While a multitude of colorful hot air balloons prepared to launch into the morning sky Saturday at Warren County airport, Benjamin Bancroft knelt down one knee and proposed to his girlfriend of four years.
A tearful and stunned Valerie Tucker nodded her head “yes” before donning her new diamond and hopping into a balloon basket with her new fiance for a ride in the clouds.
“I’ve been planning this for a year now,” a very happy Bancroft said before taking flight.
Bancroft said his longtime friend Todd Monahan, who is the owner of SunKiss Ballooning, helped him with the preparations. Bancroft is from Hudson Falls, and his bride-to-be is from Chalfont, Pa.
After the Friday evening launch at the airport was scrapped because of windy conditions, more than 100 balloons launched Saturday morning.
Though gusty winds and sporadic rain scuttled the Saturday evening launch, the large festival crowd was treated to a surprise visitor: Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo announced midday Saturday he would attend the festival, and walked the Warren County airport grounds with his girlfriend, Food Network chef Sandra Lee, drawing plenty of crowd attention.
A visit from a governor and a proposal were just two new memories added to the 40-year history of Adirondack Balloon Festival.
Chris Thatcher of Queensbury said her husband proposed to her at the event in 1994, and their growing family has come back every year as a tradition.
“My children have grown up with the balloon festival. We just love it,” she said.
She added her 8-year-old son, Andy, is the biggest balloon enthusiast of the group, even dressing as a hot air balloon for Halloween.
“I can’t pick what I like the best about it, or which balloon I like the best. I like them all,” he said.
Part of the more than 100 balloons that took to the sky Saturday morning included the promised “World’s Largest Inflated Petting Zoo.”
The menagerie featured 10 animal shape balloons, and kids of all ages “oooed” and “aaahed” at the gigantic pig, rabbit, turtle, crab and bee, among others, including the T-Rex — which was joked as being the only one even close to scale.
Another tradition at the morning’s launch included the all-you-can-eat Big Balloon Breakfast to benefit Open Door soup kitchen in Glens Falls.
The annual event is held Saturday and Sunday morning of the festival, and takes 100 volunteers each day to serve the more than 2,000 customers.
“It’s a big event for us, and the turnout has been great this year. We’re really busy — at one point, the line was outside the hanger and around the corner,” said Kim Cook, board president of the soup kitchen.
“This really helps us fill a need in the community,” she said.
Sunday’s events for the festival include a repeat of Saturday’s early launch, with more than 100 balloons in the morning — weather permitting —a craft fair and kids activities at Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury.
In the evening, Crandall Park in Glens Falls will host the Jonathan Newell Band from 2 to 5 p.m., with a launch of more than 20 balloons following the music.
Post-Star reporter Jon Alexander contributed to this report.