GREENVILLE — Bonnie Braman doesn’t think of herself as a thrill seeker; she’s just determined to keep life interesting and shake things up from time to time. Every 10 years or so, to be exact.
This predilection for excitement got a foothold in Braman’s life on her 40th birthday with a trip down a water slide, riding a small, plastic sled. Not particularly daring, some might say, but it was a big step for Braman.
“It doesn’t sound like much now,” she says, “but it was higher than anything I had slid from before or since.”
Ten years later, on her 50th birthday, she climbed a rock wall for the first time. On her 60th, she walked the Mackinac Bridge; again, for Braman, a first.
With her 70th birthday “event” approaching, Braman started considering possible new adventures. While discussing the ideas with a few friends, she mentioned the idea of a hot air balloon ride. Braman’s 7-year-old granddaughter, Ellie Braman, over heard the conversation.
“I want to go,” she chimed in excitedly.
“(Ellie’s) parents, Andrew and Sarah Braman, looked at each other and said they didn’t want to go, but that she could go with me,” Braman says. “Once we did a little research to find out if she was old enough or big enough we were ready to go for it.”
The cost of a hot air balloon ride was somewhat more than Braman had expected, however. After checking around, Braman discovered many local balloon operators charge from $250 to $275 per person. Moreover, none were located nearby, so the ride would entail travel, dining and hotel expenses.
Then Braman read an article in The Daily News about the search for sponsors for the Danish Festival balloon event. The event was missing from last year’s festival, but organizers were looking for backers to bring it back this summer.
When Braman learned a sponsorship cost $500 for two rides, a demonstration and a “Sponsor’s Appreciation Party,” she made her decision and the reservation.
Braman told Ellie, jokingly, that she would have to start saving her pennies to help pay for the sponsorship.
“The next time she visited me she brought her monkey bank full of pennies, nickels and more,” Braman says. “We … opened a children’s savings account for Ellie at Isabella Bank. It was just after she had learned to write her name in cursive, so she could sign her own account card.”
Other family members pitched in with the savings effort, as sort of a 70th birthday present.
“My cousin and 97-year-old aunt … presented me with a gift of 70 ‘B’ (for Bonnie) and ‘E’ (for Ellie) dollars,” Braman explains. “We didn’t have to add much after our saving and the help of others.”
The organizer of this year’s Hot Air Balloon Rally, Tom Brown, said he’s excited to be returning to the Danish Festival festivities this year, following last year’s absence.
“We’re looking forward to coming back,” Brown said. “We’ve been really well received by the community, both in the parade and the flights themselves.”
The launches this year will initiate from Klackle’s Pavilion and Orchard, as in past years.
Both Ellie and Braman have flown before, but never in an open cockpit-type aircraft. Are they nervous?
“I’m not,” Ellie says. “I’m excited.”
For her part, Braman isn’t particularly afraid of heights, though she admits the hot air balloon experience is something completely new to her.
“Neither of us has had a terrible fear of heights, but both of us admit to being cautious about being in a high place,” Braman said. “I know we will be higher than the trees, but we do not know the exact height. Ellie and I have a lot to learn as we go through this adventure.”
The exact date and time of the ride depends on prevailing weather conditions during Danish Fest, but the first “window” is Thursday evening, Aug. 15.
Braman says she hasn’t yet come up with an adventure for her 80th birthday, but admits this one will be “hard to top.”