The following is a press release from David Woolson, the CEO of the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce. The Union-Bulletin will publish a full story tomorrow.
I wanted to let you know that the Board of Directors of the Chamber has decided to end our role as the organizer and producer of the Walla Walla Balloon Stampede. It was a difficult decision and not taken lightly by the Board.
The role of producing the Stampede has been transitioned from the Chamber to a local committee that is working with long time Stampede pilots Scott and Laurie Spencer and their company Lighter Than Air America out of Boise. Joining Scott and Laurie in this transition will be the Stampede's long time Balloonmeister Jerry Cummins and other Stampede volunteers and advocates. Lighter Than Air America have organized and produced the Boise Balloon Classic for the last 35 years over the Labor Day Weekend. I attended this year's event and it was a fun and professionally produced event. Both Scott and Laurie have flown here in Walla Walla at the Stampede for over three decades and know Walla Walla and the Stampede quite well. They also fly corporate balloons around the world for The Walt Disney Company, Coca-Cola, and General Mills.
Over the last three years that I have been President of the Chamber, the Board and I have often discussed what SHOULD be the role of the Chamber in producing the Stampede and having financial and executional responsibility for this large, free community event. It takes the Chamber about seven months to put together the Stampede. It is a tremendous effort by over 250 volunteers including the entire Chamber staff.
Clearly, the Stampede is a beloved community event but WHO should put it on. As you are aware, the Chamber is funded by YOUR investment via membership and the events we produce. The events we do produce should be relevant to you and the rest of the membership. The Chamber does not receive public funding for its operations.
I want to thank the numerous people that have been a part of the Stampede for many years. To the hundreds of volunteers that have given countless hours, law enforcement, the many sponsors and vendors that have supported the event, thank you. I also need to say a special thank you to the pilots that have been "the show". Our primary sponsors, Gesa Credit Union, Pacific Power and Columbia REA have been great supporters of this event and the community as a whole. Lastly, a heartfelt thank you to a couple of people: Jerry Cummins has been our "Balloonmeister" for many years (as well as a pilot) and leads the organization of the pilots and works with the FAA; Jim Bock, the voice of the Stampede for decades; Ginger Kelly, who has been the historian and whose ranch held the first Stampede in 1974, as well as the first licensed female balloon pilot in the state, and Bill and Rosemary Lloyd who made the Stampede happen during its growing years and serve as a champion for the event.
I believe this transition plan for the Stampede is good for the event and for the Chamber. It puts the future of the Stampede with experienced professionals and our local community ballooning advocates. This also allows the Chamber to better focus on events, activities and initiatives that more closely align to our mission and our member's needs. Additionally, the Chamber can concentrate on those areas that YOU have told us are most important: building a strong local economy, representing business with government, providing networking events and promoting the community.
Hot air balloons are one of the icons in Walla Walla and the Stampede has been a part of the community for 40 years. Many thanks to Gesa Credit Union for continuing to the Presenting Sponsor of the Stampede. I am happy that we found a path and partners to keep balloons filling the skies of the Walla Walla Valley.