Albuquerque woman volunteers for 27 years at Balloon Fiesta

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – One Albuquerque woman has spent decades volunteering at Balloon Fiesta. Now, she’s a pilot and her balloons have a special message. 

Ursula Richards says her love to ballooning started young. 

“I’ve been in love with balloons ever since I was a kid. I’m from here originally and one landed in the elementary school playground and I pretty much fell in love right then,” said Richards. 

That love of ballooning led her to become a regular volunteer at Balloon Fiesta. 

“I’ve been volunteering almost 28 years, I think this one is 27,” Richards said. “I was a flamingo, I wore a flamingo suit for probably four or five years. It’s called a greeter, where people come up, and we greet them at the gate when they come in.”

She’s also worked on chase crews, in the fiesta office, maintained fiesta transports, and she’s a big pin collector. 

“My whole house is pretty much filled with pins,” said Richards. 

And she’s a hot air balloon pilot. She started flying just about 10 years ago, and her most eye-catching balloon is a special shape named “Squawkurs.”

“Squawkurs is a 90,000 cubic foot special shape balloon. She was built in 2000, I’m the second owner,” explained Richards. “She was built built because of Jimmy Buffet, the parrot heads. The previous owners loved Jimmy Buffett, so they made a balloon.”

Each of her balloons has a unique spelling and feature an image of a very special multicolored ribbon, representing all cancers.

Ursula says she put the ribbon on the balloon in honor of her sister who is battling stage four cancer. This year, Ursula plans to stay on the ground, but she will have Squawkurs on static display.