middle of Governor King’s first term, and rare film of this first event show him shaking hands and greeting celebrities to help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of KOB Radio. He is said to have not missed a Balloon Fiesta through his three terms in office, and he was always available to help problem-solve the big issues that could have prevented the growth of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Governor King passed away in 2009 at the age of 85, on the family ranch in Stanley, NM where he saw his humble beginnings.
Sam Baxter 2011
Sam Baxter began flying balloons in the late 1970s and flew the event sponsor banner in several Balloon Fiestas during the 1980s. Over time he became a legend in the Albuquerque ballooning community as the “patriarch” of what became known as the “Adams Family,” after the brand of balloon Sam and his many friends and former crew members flew. After many years of participating in the Balloon Fiesta as a pilot and volunteer, Sam was chosen to succeed Jim “Badtoe” Benson as the Field Manager in 1997. During more than 15 years as Field Manager, Sam’s contributions greatly improved the overall look and amenities of Balloon Fiesta Park, adding greatly to participants’ and guests’ safety, comfort, and enjoyment. His health declining, Sam became ill shortly before the 2011 Balloon Fiesta and passed away days after the event concluded. His many friends conducted a memorial flight from Balloon Fiesta Park in his honor.
Richard Abruzzo 2011
Richard Abruzzo, the son of transatlantic and transpacific balloon voyager Ben Abruzzo, grew up in his family’s high-energy, high-expectation, high-risk family culture. He learned to fly balloons at a young age, but it was a casual interest – he was a nationally-ranked collegiate skier -- until he was asked to co-pilot a balloon in the Chrysler Transpacific Challenge. During that flight, Richard and Troy Bradley made the first balloon flight from the USA to Africa and set several world records – the first of dozens he held in his lifetime, including being the first person to make a solo gas balloon flight across the North American Continent. As a hot-air competitor, Richard won three pole grab events, and in gas balloons is to this day the only five-time winner of the America’s Challenge gas balloon race. He and Carol Rymer Davis were the last American team to win the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett (in 2004). In his all-too-short lifetime he was awarded the Diplome Montgolfier and just about every other aviation award in the books. He joined the Balloon Fiesta Board in 1996, serving to the time of his death, and also chaired the Board of Trustees of the Balloon Museum. Richard was known for his exceptional generosity, always willing to offer input and help, even to his competitors. Determined and driven to the last, Richard and Carol Rymer Davis were killed when their balloon was destroyed over the Adriatic Sea during the 2010 Gordon Bennett.
Ray Bair 2012
Ray Bair has been involved in ballooning since the 1980s and has been flying in the Balloon Fiesta since 1987. Licensed in both hot air and gas balloons, Ray has long been renowned in the ballooning community for his focus on safety and pilot development. For many years Ray was an FAA Designated Examiner, certifying dozens of pilots for private and commercial licenses. Ray has been a member of the AIBF Board of Directors since 1999, serving as secretary in 2002-2005, vice president in 2006-7, and president in 2008-9. He also headed the America’s Challenge Command Center for several years, has served on the Balloon Museum Board of Trustees, and for decades has organized the Christmas Eve Balloon Glow at Arroyo del Oso Golf Course. The Bairs are a ballooning and Balloon Fiesta family: wife Carol ran the Pilot Hospitality center for two decades, and son David and granddaughter Erin are both pilots.
Rodney A. May 2012
Rod May and his wife Terri began flying balloons in the mid-1980s and, like so many others who have played a significant role in the Balloon Fiesta, left the flying ranks to contribute his knowledge and skills as an official. Perhaps his most significant contribution to Balloon Fiesta is his service in the Officials’ groups, culminating in his serving as Balloonmeister in 1994 and 1995 (after stints as the Chief Launch Officer, Safety Official and Assistant Balloonmeister). During Rod’s two years as Balloonmeister, the Balloon Fiesta hosted the World Gas Balloon Championships and the first America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race. He joined the Board of Directors in 1992, serving as President in 2004 and 2005. Rod used his experience as a balloon pilot to provide expertise to the operations of the Balloon Explorium, now known as the Balloon Discovery Center, just one of the many committees that he has served on during his tenure on the AIBF Board of Directors. In his professional life Rod was a mechanical engineer for Sandia National Laboratories and managed the engineering team that determined the likely cause of the Columbia space shuttle disaster.
Kim Vesely 2012
Kim Vesely first became involved in ballooning in 1975 as a reporter/producer for KOB-TV. She covered Balloon Fiesta from 1975 to ’78 and did live color commentary for KOB from 1980 to ’82 and from 2006-14. In addition to covering Balloon Fiesta, she has written about many of ballooning’s great “firsts,” including the Double Eagle transatlantic flights, the Double Eagle V and Two Eagles transpacific flights, and the Kitty Hawk flight across North America. She’s been involved in the Balloon Fiesta as a pilot, official, and an AIBF Board Member in 1988-89. She produced and edited the Balloon Fiesta pilot safety briefing video from 1982-89, has been the primary writer and editor of the annual program since 2003 and has been the media liaison for the America’s Challenge Race since 2002. She is a co-author of three books about the Balloon Fiesta: “The World Comes to Albuquerque” (2011), “Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta” (2016), and the upcoming “50 Years of Magic” slated for publication in 2021, and recently has been a commentator for Balloon Fiesta Live!
Known among friends as ‘the old storyteller”, John Sena has been involved in ballooning since the early 1980s. With more than 20 years on the AIBF Board of Directors, John has served on most committees as well as terms as Treasurer, Vice-President and President. John lived in Taos for many years, and in 1983 founded the Taos Mountain Balloon Rally, which today remains one of the best-known balloon rallies in New Mexico. That event, held two weeks after Balloon Fiesta each year, was designed as a “relaxed’ time after nine days of Balloon Fiesta. As part of the rally, balloon pilots provided tether rides for underprivileged kids, giving them an opportunity that otherwise would probably never happen for them. John is one of the co-authors of “Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta,” published in 2016.
The fiscal brains behind both of Albuquerque’s major ballooning organizations, Dick Rice’s involvement in ballooning goes back to the very earliest Balloon Fiestas. He was a scoring official for the first World Championships held in 1973 at the NM State Fairgrounds. When a Citizens’ Committee was formed in 1975 to begin taking over the management of the Balloon Fiesta, Dick was named as the City’s liaison to the committee due to his financial background. He joined the newly incorporated Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta within its first year of operation, becoming the Board Treasurer in 1978 and serving on the Board until the mid-1980s. While this CPA took a break from serving on the Board, he returned in 2002, is still today (2020) a member of the Board of Directors, providing expert financial guidance and leadership as he again has taken on the role of Treasurer. Dick also serves as the treasurer of the Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association (AAAA). He has been an active pilot since 1978; wife Judi and son Brad are also balloon pilots.
Dick Brown has been both a flying and literary force since the beginnings of Balloon Fiesta. As one of the 20,000 awestruck spectators at the very first Balloon Fiesta in 1972, he took many of the surviving photos of this historic event. He soon earned a balloon license and he and wife Donna flew in events throughout the nation. For a time in the 1970s and early 1980s, Dick was editor of three major publications: Ballooning Journal, the official magazine of the Balloon Federation of America, the Cloudbouncer, the Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association (AAAA) newsletter, and the Raven (balloon manufacturer) newsletter. Awarded the Diplome Montgolfier for his many contributions to the ballooning community. Dick wrote his own book, “Hot Air Ballooning,” in 1979. Today, he remains one of the ballooning community’s premier historians, writing numerous articles for Balloon Fiestas annual program. He is a co-author of three books about the Balloon Fiesta: “The World Comes to Albuquerque” (2011), “Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta” (2016), and the upcoming “50 Years of Magic” slated for publication in 2021, as well as historical books on other topics.
Scott Appelman, the force behind some of the Balloon Fiesta’s most popular events, began flying balloons in the early 1980s. By 1983, he had founded his own corporation, Rainbow Ryders, which today is one of the world’s leading hot air balloon excursion companies. Scott was elected to the Balloon Fiesta Board of Directors in 1986 (through 1992). In 1987, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of New Mexico statehood, Scott was the driving force behind the first Balloon Fiesta Balloon Glow. On Sunday, October 4, 325 balloons lit up Balloon Fiesta Park as ten of thousands of spectators cheered and the night came alive. Two years later, Scott was one of the organizers of the first Special Shape Rodeo, one of the first events in the world focused solely on special shape balloons. Both events permanently changed the landscape of the Balloon Fiesta: today’s event includes five balloon glows (two specifically for Special Shapes) as well as the two-day Special Shape Rodeo. Shapes and glows are now an integral part of many balloon events around the world as others followed Balloon Fiesta’s lead. In 1999 Rainbow Ryders became the Balloon Fiesta’s official ride concessionaire, providing a balloon ride experience for more than 3,000 guests every year. As a sponsor and one of the leading ride operators in the United States, Scott continues to play a major role in the Balloon Fiesta.
Randy Lefevre 2019
As one of the top meteorologists in the world in forecasting weather as it relates to balloon operations, Randy Lefevre has greatly contributed to the safety of Balloon Fiesta flight operations for nearly two decades. A retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with a doctorate in meteorology, Randy was involved in weather forecasting for science-related balloon operations as well as other military applications. As technology has improved over the years, Randy has been at the forefront of incorporating this technology into his weather forecasts for balloon operations. Randy joined the AIBF weather team in 2003, and in addition to forecasting worked with the City of Albuquerque to purchase a Wind Profiler which provides real-time data on winds from the ground up. Randy was instrumental in setting up weather stations at and around Balloon Fiesta Park to supplement and inform the weather team during Balloon Fiesta. In addition to forecasting for hot air balloon events, for many years Randy has been the chief meteorologist for the America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race and for the Gordon Bennett races held in Albuquerque. He is one of the world’s go-to weather and trajectory experts for gas balloon teams planning long-distance flights.
Bios written by Charlotte Kinney and Kim Vesely