BOISE, Idaho — Larry Gebert wasn't a hot-air balloon pilot, but the pilots who've gathered in Boise each year for the Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic honored him as a member of the ballooning family on Friday at Ann Morrison Park, five months and one day after Gebert passed away at the age of 65.
In a tribute to the longtime KTVB meteorologist and philanthrophist, International Festivals Association president and CEO Steve Schmader explained what was about to happen.
"When a beloved pilot passes away, a tribute flight is launched, with a single balloon floating into the sky, silhouetted against the breaking rays of the morning sunrise, and trailing below it, three long black banners to express both the sorrow and grieving of those left behind, but also the joy and the special memories that they have shared with so many, and left behind for all of us to continue building upon in honor of their lifetime of dedication to friends, family and community," said Schmader as he addressed the crowd Friday morning.
Minutes before sunrise, Larry's wife, Julie Gebert, was among those lifted into the blue but smoky sky on board the tribute balloon. The balloon was decorated in honor of prisoners of war and missing in action (POW/MIA), with the words "you are not forgotten" printed on the balloon, which had a POW/MIA flag perched on the basket and three black banners trailing below.
Schmader, now the president and CEO of International Festivals Association, is regarded as a co-founder of what is now known as the Scott Spencer Spirit of Boise Balloon Classic, named after another co-founder, balloonist Scott Spencer, who passed away in 2020.
Since the first Classic in 1991 during the Boise River Festival, Gebert was right there with Spencer and Schmader.
"Larry embodied community and embraced all things that brought us together," Schmader said. "By any rights that I may still have invested in me, I would like to recognize Larry Gebert as the pride of Boise. He left us all with endless memories and stories and laughter and puns and smiles and dreams, as he would remind all of us that we provided to him as well. We were all fortunate to have shared in his life and time with us."
"On any other morning, for the past 30-plus years, besides the sounds of the burners as they ignite the rise of a spectacular canyon of color on the field, the joy and awe of the faces of children and families and friends, as the sky fills like an artist's palette, hidden in our imagination, the Spirit of Boise was not complete without the ever-welcoming, towering fixture and face of our community, KTVB meteorologist Larry Gebert," Schmader said. "We all lost a beloved friend and icon and spouse and father far too soon."
As he concluded his remarks Friday morning, Schmader glanced skyward and said, "Larry, I assume you're here. Your friendship and never-ending support of the best in all of us will always be a part of the Spirit of Boise. May the winds be always in your favor and keep you with us every flight."
You can watch the tribute in its entirety in the video posted below:
Larry Gebert: In Loving Memory
Watch more stories and tribute about Larry in our Youtube playlist: