Battle Creek balloon pilot flies 'Cynthia Seal' in honor of his late wife

·3 min read
Pat Rolfe's Cynthia Seal balloon takes flight at Fort Custer Recreational Area in Augusta Saturday, July 2, 2022. The balloon is named after the late Cindy Rolfe.
Pat Rolfe's Cynthia Seal balloon takes flight at Fort Custer Recreational Area in Augusta Saturday, July 2, 2022. The balloon is named after the late Cindy Rolfe.

As the morning sun kissed the inflated Seal-shaped envelope of Pat Rolfe's hot-air balloon, Rolfe instructed his two grandchildren to climb aboard into his basket.

The Battle Creek balloon pilot and Kellogg Co. retiree launched from Fort Custer Recreational Area Saturday, his first flight of the 2022 Field of Flight balloon competition after windy conditions kept him grounded for the first two days.

Like so many flights before, Rolfe shared the experience with his family.

"I love to always take a passenger," he said. "Some (pilots) carry a lot of fuel and the balloon reacts quicker (with less people). I’d rather share the experience with a passenger. Of course, they get to see everything from a different perspective."

Battle Creek balloon pilot Pat Rolfe burns propane to inflate his Seal balloon with help from crew members at Fort Custer Recreational Area in Augusta Saturday, July 2, 2022.
Battle Creek balloon pilot Pat Rolfe burns propane to inflate his Seal balloon with help from crew members at Fort Custer Recreational Area in Augusta Saturday, July 2, 2022.

Rolfe is one of 37 pilots taking part in the four-day competition, which draws some of the top balloonists from across the nation. His balloon is arguably the most eye catching because of its special shape.

It also has a special meaning.

Rolfe purchased the Seal-shaped balloon in 2018, naming it "Cynthia Seal" after his late wife, Cindy Rolfe, who died at age 61 in 2015.

Cynthia Seal is Pat Rolfe's hot air balloon, named after his late wife.
Cynthia Seal is Pat Rolfe's hot air balloon, named after his late wife.

“We always looked forward to the Battle Creek event, whether we were crewing or looking forward to our own balloon," Pat Rolfe said. "Cindy liked to make Rice Crispy treats, and would make them for all the crews. We looked forward to it every year. We crew with four or five other balloons in Battle Creek, we group up and decide where to take off from and they always looked forward to seeing Cindy... She was a big fan of the special shapes."

Pat and Cindy raised four children: Patrick, Jennifer, Michael and Russell. Because they had spacious land without many obstacles on their Kirby Road property, the Rolfe home became a destination of sorts for pilots as a launch or landing site when Battle Creek began hosting competitions in the 1980s.

This 1987 photo shows the Rolfe family. Clockwise from top left are Patrick, Cindy, Pat, Russell, Michael and Jennifer.
This 1987 photo shows the Rolfe family. Clockwise from top left are Patrick, Cindy, Pat, Russell, Michael and Jennifer.

At the peak of sport's popularity, there were some 30 balloon pilots from Battle Creek alone, part of the Battle Creek Balloon Club. Pat Rolfe was among those who got swept up in the world of ballooning, first as a crew member and eventually as a pilot, thanks to the tutelage of Dave Emmert.

Now in his 20th year since first learning how to pilot, Rolfe is paying it forward by helping Craig Campbell, Alyson Murray and Nate Glubke with training in exchange for crewing.

"I crewed for him in Battle Creek here, and last summer I bought my first balloon and started my training," Glubke said. "He goes into depth on every aspect of it and helps out. Like a teacher in school, but better. He has a lot of knowledge, so it's good to learn from him. It's always fun to land with his balloon because people come running out to see it."

The Rolfe family is flying with heavier hearts this year; Russell died of cancer Dec. 24, 2021. He was 39.

This undated photo shows Russell Rolfe preparing to launch in a balloon with his father, Pat Rolfe. Russell died of cancer on Dec, 24, 2021.
This undated photo shows Russell Rolfe preparing to launch in a balloon with his father, Pat Rolfe. Russell died of cancer on Dec, 24, 2021.

“Russell loved balloons," Pat Rolfe said. "As all the kids, he had a balloon ride every year from Dave (Emmert), even when he could barely see over the basket. As all the kids did, he enjoyed it and they still enjoy it. My son Michael is one of my crew chiefs. We have Patrick, and Jennifer’s two kids with me, they are all part of the crew."

Pat Rolfe and his grandchildren, Madison Guilfoyle and Trevor Guilfoyle, watch as balloons launch from the Battle Creek Executive Airport in Battle Creek Friday, July 1, 2022.
Pat Rolfe and his grandchildren, Madison Guilfoyle and Trevor Guilfoyle, watch as balloons launch from the Battle Creek Executive Airport in Battle Creek Friday, July 1, 2022.

Pat Rolfe has competed in the Field of Flight balloon race since 2008. While he said he enjoys the competitive aspect of it, hitting targets with markers and completing other navigational tasks, he said one of the biggest thrills comes when his basket touches down.

"If we fly over a neighborhood getting ready to land, kids will say, 'Land here! Land here,'" he said. "If we happened to land with a lot of kids, we try to take time to take pictures with the kids and the balloon in the background. It’s all about sharing the balloon with the kids. It’s heartwarming."

Contact reporter Nick Buckley at nbuckley@battlecreekenquirer.com or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley

This article originally appeared on Battle Creek Enquirer: Battle Creek balloon pilot flies 'Cynthia Seal' in honor of late wife