The National Balloon Museum came to be in Indianola because of its association with the early days of the National Hot Air Balloon Championships beginning in 1970. In 1970 Don Kersten of Fort Dodge Iowa, who was then president of the fledgling Balloon Federation of American (B.F.A.), was looking for a site for the National Hot Air Balloon Championship. Don Kersten, Ed Yost of South Dakota, inventor of the modern hot air balloon and a founder of Raven Industries and Don Piccard of California, went to Ken Faulk at the Iowa State Fair to see about having the event at the Iowa State Fair. Since the Fair Grounds did not have space for the preliminary events it was decided to have only the ten finalists do the final mass ascension in front of the Grandstand. Therefore, another nearby site had to be found for the preliminary events which would narrow the field from eighteen entries to ten finalists. They settled on Indianola and Simpson College and its athletic fields. Intially the balloon pilots and their crews were housed in private homes. Later Simpson dormitory buildings were used to house the pilots and crews.
The success of this first event led to the U. S. National Championships to return to Indianola the following year where the event remained for 18 years.
Almost immediately there developed an interest in displaying items about the history of ballooning. Beginning in 1972 exhibits of ballooning history were set up in temporary displays in various locations in the city each year during the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championships. The materials then had to be stored until the next year. In the years 1972 through 1974 the ballooning memorabilia was set up in a room in the Indianola Chamber of Commerce office located in the Berry building on the southwest corner of the Indianola Square.
In the spring of 1973 the Balloon Federation of America, sponsor of the National Hot Air Balloon Championships, announced plans to establish a ballooning museum in Indianola. In November of 1973 Gary Ruble, who was then Executive Director of the Indianola Chamber of Commerce, that Indianola Balloons Incorporated, the group set up to host the Nationals, recommended the appointment of a special committee to obtain facilities for a National Balloon Museum. Difficulty in finding an affordable site led to the exhibits remaining in the Berry Building until 1975.
The first official National Balloon Museum display was opened in the old Rock Island Depot building during the 1975 and 1976 National Hot Air Balloon Championship. This location was made possible by Charles Laverty of Indianola, who was the owner of the depot at that time. He also provided significant financial support and leadership for the development of the museum.
On July 28, 1977 The National Balloon Museum was incorporated and an initial Board of Directors made up of 10 persons, with 5 members representing Indianola Balloons Incorporated and 5 representing the Balloon Federation of America.
In 1977 museum displays were set up in the basement of Hopper Gym at Simpson College during the U. S. National Hot Air Balloon Championship.
Jim and Maxine Weinman of Indianola became two key leaders in museum development and management of the museum and its growing collections. Jim’s involvement began in 1975 and Maxine’s involvement began in 1978. Maxine, wife of Jim, began assisting Jim with the museum work in 1978. She was named co-chair of the committee, and eventually became the curator and store manager. Maxine’s dedicated service to the Museum eventually spanned 25 years until she retired in 2003. Mary Conklin also became a key worker for the Museum in 1979 and was one of the museum’s most active volunteers.
During the 1978 National Championship event the museum displays were housed in the lobby of the Blank Theater for the Performing Arts on the Simpson College campus. During the 1979 National Championships the museum displays were set up in the former Lentz Chevrolet Building at 108 North Jefferson Street.
Beginning in October of 1979, the museum had its first year-round home in a Simpson College house at 711 North E Street. The museum collections remained here until 1984.
The plan to build a museum received a big boost on August 5, 1983 when Leo and Jill Eisenberg of Kansas City, Missouri had made a gift of $100,000 toward the building of a new Museum. Other large donations put the fund raising well on its way. Among those were the following:
- $100,000 from the City of Indianola which also pledged $65,000 to develop the site
- $50,000 from First Central Bank of Chariton in the form of the land appraised at $50,000
- $50,000 from the Laverty Foundation of Indianola, Iowa
- $50,000 from the State Historical Society of Iowa
- Countless other donations under $50,000 given by hundreds of individuals and balloon clubs and other organizations made the museum possible. Their names are listed on special wall plaques and in a special book on display in the museum.
In 1984 while fund raising for the new building was under way, the museum was moved to another temporary location in a house owned by Simpson College at 711 North C Street where it remained for 4 years until the new museum building was completed in 1988.
Also in 1984 a coordinating committee for the National Balloon Museum was established which included the following persons: Sid Cutter of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Chairman, Leo Eisenberg of Kansas City, Missouri, Charles O. Laverty of Indianola, Iowa, Don Kersten of Fort Dodge, Iowa and Pete Stamats of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
An Indianola Leadership Committee was also named for the Building Program. It included:
- Norma Harmison Co-Chair
- Dennis Shull Co-Chair
- Max Bishop
- Jim Weinman
- Richard Davitt
- Burl Woodyard.
A National Endorsement Committee was named which was made up of 53 persons from various parts of the United States as far away as Maryland, Connecticut, California, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, and Georgia and other points in between. Notable among the members of the committee was Ed Yost of South Dakota, “the father of the modern hot air balloon”. The purpose of the National Endorsement Committee was to show to potential donors that there was a broad base of support for building the museum.
Several sites in Indianola were considered for the new museum prior to settling on the present site at 1601 North Jefferson (Highway 65/69. The other sites considered were the baseball diamond area of Moats Park along Highway 65/69 at Girard Avenue, the Simpson College house and property adjoining it which the museum was then occupying at 711 North E Street, the Lentz Chevrolet Building at 108 North Jefferson, a house on the southwest corner of Iowa Avenue and E Street next to Simpson College’s north athletic playing field, a location on the northwest corner of the intersection of North Jefferson and Iowa Avenue, and a location on highway 92 east of the city across from Pickard Park.
Ground was broken in 1986 for the new museum building at the present location at 1601 North Jefferson (highway 65/69) Indianola, Iowa. Shown in the picture (below left) of the groundbreaking are, Front: Board. Members, Laverty, Eisenberg, Cutter and Kersten. In back are Stamats, Architect T. Healey and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.
On April 23, 1988 the museum building was opened to the public. Total cost of the building was over $780,000. The Grand Opening of the new museum took place on July 29, 1988 with Leo Eisenberg given the honor of cutting the ribbon.
An enlarged group of volunteers was needed to operate the new facility. On October 11, 1988 the National Balloon Museum Auxiliary was organized to provide the volunteer leadership necessary to operate the museum which was to be open 7 days a week. Jean Beatty was the key leader in organizing the Auxiliary. There were 130 charter members of the Museum Auxiliary. The auxiliary continues to provide the staffing needs for the museum’s operation. A volunteer schedule is made each month with each volunteer typically words a miminum 3 to 3½ hours a month. Many volunteers work several shifts each month.
An endowment fund was created for the Museum on April 4, 1992. It was organized by Everett Brown, John Hartung, Gib McConnell, Neale Sinclair and Gene Smith. Eugene T. Smith of Indianola was named Chairman of the endowment fund. The foundation is always looking for gifts to expand the museum’s endowment to further enhance the museum operation.
A new 4,400 square foot addition was completed in 2003 at a cost of $350,000. The new addition doubled the floor space of the museum and has made possible many new exhibits and programs. A grand opening for the new addition held on July 27, 2003, 15 years after the first grand opening. This effort was spearheaded by a museum fund raising committee headed by Bob Downing of Indianola and included Gary Ruble, John Hartung, Doug Shull, Orrie Koehlmoos, Max Morrison, Paul Gorham, Ev Laning, Neale Sinclair, Mary Conklin, Gene Smith, Bob Lester, Nick Nichols, Becky Wigeland, Jennell Connell, Donna Rieck, Mark Weeks, Betty Crawford, Jill Rubin and Amy Duncan. The fund drive was started with a challenge grant of $50,000 from the Laverty family. A Historical Site Preservation Matching Grant of $100,000 came from came from the State Historical Society of Iowa. Additional money came from Vision Iowa, Jim and Maxine Weinman, the City of Indianola, Prairie Meadows and Laverty Estates along with many other contributions.
Curator, Maxine Weinman continued to lead the day to day operation of the museum until her retirement in 2003. Maxine and Jim were recognized at the Grand Opening for the new addition on July 27, 2003. Maxine was recognized for her 25 years of service and Jim for his 28 years of service.
Becky Wigeland succeeded Maxine in the curator position in July 2003. Becky had served as President of the Museum’s Board of Directors for the previous 12 years. Upon retirement as a school teacher Becky now devotes much of her time as the volunteer position of curator.
With the opening of the new addition, the museum has added many new exhibits and updated others and continues to expand its collections and its program offerings.
A Children’s Learning Center was established in the spring of 2004. This feature is used to encourage the participation of children and tours from schools. It consists of student desks where students can color a balloon picture or draw, and a large “Book Basket” in which the children can sit to read balloon books or hear stories about ballooning. Some interactive exhibits have been included.
Several interactive displays were added in 2004. These displays ask a question requiring visitors to familiarize themselves with the exhibits in the museum. If they cannot find the correct answer they can lift a lid revealing the correct response
Additional new features are planned including a hot air balloon computer game in the Children’s Learning Center and a theater for showing videos and PowerPoint presentations about ballooning. Cash gifts and in-kind donations are being sought to complete these projects.
Volunteers have made the Museum what it is today. Countless volunteers over the years have put in thousands of hours of work to develop plans, raise money, organize and operate the Museum. Without the continued parade of volunteers, especially through the Museum’s Auxiliary, the Museum could not exist. These tireless volunteers serve as hosts in the day to day operation of the museum and gift shop as well as perform other volunteer tasks. Persons interested in becoming a volunteer are invited to inquire at the museum for information.
The Museum offers group tours and welcomes individual visitors. The numbers of group tours is increasing due to new intentional marketing efforts which were established in the spring of 2004. Groups interested in having a guided tour may contact the museum for additional information about scheduling and costs. By email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone (515) 961-3714.
A Chronological Listing Of the Museum’s locations
- 1972-1974, The Berry Building on the Corner of Salem & Buxton
- 1975-1976, Rock Island Depot building
- 1977, Hopper Gym at Simpson College
- 1978, Blank Theater at Simpson College
- 1979, Lentz Chevrolet Building 108 North Jefferson Street
- 1979-1984, House at Simpson College at 711 North E St. In October of 1979 this became the 1st year-a-round home
- 1984-1988, House at Simpson College at 711 North C Street.
- 1988, New Museum Building at 1601 N. Jefferson opened April 23, 1988. The Grand Opening was held July 27, 1988
- 2003, New Addition to the Museum was opened with the Grand Opening held on July 27, 2003
The above locations from 1972 through the summer of 1979 were open only during the annual National Hot-Air Balloon Championships. Beginning in 1979 they were year-round sites.
A more complete 18 page illustrated history of the museum entitled A Short History of The National Balloon Museum is available for sale in the Museum Store for $5 plus shipping and handling.