In what has become the iconic event of Homecoming at Ohio Northern University, the Fourth Annual Balloon Glow lit up campus Saturday evening with a memorable finale that had everyone ooing and ahhing.
Sponsored by Sigma Phi Epsilon and the Alumni Office, the balloon glow featured five towering hot air balloons that took turns dazzling the crowd with dramatic bursts of flame that illuminated the balloons before fireworks on the Tundra concluded Saturday’s Homecoming festivities.
“This is really amazing,” said 2010 ONU Hall of Fame inductee Gina Fall BA ’96, who was attending her first balloon glow. “My mom wanted to watch the balloon glow, so that’s what we are doing. I’m so glad we came. This is phenomenal.”
While balloon glows are popular at ballooning events, according to Linda Yeakle of Springboro, Ohio, who along with her husband Mark have participated in every balloon glow at ONU, doesn’t know of any other colleges or universities who put on glows.
“It is unique to have this many balloons here every year,” she said. “We really enjoy it, that’s why we come so far,” she said. “It’s not everyday that kids get to see all these balloons.”
With the balloons tethered to the ground, onlookers had unfettered access to the balloons, even climbing in the baskets and feeling the heat of the flames. The most impressive sight was the “all-glow” when all five balloons lit up simultaneously.
The balloon glow dates back to 2006 when Justin Frazer BSBA ‘09, then a student and philanthropy chair of Sigma Phi Epsilon, asked the university if they could sponsor a balloon glow to raise money for charity at Christmas. Frazer’s father, Mark, is a balloon pilot and knew other balloonists who were eager to share their passion.
“I had no idea what a balloon glow was, but I said okay,” said Ann Donnelly Hamilton, Sigma Phi Epsilon advisor and director of Alumni Relations.
When a snowstorm cancelled the glow, it was rescheduled for Homecoming the following year, where it has remained since.
“People went nuts for it that first year and as word spread, the people who didn’t attend started asking us if we’d bring it back. And we have for four years now,” said Hamilton.
Aside from bringing out the inner-child in everyone, the balloon glow also helps children around the world through fundraising for YouthAIDS. Since beginning the balloon glow in 2007, Sigma Phi Epsilon has used the event to raise money for the PSI (Population Services International) charity that reaches out to more than 600 million young people with educational messages, products and services to help stop the spread of HIV and AIDS around the world.
“Every Sig Ep chapter contributes to Youth AIDS, but they each do it in their own unique way,” said Sigma Phi Epsilon vice president Derek Young. “The balloon glow is significant to our chapter.”
It is significant to the university and the community as well, drawing more and more people each year.
“It is very special to be the originators of what has become the most popular event of homecoming weekend,” said Young. “So many people come out, not just students but also the community of Ada, which is kind of special. We are very proud to be a part of it.“