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Up in the air

31 May


It’s 6:30 a.m. on a cold November morning in Albuquerque, NM. Lyndi Dittmer-Perry, her balloon-pilot husband, Jim Perry, and their six-person hot-air-balloon crew are gathering in the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum parking lot.

Everyone has a job to do to get this balloon airborne, and the crew works together like they’ve been doing this for years – because they have.

Jim and Lyndi both graduated from Iowa State but didn’t know each other then – Jim graduated in 1967 with a degree in electrical engineering and Lyndi in 1983 with a degree in industrial administration. In 1994 they met through mutual friends in Albuquerque and, after a short courtship, were married in a balloon-themed wedding in Telluride, Co.

“It was adventuresome,” Lyndi says.

Jim is retired after spending 32 years with Sperry Flight Systems/Honeywell in electrical engineering and avionics. Lyndi is the owner of Blue Side Up, Inc., a project and program management company.

Their passion is hot-air ballooning. Jim started out as part of a crew in 1991, got his private pilot’s license in 1992 followed by a commercial pilot’s license, and has been flying ever since.

“It’s an expensive hobby,” he says.

“The saying is, ‘The first ride is free; the second one is $30,000,” Lyndi jokes.

Lyndi, too, has her private pilot’s license. “For Jim, it’s a passion for flying,” she says. “For me, it’s more about understanding what’s going on.”

“We have a lot of fun with it,” she continues. “The crew is a lot of fun. Ballooning is an excuse to get together.”

New Mexico is home to the world’s largest hot-air balloon festival, the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. For nine days – and three nights – each fall, Jim and Lyndi and the “Zoo Crew” take up their Serengeti-themed balloon, “It’s a Zoo.”

And now, here we are, still in the parking lot. The sun is up, the sky is blue, and it’s time to go up, up, and away.

The crew has worked hard to get the balloon ready for Jim and Lyndi to fly. So what do they get in return?

“Jim pays us in breakfast,” they say, laughing.

Nuclear family

10 Dec


Just when you’re in total awe of the accomplishments of Kory Budlong Sylvester (’92 nuclear engineering), the program manager for Nonproliferation and Treaty Verification at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, his youngest son, Syler, takes you down a notch.

“Dad isn’t that interesting,” announces Syler, age 11.

Ah, youth.

It’s not surprising that Syler – and, likely, his 14-year-old brother, Max – don’t understand what their father does for a living. It’s difficult for many adults to grasp. The scope is just so BIG.

In his role at Los Alamo National Laboratory, Kory is responsible for managing a portfolio that includes technical support for international safeguards, export controls, arms control verification, and global engagement programs. This includes the Laboratory’s work in the Next Generation Safeguards Initiative, the International Nonproliferation Export Control Program, warhead dismantlement and transparency efforts, and support for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization. He’s also the U.S. member of an advisory group for the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He travels to Washington, D.C., at least once a month and spends much of his time in Vienna, Austria.

And that’s just what he does now.

KoryHe’s also been a congressional fellow to the Committee on Appropriations for the U.S. Senate, a senior technical advisor at the National Nuclear Security Administration, and a congressional fellow to the Committee on Homeland Security for the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from MIT.

“Our work requires in-depth understanding of international security. A key part of my job is to know what Washington needs and help them find solutions to their problems,” he says.

And here’s the really funny thing: You would never in a million years get that Kory works on issues critical to the security of the United States of America by sitting down and talking to him over a cup of coffee on his deck overlooking Pueblo Canyon.

“He’s humble,” his wife, Susan, says. Kory and Susan (’86 journalism/mass communication) met at Iowa State when she was his supervisor in the Honors Program.

“I got him when he was young and moldable,” she says, laughing. By outward appearances, the two could not be more different.

“On our honeymoon, I had a John Grisham book on the beach and he had, I don’t know, a book on differential equations or the creation of the atom or something. He is geek to the bone.”

Kory chuckles but gets back to the business at hand: nuclear nonproliferation.

“We take our jobs seriously here,” he says. “National security is a fundamental mission for the Lab, and I work with an incredibly competent and dedicated group of experts. It’s a sober responsibility to see that nuclear weapons are never used again. We’ve had some difficult years struggling with proliferation challenges, and we like to think we’re part of the solution.”

The American Southwest

27 Nov

Jim and I returned Nov. 19 from our tour of the American Southwest, where we met with nine alumni in the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. This trip exceeded our wildest expectations; ISU alumni never cease to wow us! Here’s a quick look at places we went and the people we met:


We started our Southwest tour in the Los Angeles area where we met Lana Rushing (’94 journalism/mass communication), principal and owner of Rushing Public Relations, at a coffee shop in Santa Monica. We also learned just how windy it can be on the Southern California coast and what havoc that can create during a photo shoot.

The next day we traveled to Temecula to meet with Rosie (Iverson) Wilson, owner (along with her husband, Gerry) of Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards. Rosie is a 1952 child development grad, and she and Gerry showed us a terrific time at the winery and restaurant they run with the help of their family. We even got to meet their pet pig, Molly Merlot, who was dressed in flowers and more adorable than I knew a pig could be.



Up next was a trip to Las Vegas to meet Alison Monaghan, a 2005 journalism/mass communication grad. Alison is a senior account executive for Kirvin Doak Communications. We met her on the Las Vegas Strip, which is not the easiest place to do a photo shoot. That’s me, Jim, and Alison standing near the Paris Las Vegas.

The following morning we met Bob Gannon (’74 ag business) at the Henderson Executive Airport. I’ve wanted to do a story on Bob for years, so it was really exciting to interview and photograph him. Bob’s been around the world 2.5 times in a single-engine airplane, and he took Jim and me on a most memorable ride.



After leaving Bob in Henderson, Nev., we drove to Flagstaff, Ariz., for the night. I knew it would be cold during some of this trip, and I thought I was prepared, but I was still surprised that the temperature gauge read 14 degrees the next morning! We did not have an ice scraper in our rental car, so we had to blast the defrost for awhile before taking off for Sedona to meet with Elizabeth “Debbie” (Sisson) Wych. Debbie (’70 elementary education) is a retired elementary school counselor who hikes and volunteers extensively in beautiful Sedona.

From there we drove to Tucson. The next morning we met U.S. Border Patrol public affairs officer Jeremy Copeland, who drove us about an hour and a half to Sells, Ariz., to meet up with ISU alumnus Shawn Kyne (’05 political science). Shawn has been a U.S. Border Patrol agent since 2008. The two of them took Jim and me on a wild ride-along through the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, which is roughly the size of Connecticut. That’s Jim and Shawn at the U.S./Mexico border fence.


The next day, all we did was drive: from Tucson across southeast Arizona all the way up to north-central New Mexico. It was a long day, broken up by lunch in the tiny town of Hatch, N.M., AKA The Chile Capital of the World. We sampled the famous red and green chiles and found them both delicious. We ended our drive in Santa Fe.

We drove the next morning up the mountains into Los Alamos, where we met Kory Budlong Sylvester (’92 nuclear engineering). Kory is a technical staff member of the Nonproliferation and International Security Division for the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He and his wife, Susan (’86 journalism/mass communication), above, have two sons and long, loyal ties to Iowa State.

From there, we went back through Santa Fe (for dessert and a quick peek through a few art galleries) and on to our final destination: Albuquerque.

Jim and I fell in love with Albuquerque, which was a good thing because we had to kill a full day there. We were scheduled to meet with hot-air balloonists Lyndi Dittmer-Perry (’83 industrial administration) and her husband, Jim Perry (’67 electrical engineering), before dawn near the Balloon Fiesta Park, but the weather didn’t cooperate, nor did it cooperate later that day. So we moved our photo shoot to the following morning, which was also the day we were scheduled to travel back to Iowa. Luckily, everything worked out, and Jim and I had a blast with Jim and Lyndi and their “It’s a Zoo” balloon crew (above, with Jim and Lyndi at the far left). It was the perfect way to end a great trip.

As always, some of these alumni features will be published in the special spring 2014 VISIONS Across America issue and others will appear in the coming weeks on this blog. Thanks for reading!