In a tribute to Adirondack Balloon Festival founder Walt Grishkot, balloonist John Outzen draped a giant American flag from his craft Thursday Sept. 22 during the opening ceremony of the 2011 festival. Outzen noted that for years, Grishkot loved this traditional patriotic salute.
For 39 years, Walter Grishkot presided over the Adirondack Balloon Festival — which he founded, annually organized and tirelessly promoted.
At Thursday evening's opening ceremony of the 39th annual edition of the event, local officials and balloonists fondly recalled Grishkot’s character and achievements.
Addressing a crowd of well over 1,000 in Crandall Park, Glens Falls Mayor Jack Diamond remembered Grishkot’s dedicated work which made the balloon festival the region’s leading annual event.
“Walter Grishkot was the inspiration, the heart, the soul, and the driving force behind the Adirondack Balloon Festival — from its humble beginnings to the internationally acclaimed event that it is today,” he said. “With his wife Joan, he gave his time and talents, his blood, sweat and tears to the festival and to the people of this area for nearly four decades.”
Queensbury Supervisor Dan Stec seconded the point, recalling how when he was a child, he was entranced with the balloon festival Walt founded, and all its activities.
“What a wonderful event Walt created,” he said. “What the balloon fest does best is bring family members together and make memories they’ll have forever.”
After proclamations were read in Grishkot’s honor, Joan Grishkot shed tears for a moment.
“This is bittersweet — as of last week, we were married 46 years,” she said, looking at the hot-air balloons beginning to inflate despite misting precipitation.
“Anyway, he’s here in spirit — he’s probably up there right now doing a ‘No Rain’ dance,” she said. “This festival shows what one person can do if they have a good idea, a passion for their concept, boundless energy and community support.”
Balloon Festival president Mark Donahue said he and others were working for the festival in that spirit.
“His legacy will continue,” Donahue said, noting that at 7 a.m.Sunday Sept. 25, a mass ascension of balloons will occur in Grishkot’s honor.
During the opening ceremonies Thursday, Post-Star Maury Thompson signed and sold copies of his book “The Biggest Kid at the Balloon Festival: The Walter Grishkot Story," which not only explores Grishkot’s work with the festival, but his earlier work as a photographer and stunt-loving promoter for Warren County.
“We all owe a lot of gratitude to Walt for all his enthusiasm and work,” Thompson said.
Balloon pilot Rich Wiedenhaefer of Easton Pa., recalled Grishkot’s enthusiasm as he readied to set up his balloon that resembles a giant strawberry. A commercial airline pilot, Wiedenhaefer was in town with with his wife and friends and a half-dozen other balloonists and their crews for the fest.
“Walt was so upbeat and gregarious,” he recalled. “To be a balloonist, you have to think positive, particularly about the weather and wind — and Walt was such an optimist.”
Balloon pilot John Outzen of Litchfield New Hampshire commented about Grishkot as he attached an American flag to his craft's basket.
Moments later, the balloon ascended in a tethered flight with the flag draping over the crowd, in a salute to Grishkot.
Outzen said that the fest’s founder loved this traditional display of patriotism, as he recalled his character.
“Walter was always so happy, so accommodating,” Outzen said. “He was very forthcoming and never held back — he was always willing to help anyone in need.”
Glens Falls Mayor Jack Diamond looked out over the crowd that applauded Grishkot as the balloon rose upward, displaying the American flag.
“Though Walt has gone to his eternal rest, his spirit lives on, soaring with the hot air balloons that dot the sky each autumn here,” he said.