Many citizens of the region were touched with a deep sense of sadness and nostalgia this week following the death Wednesday, May 11 of Walter Grishkot, 85, the co-founder of the Adirondack Balloon Festival, now in its 39th year.
While he was best known for his tireless promotion of the festival, he also served as a photographer and publicist for Warren County Tourism Department in the 1970s. He also was a contributor of photographs to news wire services. He was also a savvy promoter, whether it was arranging a golf driving contest on the frozen surface of Lake George - recorded by Ripley's Believe It or Not - or helping publicize the National Christmas Tree grown here in Warren County and transported to Washington, D.C.
The Adirondack Balloon Festival, however, is what he'll always be remembered for.
It was in 1982 - the year I arrived in Warrensburg to report and edit local news - that I first met Walt.
I was at my sitting behind my desk in the Warrensburg-Lake George News office which was where Jack Toney's Sunoco gas station now is located. I was furiously stabbing my typewriter keys, writing a story to meet a looming deadline.
Grishkot burst through the door carrying a big gold trunk, and he threw the lid open, pulled out balloon-festival props, posters and photos, and began a lengthy, feverish promotional pitch.
While I only had minutes to finish the story I couldn't resist his vibrant, visceral enthusiasm. Also, I just couldn't get a word in edgewise to tell him I was under tremendous pressure to finish up the week's issue.
Year after year since then, I've experienced his incredible passion for the balloon festival, and every new event or feature connected with it.
I also saw him at various festivals, happy that people of all ages, particularly children, were entranced by the huge balloons with their myriad colors, the spectacle of their inflation and silent flight.
His boundless enthusiasm was based, I believe, in his drive to bring joy to others, to help them fully experience the many wonders of life.
We'll all miss him a lot, and we all have fond memories - and may the balloon festival continue to prosper as a memorial to his character and spirit.