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April 24, 2013

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

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> SOUTHERN INDIANA —

After seeing balloons in “The Wizard of Oz” and other films, he decided he wanted to ride the wind with them.

At about 16 years old, Copas said he seriously began training for flight. He said looking back, he’s not sure how his parents were comfortable with the idea of flying completely at the whim of the wind.

“As a parent myself now, I ask the same kind of questions of myself sometimes,” Copas said. “My son is 14, and I think back then, my parents must have been pretty perceptive that this was an interesting activity that their kid was interested in and there were probably a lot worse things he could get into.”

After getting his pilot’s license at 18, he and his father, Elwood, purchased a second-hand balloon for him to get some experience with flight. He said it was a hobby at that point, going on to get a degree in college and working full-time, but it eventually became his job.

He and Kathy flew specialized balloons for Brown-Forman, each shaped like bottles of Early Times and Jack Daniel’s bottles, across the country. He said while they traveled the country, they always considered Southern Indiana home.

“It was home and like I said, I grew up here,” Copas said. “I’ve always had anchors here and as for a place to raise a family and a son, I wouldn’t dream of anywhere else. Wherever my son ends up, I hope he takes a little part of living in Indiana with him because it’s not a bad place to grow up, that’s for sure.”

Copas is the president of the Kentucky Balloon Society. While the sport is a lot of fun and draws people from all sorts of backgrounds, he said he’s seeing more gray hair in the sport than he likes.

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David Bennett, Jeffersonville, is pictured at Riverview Village in Clarksville where he is undergoing rehabilitation after losing his leg due to diabetic complications. Bennett is a 1981 New Albany High School graduate, and was on the 1980 basketball team that finished the season with a 27-1 record.

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