'End of an era': Why organizers are putting the flame out on Eyes to the Skies for good

The list of Eyes to the Skies memories doesn't end for Wendy Nadeau, but it has a definite beginning.

She still remembers being part of the "balloon crew" as a youngster in the 1980s, rolling on the hot-air balloons with her cousins to help deflate them and then folding them up for storage.

She loved it so much, Nadeau became a festival volunteer as an adult and eventually was named chairwoman of the organizing committee.

It's been quite a ride, but now it's landing for good.

Lisle's iconic Eyes to the Skies Festival - one of the largest summer celebrations in the suburbs that attracted tens of thousands of people each Fourth of July holiday - is ending after two years of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers announced on Thursday.

"It's the end of an era, which is sad," Nadeau said. "It was so much fun. I will have the best memories, and I've made some of the best friendships of my life."

Organizers said in a statement the all-volunteer event was ending because of a "lack of interest and support from community members and a decreasing number of available volunteers who are able to meet the time commitment of running the (three- to four-day) event."

Started in 1982 to commemorate Lisle's Sesqui-Centennial, in 2009 a committee of local volunteers took over Eyes to the Skies and relaunched it as a charitable festival to benefit six Lisle organizations: the Lisle Area Chamber of Commerce, the Lisle Education Foundation, the Lisle Kiwanis, the Lisle Lions, the Lisle Partners for Parks Foundation and the Lisle Rotary Club.

Nadeau said the festival raised more than $1 million since 2009.

Wayne Dunham was one of the original organizers and a committee chairman for 12 years. Based on the proximity of O'Hare and Midway airports and FAA regulations, Dunham said Lisle was a natural host because it was one of the closest locations to Chicago that could safely hold a hot-air balloon festival.

Dunham has his own memories, especially with the musical acts that came through Lisle. Years ago, he spoke with Billy Ray Cyrus about making a return appearance, and Cyrus mentioned his young daughter as a potential performer.

Even before she became super famous, though, Miley Cyrus proved to be too expensive for Eyes to the Skies.

"I was disappointed to hear it was ending because it was such a unifier for the village," Dunham said. "I just have the feeling that people will miss it. And there's still enough young people who went to it and enjoyed it. Maybe someone will try to revive it."

Nadeau said village officials and the Lisle Park District are working together to organize a one-day event around the Fourth of July holiday that will be focused on fireworks and live music.

It may not be Eyes to the Skies, but it will remain a community celebration.

"It's very emotional," Nadeau said. "We went around and around trying to find a way, but it's just become too difficult with the lack of volunteers."

The Eyes to the Skies Festival is ending, according to organizers, due to a lack of interest and support from community members, and a lack of available volunteers. Daily Herald file photo
Started in 1982 and relaunched in 2009 as a charitable event, Lisle's popular Eyes to the Skies Festival has been ended by organizers after two years of cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Daily Herald file photo
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