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Graceful flight:
Festival of Ballooning going strong after 30 years

by David Campbell


The 2008 New Jersey Festival of Ballooning
was attended by more than 100,000 people. The
festival will celebrate 27 years July 24-26, 2009.

For Richard Stoneking, love was in the air – or, perhaps, that’s hot air – when his future wife, Cindy, walked into his office in Flemington, N.J. nearly 30 years ago.

A physical therapist and the owner of Stoneking Wellness Center in Lambertville, N.J., Stoneking was treating Cindy for a bum knee suffered while skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho.

The two connected – outside of Stoneking’s office. Literally.

In the early evening hours of one lazy summer day in 1981, Stoneking was finishing up work at his office in Flemington when he noticed a mysterious hot air balloon descending in a field a short distance away.

Cindy was the balloon’s pilot. The two, whom Stoneking claims had a mutual interest in each other prior to their brush with fate, connected on that day.

A relationship was born. Cindy took Richard up in her hot air balloon, and the couple eventually married.

“The ballooning kind of got my wife and me together,” said Stoneking, the proud father of two grown children.

The Stonekings, owners of their fourth balloon, a hard-to-miss purple, teal blue and light blue creation, have taken part in a plethora of hot air balloon festivals since, including the renowned New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, held in late July at Solberg Airport in Readington.

The festival routinely welcomes up to 125 balloons, of all shapes and sizes. Darth Vader’s famous helmet made an appearance at the 2008 festival. And, of course, the festival’s signature balloons – the Twin Bees, PNC Bank American Flag, Pepsi Can and Energizer Bunny – were there, as well.

 


A view of the early morning mass ascension at the
2008 New Jersey Festival of Ballooning.

The Saturday night balloon glow is the festival’s signature event, as balloon goers are urged to arrive at dusk and watch the exquisite balloons illuminated from within.

As the balloons take flight, musical acts entertain guests. Among those performing at the 2008 New Jersey Festival of Ballooning were Gin Blossoms, Demi Lovato, Paul Rodgers, Menudo and Kenny Loggins.

The entertainment doesn’t end on stage, however. There’s the Comcast Triple Play’s Galaxy of Thrills, FlippenOut Extreme Trampoline Show, NASA’s Exploration Experience, the QC Corral/Quick Chek’s Entertainment Tent, plus amusement rides, Polka dot and magic shows.

More than 100,000 people attended the 2008 festival, with more than $125,000 being raised for nonprofit organizations such as Children’s Miracle Network, the Knights of Columbus, Brain Injury Association of New Jersey, the Whitehouse Fire Department, Whitehouse Rescue Squad and Readington Fire Department, among others.

Balloons came in from 22 states and three countries. And nearly 800 people took a balloon ride, or two, over Hunterdon County.

Of course, two couples made the most of their ascension into the evening sky, with marriage proposals.

Apparently, hot air ballooning is a romantic getaway for some.

Just ask Richard and Cindy Stoneking.

“Downhill skiing and ballooning are our passions,” said Richard. “We really like to do that.”

Skiing brought the Stonekings together; ballooning brought them even closer together … in marriage.

The 27th annual Quick Chek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning is scheduled for July 24-26, 2009.

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