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April 24, 2013

Floating on air: Jerry Copas, local balloonist, reflects on his career and competitions

> SOUTHERN INDIANA —

Just above the treetops in Clarksville and New Albany, Jerry Copas called to the ground with a loud, but friendly, “Hello.” Children and adults waved, happy to see the rare sight of a hot air balloon along with the sunset.

Copas is a lifelong Southern Indiana resident. But for almost as long as he’s been alive, he’s manned a set of burners, a basket and balloon.

After meeting his wife Kathy through ballooning and getting his son Spencer involved, it’s gone from work to a family affair.

“Even though it’s not a full-time job, it’s a very important part of our lives,” Copas said. “We make some income off it and it’s a lot of fun, too. It feels like we have a new student we’re teaching every season and that’s a lot of fun, too.”

Copas has flown balloons for corporate advertising campaigns for 33 years and competed in the Kentucky Derby Festival Great Balloon Race for 27. He said while it’s gone from full-time to part-time for him, he still gets a thrill every time he lifts off.

“I never, ever thought I’d get tired of it,” Copas said. “I guess it’s just the adventure of it. No two flights are ever the same.”

He said the slow pace of the flight and calm, still air in a balloon is a unique flying experience most people don’t expect.

He said the race he’s competed in for 27 years sparked his interest in flying balloons when he was still in elementary school.

“It gets back to the Derby Festival, that was kind of the catalyst,” Copas said. “I was a kid, about 10 or 11 years old. They first brought the hot air balloons to Louisville to do the race the first time that year.”

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Amy Harpenau is the new director of theater arts at New Albany High School. Harpenau is a 2007 graduate of Floyd Central High School, has appeared on stage at both high schools and worked in theaters since she graduated college.

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