Friday, June 22, 2012
sponsored by

Memorial Day balloon launch ends with some very touching surprises

Send a link to a friend

[June 22, 2012]  When American Legion Post 263 and Auxiliary began planning a special Memorial Day balloon launch all the way back in February, they really didn't know the profound effect their endeavor would have on the community and on them.

The goal of the launch was to raise funds to assist veterans in need, something the Legion does on a regular basis. At that time they were hoping to collect 1,000 names of local veterans to be placed in 1,000 balloons to be set aloft in a special ceremony on Memorial Day.

They also had hopes of raising $1,000 through donations that would accompany the submission of names.

However, when the big day arrived, they found they had not just met their goal; they had exceeded it by much more than they could ever have imagined.

According to Laura Slayton, who first brought the idea of the balloon launch to the Legion, the total number of names collected came to 2,800, almost triple what they had hoped for.

And the amount of money raised went through the roof, ending in a whopping $6,363.83.

On the day of the launch, hundreds of people showed up to watch red, white, blue and gold balloons take to the skies. As the day went along, the wind picked up considerably, coming in from the southwest. When the balloons were released, it was a spellbinding sight as they quickly lifted and headed off in a northeasterly direction.

With the balloons gone, the day done and the money counted, the group was elated with what they had accomplished. They did, however, have one more wish: that out in the world there would be a few people who would find the balloons and contact them.

It took only a few days for that wish to start coming true as well. The first word that balloons had been found came when Tecia Hennessey received a call from a reporter of the Herald Argus in La Porte, Ind. Thirty of the balloons had been found on the lawn of Helen Hatchel. The La Porte paper ran a front-page report about the balloons and the Lincoln launch.

This week, auxiliary president Suzann Lolling, Marlene Schrader, Hennessey and Slayton met with local media and talked about some of the responses they have received about the balloons.

To date they have received letters from individuals in Blackstone, Bourbonnais, Chenoa and the Greater Kankakee Airport in Illinois, and Chesterton and South Bend, Ind., in addition to hearing from the Herald Argus.

Schrader also noted a few of the balloons had landed at Christian Homes in Lincoln, some on Madison Street in town, and Dan Bock of Lincoln had found some on his rural Logan County farm.

In most of the letters, the senders sent back the little pieces of paper with the veterans' names on them. Among the names that returned to Lincoln were Lowell and Melvin Aper; Charles W. Anderson, who was a prisoner of war; Wilbur Baker; Robert Krautz; Mike Lolling, who was Suzann's husband; Dallas Reinhart; Frank Ryan Sr.; Noah Schrader, who is currently in the Navy; and Zane Shelton, manager of the Lincoln Neal Tire -- just to name a very few.

They noted a letter where the finder of the balloons was familiar with Lincoln and had relatives in the area.

The last letter they received was a very special one for the group because it came from another American Legion post: Post 143 in Bristol, Ind. Slayton said it was the one from the farthest away, but there were other things that made it special as well.

The finder of the balloons was a member of Post 143. He found a total of 53 balloons, with 53 names, all of which were returned to Lincoln.

When he found the balloons, he took them to the local post. That post commander, Pete Owens, wrote a very nice letter to the Lincoln post, and to commemorate their post number, included a donation of $143.

[to top of second column]

In addition, they sent their license plate to the Lincoln post. Schrader explained that every Legion has its own custom-designed license plate. These are often used as gifts when Legionnaires get together. In the lounge at the Lincoln post there is a nice display of all the plates that have been collected by C. Wayne Schrader. The plate from Bristol has been added to the display.

Marlene Schrader said the Lincoln post plans to return the gesture by sending the Bristol post a Lincoln plate along with one of the special balloon launch T-shirts.

With the arrival of all the letters and return of the names, the auxiliary members said they felt that this experience was coming to a close, and that it has been incredible for all of them.

The next step is to decide what to do with all the money they raised. The Lincoln post and auxiliary raise funds annually to support the veterans homes in Danville and Manteno. In addition, they use the funds raised to assist local veterans in local nursing homes.

The group said they rarely have the opportunity to do something truly significant, so they are going to contact the homes in Danville and Manteno to ask the directors if there is a specific larger-ticket item that is needed at the home. After they have heard back from the homes, they will decide how to go forward.

In addition to the large-ticket item, the group also makes smaller purchases that can be used by individual veterans. An example of this is what are called "canteen books." The books are used like cash at the home's canteen or store. Veterans are given these coupon books and can use them to make purchases from the canteen.

Locally, the money is used to purchase gifts for local veterans in nursing homes, such as gifts at Christmas. The group also purchases items such as fruit baskets, and they buy postage stamps for veterans to use.

The group said there were so many who volunteered to help, too many to name, but nonetheless, they were all greatly appreciated. They noted they had hoped for 15 volunteers to help inflate the balloons, and on Memorial Day morning, 38 people showed up to help. They recalled Paul Schrader by name, saying he had personally put every name in every balloon. And they also remembered Mike Farnam by name. He brought his own sound equipment and set it up outside to assure that the speakers and special music performances were well heard.

So, with this year's event being such a success, will it become an annual event?

Slayton said no. There will be no balloon launch next year. She said the group had been very fortunate in that three veterans from Pekin who owned a gas business donated three large tanks of helium for this year's event. The value of that donation she estimated to be more than $600. But Slayton said helium is becoming a rare commodity because it is used a great deal for medical purposes. This makes it hard to get and expensive when you can get it.

However, that doesn't mean the auxiliary won't come up with something new for next year. The group hinted that they are already thinking about next year, but it's just too soon to say what they might come up with.


< Top Stories index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching and Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law and Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health and Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor