OTTUMWA — While the focus of the Ottumwa Pro Balloon Races is on the balloons, the event has so much more to it than that.

“ think we’ve got the greatest number of nonprofit organizations in Ottumwa involved this year,” said Willene White, president of the balloon race committee. One of the things we wanted to do was be sure to include several entities. For many of them, it’s their largest fundraiser of the year.

One nonprofit at the festival will be Heartland Humane Society. A pork loin dinner Thursday evening will benefit the local animal shelter. The dinner, White said, is a first and is made possible by JBS and Hy-Vee. “We would not be able to do it without them. They donated quite a bit of the product,” she said.

A chainsaw carving event will benefit another nonprofit. The artist will carve from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday with the results being auctioned off with proceeds benefitting Operation 98, a partnership of three combat veteran-owned businesses in Iowa that have “come together to honor the 98 fallen service members from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Another highlighted event is United Way 5K glow run Saturday evening. White said there are kid and adult divisions and registration can be made through the balloon race website or the United Way website.

Kiwanis will serve pancake breakfasts Saturday and Sunday as well.

This year’s Ottumwa Pro Balloon Races is all bringing back favorites from past years. After the popularity of the pig and crab specialty balloons last year, more specialty-shaped balloons will return this week. “These are actually different-shaped balloons. They’re not the same as last year,” said White. Gordo is a monkey balloon, while Lindy takes on the appearance of a sunglasses emoji.

“We had quite a crowd that came out when the special shapes were up last year,” she said. This year, both balloons, sponsored by River Community Credit Union, will fly at all scheduled events and night glows, she said.

Night glow events are scheduled for both Friday and Saturday evenings at dusk.

Also returning to the schedule are carnival rides. “We have not had a carnival for a couple of years,” White said. “We’re really excited we were able to find Jones and Company. They’re more family-oriented, and they do have wristbands several days.”

But the stars of the show are balloon flights.

Flight events gear up Thursday night. White said some balloons will be present and in the air Thursday, but it’s not a sanctioned flight. “The actual registered flights are Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday night and Sunday morning,” she said. “That’s when the pilots will accumulate points for their standings” by dropping markers onto targets.

Of course weather will play into the schedule as well. “Any time you put on an outside event, it’s dependent on the weather. We’re hoping for great weather,” White said. ““It’s amazing how much a little bit of wind can create a lift.”

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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