Balloon artist on a mission : "Along the Way"

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It's very possible that nobody is born, thinking, someday balloons will be a major part of my life.
Not *hot air* balloons. Just regular old balloons, turned into critters and creatures.
But for one retired man in the Northern Hills, balloon art has changed his life.

So how could balloons make such a big impact both near and far? The answer, as we go Along the Way to Spearfish.

Howard Ugland makes things out of balloons, lots of things. He says he can probably make 300 different objects out of balloons.

Balloon Artist Harold Ugland says, "This is a princess crown and all little girls want to be a princess and pink, purple is the most popular color for that and of course they would like to have a scepter or a magic wand. I call it a heart flower."
He goes on to say, "The boys love the bow and arrow and I'll show you why. It actually shoots."

He sells them across the Black Hills, during big local events. Ugland says most of them run between one and five dollars apiece. He calls his balloon enterprise: Hugland Ballons. So, why would a retired man want to do this? Part of the answer is the reaction his work gets from kids.

Ugland says, "You just kind of see that look in their eyes. Or they're standing looking over at something and like 'Oh, wow!'. Just to put some joy and happiness and create a memory for them is very rewarding."

But that, is not, the only reason he sells balloons, in fact, it's not the main reason. Balloons weren't really a part of his life, until 2004, when he was age 50, and preparing to go on a Missions trip to Romania. He says a local balloon artist taught him before the trip. The balloons would serve as an ice breaker of sorts to reach people with the Christian message.

"When I returned, I just fell in love with the great time I had. I thought I was just going to use it for that 1 week trip and that was 14 years ago," Ugland says.

That was his first missions trip, but certainly not his last. Selling balloons helps pay for his trips, while he says he also donates to support other missions and ministries. And on the trips, he gives away the balloons as a means of reaching out to people.

Ugland says, "It helped me to fund trips to go to various countries and I've gone on about between 28-30 trips now."
He says, "I don't care where a person goes to church and things like that. My main purpose is to try to get them to open up the Bible and let God's word speak to us."

The balloon sales end up covering about 60 to 70 percent of the cost of for him to go on the trips, the rest is from donations and out of his pocket.

"These are pictures of people and opportunities that I had to share with people. I've been to India, Haiti, Africa, Mexico, Moldova, Uganda and getting ready to go to Cuba in March," says Ugland.

Most of his trips are overseas, but not all. He says, he went to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"I believe that we have plenty of opportunities to hear the Gospel here in the U.S. whether going to churches, or listening to TV, or listening to radio. In a lot of these countries, no one has, they have no knowledge of the Gospel, or why Jesus came or the God the Creator," says Ugland.

Who knew balloon art, could help a guy, get from Spearfish, to places all around the world. Turns out, one balloon at a time, it can.

If you're interested in a balloon...you can find Howard Ugland at Rushmore Mall this weekend in the food court...and the says the week leading up to Christmas, he'll be there everyday.

If you've met someone cool "Along the Way" please call us or e-mail me at stevel@blackhillsfox.com to let us know.