Joanie Nowell smiles when she thinks of the time when her children were younger.
Like most youngsters, son, Brandon, and daughter, Meaghan, would quibble with each other.
One thing in particular would bother Meaghan. Brandon would constantly make noises with balloons as he was imitating his father, a balloon sculpturer.
“His sister would get so angry because of all the squeaking,” Joanie said with a chuckle. “He was always creating something.”
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Turns out, Brandon was simply honing his skills. Now, as he follows in the footsteps of his late father, Wes, he’s making lots of people happy, including Meaghan, who is now an attorney in Dallas.
“My dad was so creative, and beyond balloons. He helped design the house we lived in, the pool, he decorated cakes for a while,” she said. “Brandon got a lot of that from him. Dad loved making people smile, and so does Brandon.”
Wes died in September 2016 in a work-related automobile accident on his way to Houston while working for UPS. Despite the devastating loss, Brandon swore to keep the family business, An Occasion Station in Keller, open.
Brandon, 25, said he takes immense pride in his dad being the first certified balloon artist in Tarrant County, and one of the first 300 in the world with such an honor. He thought growing up he would work alongside his dad in the business as Wes moved on to retirement and Brandon moved into the spotlight.
That opportunity eluded Brandon because of the tragedy, but the thought never crossed his mind of letting the family business go. After all, he had become a master balloon artist in his own right by the age of 19, becoming one of the youngest ever to be awarded at the World Balloon Convention.
Now a senior at the University of North Texas on a memorial scholarship from UPS in honor of his dad, Brandon’s days are busier than ever. On a typical day he finds himself going from school to the shop, preparing for a big event that day or on the weekend, performing at an event, home to do homework, sleep and start it all again the next morning.
One day he and his crew were at the opening of 40 stores for promotions.
“I had to go with about two hours of sleep to meet the demand,” he said.
Brandon recalled the time he realized he could also be great like his father. It was after his mother took him to a world convention in Dallas and he was taking a class in deco-twisting from renowned balloon artist Robbie Furman.
“I looked down at a piece I was doing, and it was what he was doing. I thought I may be good at this,” Brandon said.
Brandon’s creations since have been many. They include a 13-foot-tall birthday cake creation for the Tarrant Area Food Bank that involved around 500 balloons.
And, he won a bronze award for achievement at the 2012 World Balloon Convention for a parade float with a winter park theme. The 1,600-balloon creation was 6 feet wide, 6 feet long, 9 feet high and included evergreen trees, a bench, and a working Victorian street light — all made from balloons.
“He’s constantly coming up with ideas, and has been doing that since he was little,” said Joanie, who sometimes serves as his assistant, as she did with his 2012 award winner.
Speaking of children, they are Brandon’s favorite audience, as it was with Wes. From Mickey Mouse to Ninja Turtles and lots in between, he knows how to make a youngster smile.
“I’ve seen him with 30 or 40 kids in a line and they’re all stopped down, just mesmerized, watching him,” said Joanie, who worked for the Star-Telegram as an ad production director for 27 years before leaving the company in 2011.
“One of my favorite things about this is there’s pure magic in the world, and you see it when you get a child to smile,” Brandon said.
And, of course, when you’ve got the talents of a dad like Wes, special occasions at the Nowell household became even more special, Meaghan said. For example, there was no birthday decoration beyond their imagination, or that of their dad.
“I remember one year for Brandon’s birthday we had a cowboy theme with balloon cactuses,” she said. “I had an ‘Over the Rainbow’ theme from the ‘Wizard of Oz.’”
Ironically, none of this might have happened had Wes not been in the right place at the right time at one of the stops on his UPS route in Dallas in 1989. The Pioneer Balloon Company was throwing out a lot of balloons because of manufacturing defects.
That didn’t stop Wes. He had seen some balloon creations at a wedding before, and this was his chance to see what he could do with free practice inventory.
Though Brandon was yet to be born, he vividly recalls his mother telling the story over and over as he and Meaghan were growing up.
“She said he brought them home and began blowing them up with a compressor hose running through the house,” he said, laughing at the visual. “My mom said that he said with excitement, ‘We’re going to do this.’”
The family business opened out of their home in Watauga. It has relocated a few times as it grew. His mother, grandfather and grandmother also help run things.
One of Brandon’s favorite memories involves working with his dad when Brandon was a youth. They were creating toy soldier balloons for a grocery store event, and Brandon decided to make one of his own.
“It was about 4 feet tall, and my dad said, ‘What are you going to do with that?’” Brandon said. “I said, ‘Take it to school.’ ‘How?’ he said. I said, ‘Little red wagon.
“Then, the next day we loaded it in the car, along with the red wagon, and took it to school. I’ll never forget how special that was to me, and I know it was special to my dad also.
“I really want to be just like my dad. He was hard-working, talented, loved his family.”