Labor Day Lift Off: The man who started it all

Dewey Reinhard has been called Colorado Springs’ “Father of Ballooning”
Published: Sep. 1, 2021 at 10:45 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Dewey Reinhard, a Pueblo native, made a career as a glider pilot -- but that’s just the start of his adventures in the sky.

Given his passion for aviation, Reinhard and wife Jeanie attended an air show in Palm Springs, California around the early 1970s. They expected to see various planes and flying demonstrations, but one thing that was new caught their attention.

“There happened to be a couple of balloons there,” Dewey Reinhard said. “The weather was too bad for them to free-fly, but they inflated them there, and I just said to Jeanie ... ‘That looks like something we ought to look into, it looks like it may be fun.’”

When returning from the trip, Reinhard jokingly said to his fellow aviators at work, “If anybody knows a good deal on a hot air balloon, I’d be interested ... Well, two days later, my controller said, ‘We just bought a hot air balloon.’ I said, ‘Where in the world did you find it?’ ... He said, ‘Right here in Colorado Springs.’”

Reinhard said he then was taught to fly by an Air Force Academy cadet and, with lots of practice, earned his balloon pilot license. However, the ride did not come without turbulence.

“I got hurt pretty bad on one of my flights when I was a student ... and Jeanie said, ‘You said this was supposed to be fun, but you’re having to wear a removable cast on your leg to go to work ... that is kind of taking the fun out of this.’ I had my doubts at that time, because I was getting hurt and we never had any good landings, so it was getting to be kind of painful.”

When asked why he kept going, Reinhard said, “It was so beautiful when it was going good ... It was fun, and I’ve always enjoyed things that have a challenge.”

Dewey and Jeanie attended a hot air balloon festival in Iowa during the early stages of Dewey’s balloon flying career. Jeanie said, “We were both shocked at the antics of the balloonists and their costumes. I say ‘costumes’ because they made flight suits out of the same colors as their balloons, and they looked like clowns. I said ... ‘You know, Dewey, are we sure we want to do this? I’m not sure we’ll be good at this.’ … But turns out, we are.”

Reinhard has participated in balloon flying competitions and festivals around the world. He keeps a plethora of medals and other mementos on display in his “man cave” in the couple’s east Colorado Springs home.

The Colorado Springs Balloon classic started in 1974, when Reinhard and his co-workers put a few hot air balloons into the sky in the Black Forest area. The next year, the event grew and moved to Colorado Springs’ Memorial Park. Reinhard flew the first several years but then stopped. He says, the event got to the point where there were almost too many balloons. He said he needed to pay attention to management, leading to him staying on the ground in later years. He has since handed over the event to city organizations and leadership. After several years, the event name changed to what it’s known as today: Labor Day Lift Off.

“I thought Dewey would hate not flying. I thought he would not like to go anymore,” Jeanie said. To her husband, she added, “but I think you still enjoy it.” Dewey replied, “I do. I still have the same feeling when I first saw hot air balloon ever takeoff. It was almost like magical. I still get that feeling just watching them take off. It is kind of an emotional thing for me.”

“Balloons make people happy. Really, you look at everyone and they’re smiling, so it’s a terrific thing, " Jeanie said.

Given the event is free to attend, money comes in solely from balloon sponsorship (from local businesses) and concessions profits. Dewey estimates $105,000 were donated to local charities over a 10-year span from the event.

“The balloon classic was a way for us to pay back Colorado Springs because we grew up here, " Dewey said. He said he’s been adamant over the years, insisting new leadership allows the event to remain free to the public.

“Come out and be happy. We are ready for some happiness in Colorado Springs.”

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