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Meet the balloon girls, Hollie and Gladys

December 15, 2022
By Sheila Evans

Sometimes, those grade school projects can turn into something very special. For Gladys Stiness of Englewood and Hollie Tomko, of Napanee, Indiana, it became an unlikely friendship that has already lasted 40 years.

Hollie was eight years old, learning to write a formal letter. To add interest to the lesson, the teacher had the students tie their letter to a string, attach it to a helium balloon and let it go. The wind would be the letter-carrier. Hollie was living in Indiana at the time. 

More than 600 miles away in Nichols, New York, Gladys, who was a married lady doing dishes in her kitchen, looked out of her window and saw something bouncing around on the ground. It was fall, after the harvest, so the land was clear. She asked her husband to investigate and see what was invading her garden. 

It was Hollie’s balloon, with the letter still attached.

Gladys answered the letter. Then Hollie continued the exchange. 

That all started in 1982. The exchange of newsy letters continued, eventually morphing into emails and Facebook posts. Forty years of friendship started with a letter-writing lesson and a gentlewoman who was polite enough to respond.

Today, the two are fast friends. Gladys calls Hollie, “Balloon Girl,” and Hollie calls Gladys “Balloon Grandma.” Age differences and distance have no relevance to them. In fact, Hollie claims that Gladys is not only her “oldest friend  at the age of 90 – but is the oldest friend I have.” 

In 2009 Gladys got remarried. It took place on the 4th of July, and Hollie streamed the ceremony, while her own family celebrated. She was not going to miss this special occasion.  

Hollie and her husband recently attended Gladys’ 90th birthday party in Englewood. The two balloon ladies have visited one another five times during the 40-year relationship, and are looking forward to continuing the friendship for many more years.