Cottey Friends Lift Each Other Up

by Tracy Hass Cordova ‘04

In early January of 2009, Clare Wade-Callihan ’64 prepared to do what no parent should have to do – say farewell to her child. Clare’s daughter, Tanya, who was diagnosed with endometrial cancer was losing her battle, and Clare’s mother’s cancer was in remission. Clare turned to Cottey to try and reconnect with an alumna during this difficult time. To fully appreciate the random events that were to soon unfold, one must start at the beginning of Clare’s story.

Clare was born in Huntsville, Missouri, a small town of about 700; she attended school all 12 years in the same building. The year she was born, both her mother and grandmother added Clare to the Cottey student list.

“I was from a P.E.O. lineage. It was never a question where I was going to go. We looked at [Cottey] as a second-rate school until I got there. It really was an amazing thing.”

Quickly Clare realized her schooling was not on par with Cottey’s academics. Having never had to study before, she faced a steep learning curve. The gymnastics coach helped Clare discover her confidence.

“Dr. Strasser was my saving grace. Back then Cottey had gymnastics and he took me under his wing. He was eccentric as all get out! He gave me the courage and believed in me enough to help me believe in myself.”

Clare left Cottey after one year to marry and then moved with her new husband to Alamogordo, New Mexico; he was stationed to work in the neuro-physiological labs at Holman Air Force base where they researched animals being sent to space.

Fast forward quickly through Clare’s life – she continued her studies and chose physics as a major in between having five children and moving from New Mexico, to Colorado, to California, and back to New Mexico. She has worked as a vendor for many of the big name national theme parks, including Disney, and for National Parks, and as a general manager for a Native American clothing company.

“I moved to Albuquerque, N.M., in August [1994]. On television they kept going on about the Balloon Fiesta. My youngest son was visiting so I grabbed my camera and we went. I found my lust. It had me written all over it. I’d never seen one up close before, these giant bags of wind. I didn’t know how they worked or what they did.”

Terrified to be in a glass elevator or in a car overlooking a cliff, Clare was eager to start ballooning and by the following year she had earned her Hot Air Balloon Pilot’s private and commercial rating from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“When I land, it is like trying to land an eight-story building; it’s 90 feet tall. I can only control going up or down. The air controls horizontal movement. When you are flying at the speed of wind there is no feeling of movement in the basket. It’s very surreal in a balloon. The burner is very noisy, but even new passengers, after the first few minutes, get used to it. To me it’s a worship experience.”

Clare became increasingly active in the ballooning community. She was invited to fly Dawn Patrol* at the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival (AIBF), became the director of the AIBF Balloon Fiesta Academy (a youth program that promoted volunteerism), and was invited to fly her balloon at many other events. In 2000 she accepted an invitation to pilot at Farmington’s (N.M.) Balloon Rally.

“We landed in a cul-de-sac. A bunch of neighbors came out. I put lines out and we offered tethered rides until we ran out of propane. They invited us to come for a pool party and a barbecue. We had so much fun that night that they [Donna Smith and neighbors] invited us to stay with them the next year.”

Turns out, Donna and Clare had a common thread – both are Cottey alumnae. Clare stayed with the Smiths during the annual Farmington rally each year until it was discontinued in 2005. During this same time frame, Clare had much going on personally. She moved her mother into her guest house, cofounded the BFA Summer Youth, and was initiated into P.E.O.

When Tanya’s cancer returned, Clare tried reaching out to Donna to reconnect; however, Donna had moved, and her phone number was no longer valid. Knowing Cottey had just conducted a directory update, Clare called the college looking for her friend.

“After calling all the children (5) and while trying to make all the airline a
rrangements work, I received an email with information from the Cottey alumnae office. I was fairly certain that this was not my Donna but decided to call.”

As Clare explained who she was looking for and why, Donna Pabst (not “Clare’s Donna”) invited Clare and her whole family to stay at her home while she was gone for the weekend. After much persuasion, Clare accepted the offer. In addition to opening her home, Pabst offered the family a van to use during their stay.

Clare had shared news of her trip with her close ballooning friends. During the trip, Clare was able to take her daughter on a tethered balloon flight, another contact arranged for the family to have a free photography session, and another contact organized board games to be brought to the family. The weekend ended up being a joyous family gathering.

When Clare returned home from the trip, she tried sending a letter to the last known address she had for Donna Smith. The couple living in the home gave the letter to the neighbors who then forwarded the letter on to Donna. Eight days later, Tanya passed in her sleep. Once again, the Pabsts invited Clare to stay with them.

A couple weeks passed and one morning while Clare was preparing for work the phone rang. “’Hello.’ I KNEW it was MY Donna! I was able to share with her all that happened and got her new contact information. I sent the information to the alumnae office.”

Over 100 people attended Clare’s 50th Cottey reunion and she plans to return for her 60th. Her granddaughter Lauren Stephens ‘16 was in one of the first baccalaureate graduating classes.

“At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate what Cottey did for me. I wasn’t prepared for it; it was the beginning of my learning curve. It wasn’t until years later I looked back and realized just how precious the bonds were that we formed.”

 Ballooning Career:
Clare is extremely humble when it comes to her notoriety in the balloon pilot community. She has been recognized with two national ballooning awards – the BFA President’s Award for co-founding a youth balloon program and the Director’s Award for her service to the BFA in offering numerous safety talks and balloon education courses. The 99’s, a national organization of women pilots, have recognized her as the “Woman of the Year.” She and her balloon crew have been sponsored at AIBF by Subway for 14 years. And she has been a member of the Dawn Patrol for over 20 years and the only woman in the group of pilots for the last 7 years.

* *Regulations only allow hot air balloons to fly during the daylight hours. Dawn Patrol pilots have a special position lighting system that allow them to take off in the dark and fly until it is light enough to see landing sites, which allows fellow pilots to get an idea of wind speeds and directions at different altitudes. The Dawn Patrol for the Albquerque International Balloon Festival is an invitation-only group that performs a choreographed inflation and launch set to music.

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