Longtime Great Texas Balloon Race volunteer remembered

Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 4:00 PM CDT
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LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - A 30 year veteran of the Great Texas Balloon race is being remembered after his passing on Thursday.

He was involved with the Great Texas Balloon Race since 1990, eventually serving on the board of directors. Larry Aldridge died today after an illness. KLTV spoke with a longtime friend and fellow board member who said Aldridge was part of race founder Bill Bussey’s crew for many years, and poured his heart and soul into the event.

Past Great Texas Balloon Race Chair Michelle Ford said she’s been involved in the race since 2006, and Aldridge introduced her to it.

“Actually, I do give him credit for that, whether he wants to take credit or not. But he invited us to the balloon race, gifted us some VIP passes and some tickets one of those very first years we were here, and I just fell in love with the event,” Ford said.

Aldridge was a crew chief for Bussey and introduced him to Michelle. That seemed to clinch things with her as far as volunteering for the races.

“Larry, like the rest of us, when you fall in love with something you can’t help but be involved in it. It’s awful certain that that’s where that came from was his love for the event and for Longview and for Bill and all the rest of us on the board,” Ford said.

She said the race organization gives an award to volunteers that have made an impact on the event.

“It’s called the Rudy Bresie award and he won it actually in 1998 and for a second time in 2009. Which records indicate there’s only two people have ever won it twice. So, that tells you a little bit about his involvement, his dedication, commitment to our event,” Ford said.

She said Aldridge also was operations manager and set up tents and made sure the grounds were ready in East Texas summer heat.

“I don’t ever remember hearing him have a cross word with anyone. Everyone loved Larry,” Ford said.

She said friends and family agree that Aldridge was a “generous, kindhearted Texan.”

Aldridge never became a balloon pilot, but his son Blake did. And you can bet at this year’s Great Texas Balloon Race Blake will be competing with his dad right there in the gondola with him.

Ford said Aldridge’s love of the race was so infectious his brother and sister, and her husband all volunteer for the race. The Great Texas Balloon Race and U.S. Nationals run from June 12-18 over the skies of Longview.

Click here for more updates from the 2023 U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championship and the Great Texas Balloon Race.