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Who's Who in the Balloon Industry

Don F. Cheeseman (7 August 1945 - 14 August 2004)
Entered industry: 1982
Left industry: 2004
Born: Buffalo, NY
Died: Lahaina, Maui, HI
Details of death: Died early, but happy, of hard living and lung cancer.
Professional credentials: BA, History, University of Mississippi
Type of balloon business: retail decor delivery education

Official site:

Mini biography
When Marie Mandoli, Don's wife and business partner of 21 years, was asked what should be in Don's biography, the first thing she said was, "Don would think this was a crack up, it should be great fun." The following is what Marie shared for Don's bio.

Don grew up in upstate New York and went to college in Mississippi.

Don served on Riverboats in Vietnam - think Apocalypse Now - the movie. Don never went for counseling after that experience, but he saw the movie 26 times. He made his own kind of therapy.

After coming back from Vietnam, although he had previously received a BA in History, he went back to school, a junior college, on the GI bill. He methodically took classes alphabetically from the course directory. When he got to the classes beginning with the letter R, they told him he had to leave school. While taking classes alphabetically at the junior college, he supported himself by painting houses for half the year. The other half of the year, he suported himself by betting on college football games.

He was adored by his clients because of his "never say no" attitude. He was always done on time and on budget.

Don mentored thousands of people around the world on large jobs. When someone called him, he always told them, "stay up all night thinking about how to make the job work and then call me back". If you put the time into thinking about the project, Don would spend whatever time it took for it to be a sucess.

The very first balloon convention was held in Canada in 1983. They wanted to set the record for the world's largest balloon release. The release was from the roof of two buildings. Don came home from that convention with a broken leg. He needed to get from the top of one building to the top of the other, but decided he didn't have time to go down to the ground and back up the other building so he jumped from one to the other. This convention is where Don and Rocky Toomey first met.

At the Denver convention (which was really the first one that the founding IBAC producers were in charge of) Don drove a pink Balloon Lady van from San Francisco to Denver with equipment. He drove that pink van into the hotel's freight elevator, up to the fourth floor and right out onto the floor of the ballrom. Marie said, That was one of the first times that I was aghast at what Don had done, but hey, that was how Donny did things.

He was known to wear women's underwear with enough BeefEater Gin in him.

A straight up, hard working guy, with a gruff exterior, that was kind and generous to anyone that was also a straight up, hard working guy.

Don is survived by his wife, Marie Mandoli, and three children: Ian, Kai, and Mia.

Awards received
Crystal Award 2000
One of the original IBAC producers. 1984-2001
Honorable discharge US Navy 1969-1971

Major contributions to the balloon industry
IBAC Producer.
Pioneered balloons at large corporate and social events.
Made balloons a manly sport. Made it okay to be a guy, doing decor, driving a pink van and he was damn proud of it.

Quotes from this person
I was shocked, proud, and pleased (to receive the Crystal). This award puts me in a lot of good company.

That's (IBAC) the thing I feel best about. It's always been one of my goals to garner respect for the industry, and IBAC has been a great way to do that.

Quotes about this person

Letter from Bruce Walden, CBA to Don Cheeseman
Walden Productions, Canada

I owe you a great deal, my friend. When I went to Denver for the first conference you produced, I was just a guy in a singing sperm suit who knew nothing about balloons. Taking your class on rigging, and hearing your stories from the road, really opened my eyes to the potential in the decor industry. Thank you for being a wonderful teacher.

You and Marie landed me MY first teaching job - assisting her at the conference in Hamilton where I got the opportunity to build my first large sculpture. There is no way I would have attempted that tower without having your inspiration and approval behind me. Then your words of support and prompts to compete in Boston gave me the confidence I needed to make Pinocchio... an event that literally changed my life. The press I received opened many corporate doors for my business, and the credibility I gained initiated my many years as a teacher in the industry. In many ways I owe my career to you.

As time went on, I came to know you a little better. Your thirst for knowledge was inspirational, and the unconditional support you offered made me proud to count you as a friend. You and Marie gave me the greatest compliment of my entire life at one IBAC, saying you hoped your children turned out just like me. I can't think of a higher possible honor and it still brings tears to my eyes. Thank you.

Throughout our lives, there are a small handful of individuals that open doors and inspire us to reach for our potential - both personally and professionally. You are in that elite group for me... and I wish the best for you at this difficult time.

Post to BHQ by Lorinda Ferrell, CBA, 24 Aug 2004
Continental Sales, Sacramento, CA

I am proud to say my mentor was an awesome person! Everyone knows Don & Marie did ground breaking work in the balloon industry and they shared that information as producers of IBAC. What made Don Cheeseman different? He understood and influenced ALL levels of the balloon industry. Don has mentored people in manufacturing, distribution, and production.

After watching Don at an IBAC field a million questions from newbies to veterans, I was amazed that almost all were follow up questions to some previous contact. I asked him how he maintained time for his own business with that many inquiries. The answer (a paraphrase): "I will talk to anyone that has spent sleepless nights trying to figure out how to do the job. It took me a lot of sleepless nights to figure out how to do many of my jobs. If they haven't put in that much time, I tell them to call back when they have. If they have, I usually learn something from talking to them."

Don Cheeseman has mentored many of us in the balloon industry. He has impacted levels of the industry in ways most will never know and has impacted thousands of us personally.

Post to BHQ by Jim Skistimas, CBA 22 Aug 2004
Balloon House Design Studio, Flower Mound, TX

Patti and I held Don and Marie as mentors...I am sure others felt that way. I really have missed his attitude and leadership in the industry. While I know Marie made things happen, Don made sure everyone paid attention. I can't particularly say I loved the man but better yet...I respected him beyond what he probably ever knew. He is one of the reasons I will do something better tomorrow, than what I did today.

Post to BHQ by Steven Jones, 23 Aug 2004
Aeration Decorations, Cincinnati, Ohio

I had a great deal of respect for Don Cheeseman and the impact he had on this industry. I'm a better balloon person today because of him, and I'll always be indebted to him for that. He was a true friend to us all.

Post to BHQ by Wynn and Lindy Bell, CBA's, 29 Aug 2004
Final Touch Decor, Portland, OR

Thinking about Don Cheeseman not being around in our industry is like thinking about not having color in our lives. Both Don and Marie have touched our lives in such a positive way through the years that it is extremely difficult to put our feelings into words...

When we first started in the industry, we were very fortunate to live a mere 30 miles from Don and Marie and, needless to say, were completely and utterly in awe of them. Our admiration for their talents and ability grew through the years and they have truly been an inspiration to us. Don and Marie were, and Marie still is, completely dedicated to our wonderful industry. We have to bite our tongues each year when we hear people complain about the cost of IBAC because, and very few people are aware of this, with the exception of only once or twice through 20 years of IBAC, Don and Marie and the rest of the producers, actually lost money on the convention, and many times paid, and continue to pay, as much as $25,000.00-$50,000.00 EACH, out of their own pockets, to make sure the delegates continue to have the very best educational experience possible. Now THAT is true dedication to the industry!

Through the years, one of our highest goals was to be as good as Don and Marie. We doubt we will ever make it there, but one of our fondest memories of Don was the year we entered the IBAC large sculpture competition and built the Heavenly Concerto piano sculpture. Although we had entered and won the first place award previously, the highest compliment we feel we have ever received in our career was when, just after the final bell had rung signaling the 27 hours was up for completing the large sculptures, Don came up to Lindy, put his arm around her shoulders, and very quietly said? Whether you win or not, I just want you to know that, in my opinion, this is the best work you and Wynn have ever done... you've really done it this time... it is fabulous! When Lindy told Wynn what Don had said, Wynn said WOW! Don Cheeseman said that?! WOW!

Yes Don, you are missed, but you also have left a wonderful legacy with your passing...We love you Don.

Rocky Toomey,CBA at Crystal Award Presentation
IBAC Producer, Future Affairs Prodctuions, Providence, RI

Don received the award for his dedication behind the scenes and his outstanding, on-the-job training abilities.

He's not one to boast about things, and he hasn't looked for credit for anything he's done. Don has trained a lot of people in the industry and has always been there for anyone who's had a question.

Jan Iiams at Crystal Award Presentation

A good-hearted, hard-working, tell-it-like-it-is man...master rigger...special effects wizard...someone who understands big business, professionalism, corporate clients, and people with a huge budget, but still appreciates the little guy who's buying a bouquet of balloons...

...from the park into the corporate boardroom. He's been around the world with Fortune 500 companies and has shared all that great knowledge freely with others. He has the gift of vision; he imagines things that have never been done before and makes them happen.

Terry DelMonaco at Crystal Award Presentation
Future Affairs Productions, Providence, RI

It was in September 1988, when I was standing at the front desk at the Hyatt in Denver where I was attending the Balloon & Singing Telegram Convention (which later became known as IBAC) not really knowing any other people, the very first person I met was Don Cheeseman. I had no idea who he was. But, right then and there, as this man had tasks at hand, he put his issues aside and took the time to walk me through the process of where to go, what to do, how to register for the competition, and so on.

I found out later that the first person I met at IBAC was indeed a producer and the man who insisted on presenting me with the award. It was a friendship made then, and a memory that will last forever.

Don always makes sure people have what they need to do their job well and even excel at it. He goes beyond the duty of being a teacher, a friend, a professional. As a human being, he always takes that extra step with people. That's why if he stood up today and said he needed anything, there would be an army at his door saying, Let me go first.

Kate Meager, CBA
Huff-'n'-Puff, Westlciff-on-Sea, Essex, England

The first time I met Don he truly terrified me, but then, I realised that was just his way, he gave me confidence to complete the first large sculpture I ever took part in building. His face comes to mind easily and I picture him strolling down the lobby nodding but not saying to much. When he passed I shared my thoughts with Marie. I said the times will come when you expect to turn the corner and see him there, well he will be , you just wont be able to see him. Don will never be too far away from those of us who were lucky to have shared a space in his life.

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