Balloon Fiesta Announces Changes to Leadership Team
January 18, 2023
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta® Announces Executive Director Retirement, Staff Promotions
New Board of Directors Officers and New Board Members
Albuquerque, NM- The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta®, a private nonprofit corporation, has announced changes to its leadership team, including to its board of directors and staff.
Balloon Fiesta Leadership Announcements
Paul Smith, the Balloon Fiesta’s longest serving executive director, has announced his retirement from the organization. Smith who has served in that position for 26 years, will retire January 30, 2023. Smith joined the Balloon Fiesta team as executive director in 1997. His leadership has pushed the event through many successful changes and achievements. He will continue to be involved with the organization and also plans to be active as a hot air balloon pilot. “It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for more than half of the Balloon Fiestas. I just hope we’re both a little bit better for our time together,” said Smith.
Sam Parks, an accomplished hot air and gas balloon pilot and currently serving as Balloon Fiesta's Director of Operations, will take over as the organization's new Executive Director. Before joining Balloon Fiesta full time in May 2018, Parks was the longest serving Balloonmeister for six years (2013-2018) and he owned/operated his own business in North Carolina for 28 years. In October, Parks received the Balloon Federation of America's highest honor, the Shields Trauger Award, for his long-standing contribution to the safety of ballooning. “I am excited about taking on this new role within a great organization, and after celebrating AIBF's golden anniversary this past October, I look forward to launching the next 50 years of the World's Premier Balloon Event this year," said Parks.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta’s volunteer Board of Directors also announced new leadership. The board voted Judith “Judy” Nakamura as the organization’s 2023 president, taking over for Al Tetreault, who served as president for the past year. Nakamura was elected to the Balloon Fiesta Board in 2011. Her interest and enthusiasm for ballooning began during the 2003 Balloon Fiesta when she took a hot air balloon ride during a mass ascension. Soon after, Judy obtained her hot air balloon pilot license and continues to fly balloons today. Judy also served the community for 22 years in various capacities including Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, Chief Judge of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court and as a Judge on the Second Judicial District Court. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Think New Mexico and the National Court’s and Science Institute. “I look forward to continuing the work of the Board and staff in ensuring Balloon Fiesta remains one of New Mexico’s economically and culturally defining events,” said Nakamura.
The board elected Neil Jackson as Vice-President, Mark Sullivan as Secretary, and Dick Rice as treasurer. Neil Jackson was elected to the Balloon Fiesta Board in 2017. His ballooning experience as both a commercial hot air balloon pilot and a spectator, provide the basis for his involvement with Balloon Fiesta. Neil is an owner of Albuquerque based Mountain States Constructors, Inc.
Two new board members were elected for 2023-2024. Peg Billson, the current Assistant Balloonmeister and Tania Armenta, President & CEO of Visit Albuquerque. Peg Billson has been volunteering for Balloon Fiesta for the past seven years as a Launch Director, Safety Officer, Pilot and Assistant Balloonmeister. Peg’s career spanned 35 years across all aspects of the Aviation Industry and she currently serves on the board of two publicly traded multi-national companies. Tania Armenta has been with Visit Albuquerque for 24 years and has led the organization for the last seven years. Due to her tenure with Visit Albuquerque, she has also been involved with Balloon Fiesta for the last 24 years. Tania serves on several tourism and non-profit boards both nationally and locally.
Other Balloon Fiesta board members include: JR Allison, Ray Bair, Gary D. Bennett, Jay Czar, John Davis, Barbara Fricke, Jim Garcia, Matt Guthrie, Steve Komadina, Jeff Lawrence, Rod May, Tom McConnell, Doug Schwebach, Harry T. Season, Jr., John Sena, Al Tetreault, Bill Walker, and Ty Young.
Balloon Fiesta Staff Announcements
Balloon Fiesta has also announced additional staff role changes including new event director, Jennifer Garcia, and Taylor Caldwell as pilot coordinator. Garcia started working for the Balloon Fiesta January of 2012, as the RV manager. Throughout her time with the Balloon Fiesta, Garcia also worked as the concessions manager, pilot coordinator, and associate event director. As event director, Garcia will be responsible for all flight operations, officials, pilots, special events and coordinating flights with the City, FAA, KAFB, ABQ Sunport, and officials. Caldwell started working for the Balloon Fiesta June of 2021. In her new role as pilot coordinator, she will coordinate flight operations, registering and processing of information for all pilots and volunteer crew in a manner that will satisfy the needs of Balloon Fiesta, participating insurance companies, and the FAA.
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