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Balloons to fly in Olathe during the Great Midwest Balloon Fest

July 8, 9 and 10
Posted on Jul. 7th, 2011
By Barbara Bayer, Guest Columnist
Editor-The KC Jewish Chronicle
Balloons of all shapes and sizes will fly in Olathe during the three-day Great Midwest Balloon Fest planned for July 8, 9 and 10 at the Great Mall of the Great Plains.

Who doesn't love watching a hot air balloon sail through the sky? The sky will be filled with beautiful hot air balloons of all colors, shapes and sizes this weekend, July 8, 9 and 10, when the second annual Great Midwest Balloon Fest launches at the Great Mall of the Great Plains in Olathe.

Spearheaded by Robbie Small and her husband, Steve Small, who serve as the festival's executive directors, GMBF's organizing committee also includes several members of the Jewish community. Proceeds from the festival will benefit three local charities - Hospice House of Olathe Medical Park and Noble Cause U.S.A. Foundation, Olathe Mayor's Christmas Tree Fund (which benefits SafeHome, Salvation Army, Sunflower House, CASA, Olathe Special Olympics, Catholic Charities and others). Food donations will benefit Harvesters.

"We have been raising money from sponsors to cover all the expenses so we're hoping that by the time the gates open, whatever we take in we can give directly to the charities," Small said. "It all depends on the attendance, but we are hoping to donate thousands of dollars to charity."
The presenting sponsors are Block and Company, Deffenbaugh Industries, Farmers Insurance Group, Ferrellgas, Mercedes-Benz of Kansas City, US Bank, Olathe Medical Center, Radio Disney and Time Warner Cable.

Small has attended the world's largest hot air balloon festival, held in Albuquerque, N.M., several times while visiting her daughter who lives there. She enjoyed it tremendously and thought something like this should be done here in Kansas City.

"Nothing of that caliber had ever been done here," she said.

So she started investigating balloon festivals, discovering that every state in the country has at least one.

"I found out they even have them in places like Iowa and Reno (Nevada) where the weather isn't necessarily better than what we've got," Small said.
It took less than a year for the Smalls to get the first balloon fest off the ground. It was held last year in southern Overland Park and almost 50,000 people attended the inaugural event.

Last year's event was big and fun, but Small said they learned a lot from it. She said this year's festival will be even bigger and better.
The most notable change is the site - the Great Mall of the Great Plains in Olathe.

"It has terrific access. It's right off I-35 and exit 215, which is 151st Street," Small said.

Parking will be easier this year as well, with thousands of paved parking places located at the mall as well as satellite sites where free shuttle service will be available.

It begins at 3 p.m. Friday, July 8, and continues through 11 p.m. when the last band stops playing. An early morning balloon launch will take place at 6:30 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. Early birds will be treated to free Krispy Kreme donuts and Parisi coffee.

The field will re-open to the public at noon on Saturday and Sunday. It will stay open until 11 p.m. Saturday night and will close following the last launch Sunday at about 6:30 p.m.

Weather permitting, Small said they estimate crowds will be as large as 75,000 for this second annual festival.

"We hope the weather will be great because typical July weather in Kansas City is hot and dry," Small said.

Special shaped balloons including a giant pink flying pig, Humpty Dumpty, a giant rocket ship and a giant black and white panda are among those that will be featured at the festival. In addition to the balloon launches, there will be activities that appeal to both children and adults.

"We've got things going up in the air and we've got things coming down in the field," said Small of the balloons, paragliders, giant kites and Silver Wings Skydiving Team from Fort Benning, Ga.

Two stages - one for children and another for adults - will feature live performances from Radio Disney, the Stone Lion Puppets, Rockin' Rob and area bands including Lonnie McFadden & Guests and the Platinum Express horn band.

There will also be a rock climbing wall, face painting, balloon art and vendors selling food and wares. An entire area will be devoted to the military with attractions including a Black Hawk helicopter, a Humvee, a Bradley Junior Tank and a performance by the Mounted Horse Cavalry from Fort Riley, Kan.

Food - barbecue, Greek, funnel cakes, bakery items and even healthy choices - will also be available on the festival grounds. Area pediatrician Dr. Nan will conduct physicals on kids' stuffed animals and dolls. Jewelry, toys and official T-shirts and hats will be sold as well.

"We tried to make it as family friendly as possible," Small said. "Without ever seeing a balloon you will get an unbelievable amount of entertainment. We wanted to make sure that no matter what, people will have a terrific experience with so much to do."
"But the balloons provide the magic and that's why we are hosting a hot air balloon festival!"

The three-day event takes place July 8, 9 and 10 at the Great Mall of the Great Plains in Olathe. Free parking is available at the mall. Parking and free shuttle service is also available at Olathe Medical Center, the Olathe School District Activities Center, Olathe South High School and Indian Trail Junior High.

Admission to the Balloon Fest is $10 per person. Advance ticket sales are $8 per person. Kids 12 and under get in free. Advance tickets can be obtained online at, and at Kansas area HyVee locations through July 5. Tickets are also available at the gates.

On Sunday, July 10, bring five or more non-perishable items to the Harvesters Collection Area (near the GMBF entrance) and receive one-half off a single-day pass.

A $2 discount at the gate will also be available by showing "Go Olathe," the free Olathe Chamber app, found at the iPhone App Store, the Android Market or for Blackberry at

Most attractions are free with admission. Extra charges will apply to food and merchandise vendors.

Visit the website, for a complete schedule of events.