By Emily Bialkowski
Randy Weibel is a familiar face at Lions Club functions, at his office in Danielson Insurance and as a former director on Caledonia’s Bluff & Valley Balloon Rally.
For these reasons, and perhaps because he’s simply a really nice guy, he was selected the 2012 Winter Wonderland parade marshal.
Weibel said he feels a bit timid about the honor. “There’s a lot of effort by a lot of excellent people in the community. Sometimes when you get these honors bestowed on you, it kind of makes you uncomfortable,” he said.
Despite his humble nature, there’s no doubting his role in making past balloon rallies a floating success, and he still gets a bit joyful over the very worthwhile endeavor.
“I just think it’s fun and unique. There are some obstacles to overcome with the weather, especially this time of year, but it’s a neat release for this time of the year.”
He also talked about the beauty of Houston County’s landscape and how that makes hot air balloon flying and viewing particularly bright. Partner the magnificence and grandeur of hot air balloons with a good old light parade, chili supper, craft fairs and more, and you get nothing short of a spectacular holiday celebration.
“It’s always nice to be appreciated for work that you did, but it should be a reflection on everybody. It’s not just one person who makes things happen – it’s a collective effort and it’s been that way over the years,” Weibel said.
The 49-year-old currently lives between La Crescent and Brownsville but grew up in Cashton, Wisc. before finding his way to La Crosse for work. A fateful conversation one day with business contact eventually brought him to Caledonia to work at what was then Minnesota Bank. After a tenure there he connected with Tom Danielson of Danielson Insurance and the rest, as they say, is history.
His wife Judy works at Gundersen Lutheran in La Crosse, and their central locale keeps the couple’s commute even. “It works out great. It’s an excellent in between point with us each having a 15-minute drive to work.”
Weibel credits Judy with a lot of behind-the-scenes work. “She’s been very supportive and right there with me. She does a lot of work that gets unnoticed, and she keeps me sane,” Weibel said.
The two will get to practice their parade wave in Friday’s grand event at 7 p.m. The route follows Grove, Pine, Main and Kingston Streets.
When asked about how he foresees his future unfolding in Caledonia, Weibel said he’s just hoping to make a difference in some small way.
“I’ve had a lot of fun with this event over the years. I’m very happy a group has stepped forth and I think they are going to do an awesome job. In one way, everyone deserves the honor.”
He continued, “Some of the things that appeal to me about hot air balloons and kept Judy and I involved for 18 years were:
“Smiles and facial expressions While I have been fortunate enough to have flown in a hot air balloon seven times (three in Caledonia area) I probably enjoy crewing just as much if not more because it is always neat to see people’s facial expressions when it comes to ballooning. Seeing the first time rider climb into the basket, they have anticipation, sometimes a touch of fear and huge smile on their face. That smile is always there when they land, and it is usually followed by a detailed description of EVERYTHING they saw during the flight. Even the most introverted person becomes extremely extroverted when describing their first balloon flight. During those years when no flights took place, we had to deal with the disappointment on peoples faces, and yet still had a great time together and looked forward to the next year.
Several years ago after Caledonia had won one of its first state football championships, I was talking to passengers, pilots and crew members prior to the morning liftoff. I attempted make an analogy between crew members, pilots and passengers to the members of a football team. The analogy was met with a few rolling of eyes, but personally, I always enjoyed the teamwork it takes to fly a hot air balloon. All parties have to do their part for a successful outcome.
“Learning experiences/life lessons
The balloon rally provided me with a number of learning experiences and life/lessons. When planning the event you attempt control those factors you can control and then roll with the conditions (like the weather) that you have NO control over. Oftentimes, we (the pilots, crew members, passengers and myself) had a pretty good idea on Thursday if weather conditions were going to be favorable for the weekend flights. When conditions did not look or turn out favorable for the weekend, it was important that everyone pull together to have an enjoyable time. By my estimation, we flew at least once during the weekend 12 times out of the 18.
“People event with hot air balloons rather than a hot air balloon event
Judy and I have met some amazing people because of our association with the hot air balloon event in Caledonia. While we will always remember certain aspects of flights that took place in a given year at Caledonia, it is the friendships and smiles that will remain with Judy and I for many years to come. I would encourage people get to know the pilots and crew if and when possible. They come from varying backgrounds and have great stories about ballooning and a number of other interests. I could probably go on and on…”