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Looking to the Skies

Orvin Olivier is used to getting attention when he’s flying the skies.

This Sioux Falls hot air balloon pilot has close to 40 years of experience, floating above the trees in some of the finest inflatable crafts ever made. People look up and wave, yearning for a chance to glide into the sky.

But nothing equals the reaction he gets when he lifts into the air in the Sanford Children’s Hospital balloon, he says.

“Everybody loves a balloon, but there’s something very special about this one,” says Orvin, holding a trading card that he gives out to children who come to see him fly. “This balloon is something spectacular. People just flock to it.”

Taking to the sky

For about two years, Orvin has piloted the Sanford Children’s hot air balloon. When the skies are clear and the winds are just right --- not too still and not too strong – this veteran pilot takes up families, patients and hospital officials for a ride in the sky.

“I’ve done just about everything there is to do in ballooning, but I really enjoy taking this in a new direction,” Orvin says. “It’s satisfying to be able to do something like this.”

Orvin, who is active in ballooning on the local and international level, spent his early career in marketing and sales at Raven Aerostar Industries, the Sioux Falls company that was a world-wide leader in hot air balloon creation for many years. The job allowed him many special flying experiences. Over the years he has flown balloons at events around the world including Japan, China, Inner Mongolia, Mexico, Canada and Europe.

A whimsical symbol

Sanford Children’s balloon is not painted, but features an intricately designed pattern of inlaid fabric. Costumed children from around the world on a brilliant blue and green globe grasp hands to play in the fanciful design.

“When you look inside the balloon, it looks just exactly on the inside as it does on the outside,” Orvin said. “The design with the children is sewn right into the balloon. It’s just incredible.”

About two years ago, Sanford officials secured the rights to this very unique balloon, seeing it as a representation of the hospital’s work with children across the globe, says Dr. Gene Hoyme, chief medical officer of Sanford Children’s Hospital and senior vice president of Children’s Services at Sanford Clinic.

“Hot air balloons signify the whimsy, joy, hope and unbridled optimism of childhood,” Dr. Hoyme said. “What better public presence and symbol for the spirit of Sanford Children’s than a hot air balloon!”

The perfect partnership

Since then, the Sanford Children’s balloon has become a regular fixture in the skies around Sioux Falls and elsewhere. People can’t help but point and smile as they see the bright, friendly faces of children floating between the clouds.

One evening, Orvin and his ground crew of volunteers stretched the colored nylon fabric across the lawn at the Children’s Hospital. As they turned on the gas burners to begin filling up the globe’s shape, the windows quickly filled with small faces coming for an incredible close-up look of the balloon rising into life.

“It was such a neat experience,” Orvin said. “We took anybody who wanted up and down to give them a chance to ride in the basket. They never want it to stop.”

Another night, Orvin landed in an open field near a playground. Within minutes, children were lining up to take rides on the tethered balloon. He routinely takes people up for rides donated by Sanford to charitable causes or organizations.

Even after taking thousands of trips into the sky, every flight is different, Orvin says. There are moments when the balloon pops, “like a cork into the air.” Other times, it peacefully glides above rooftops and roads, with no seeming connection to the earth below.

Orvin said he loves every minute of his time in the air, flying a whimsical symbol of children at play and the hospital committed to their care.

“It’s a match made in heaven,” Orvin says, pointing to a photo of his favorite balloon. “The balloon is perfect and it’s perfect for Sanford.”

Posted Date: August 2011