Cheri White, general manager of Illinois-based Cooperative Balloon Associates, LLC (CBA), won the U.S. Women’s National Hot Air Balloon Championship title during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM in October. White, who hails from Austin, Tex., has held the title since she won the first national women’s championship 17 years ago.
White is a two-time America’s Challenge gas balloon race champion, and recent third place finisher at the second FAI Women’s World Hot Air Balloon Championship in July. She has been flying balloons for more than 38 years and has logged more than 3,000 hours. She says, “Ballooning has been a part of my life since I started flying at age 13.”
While hot air balloon competitions may not look complicated to someone on the ground, there are many factors to consider. This year’s women’s championship competition included 11 tasks, each worth 1,000 points. White says, “Skills required are knowing how to read maps, knowing winds and feeling and seeing wind changes and knowing how to control your balloon. They set out targets and you must go a set distance away, find a launch site, fly to the target and drop a bean baggie. The person with the most points wins.”
White has been general manager of CBA for the past 14 years and is chief balloon pilot for the organization. Located in Shelbyville, CBA was formed in 1999 by 10 Illinois electric cooperatives looking for a unique way to introduce the Touchstone Energy® brand to their members. The Touchstone Energy® Hot Air Balloon now serves as the icon for electric cooperatives across the country, and the brand’s hot air balloon program is the third longest running corporate hot air balloon program in the country behind ReMax and Pepsi. Five seasoned balloon pilots act as ambassadors to help promote the brand and provide education about the unique characteristics of electric cooperatives. CBA owners include the following Illinois Touchstone Energy® cooperatives:
- Coles-Moultrie Electric Cooperative/Mattoon
- Corn Belt Energy Corporation/ Bloomington
- Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative/Paxton
- Jo-Carroll Energy, Inc./Elizabeth
- McDonough Power Cooperative/Macomb
- Norris Electric Cooperative/Newton
- Prairie Power, Inc./ Springfield
- Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative/Auburn
- Shelby Electric Cooperative/Shelbyville
- Southern Illinois Power Cooperative/Marion
CBA owns five hot air balloons and six smaller, identically-logoed cold-air balloons for indoor events. The hot air balloons appear at cooperative, community and balloon events across the country. A portion of each paid appearance by the Hot Air Balloon Team is donated back to a local charity. To date, donations total more than $200,000.
White was recently honored, with some special mementos, for her women’s national ballooning title at the CBA board meeting in Mattoon. Board President Don Taylor, President/CEO of Corn Belt Energy in Bloomington, says, “As a long-time participant in the ballooning sport, Cheri is a consummate professional who serves others, is focused on safety and the balloon industry, and exhibits a deep knowledge and love for ballooning. She is the current vice president of the Balloon Federation of America, which speaks to her service and respect from others. She has won many competitive events, which speaks of her high skill level. Foremost, Cheri has lead CBA with such passion for the cooperatives and their members. She is always engaged with the members and her efforts have grown this organization beyond our expectations. She is a delight to work with and we are so impressed at her kind and quiet demeanor, professional growth and capable skills. Congratulations, Cheri, for adding another trophy to your trophy case!”
David Champion, former president/CEO, Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative, Paxton, Ill., and fellow balloon pilot says, “Cheri is a well-respected competitor and leader in the ballooning community. She has achieved national and international recognition through her competitive spirit and successes in the hot air balloon and gas balloon divisions. This second Women’s National Championship is another huge accomplishment in her quest for excellence within these organizations.”
Touchstone Energy® is an alliance of 750 local, consumer-owned electric cooperatives in 46 states, that deliver high standards of service, power and energy solutions to more than 30 million member owners across the country. Touchstone Energy® complements the local connection that co-ops have with their members while providing the resources of a vast, integrated network of cooperatives. It helps to reinforce co-op dedication by serving member-owners with integrity, accountability, innovation and commitment to community.