DENTON (UNT), Texas — University of North Texas student Brandon Nowell says his future started in the past – with a box of poorly made balloons.
Three decades ago, Brandon’s dad, Wes, was working for UPS Inc., when a client from the Pioneer Balloon Company offered him some mis-manufactured product. Wes took the defective balloons home and soon discovered that he had a knack for creating new balloon designs. He and wife Joanie started a small balloon art and decorating business: An Occasion Station. Brandon was born after the company launched and grew up, along with his sister Meaghan, emulating his parents.
“My dad was one of the first 300 certified balloon artists in the world, and the first in Tarrant County,” said Brandon, a certified balloon artist who, by age 19, had become one of the youngest people awarded at the World Balloon Convention.
Brandon always thought he would someday work alongside his parents in the family business, however tragedy struck late one night in September 2016 when Wes was killed in an auto accident.
“Going through this has been tough,” said Brandon, who now runs the Keller-based company with his mom and grandmother. “I have to keep the business running without my dad, and I have to work harder to make sure everything gets done.”
After the funeral, Brandon was awarded a memorial fund scholarship from UPS to help pay for his education. Around the same time, Brandon heard about UNT’s hospitality management program while working for a hotel event.
“Growing up in the balloon industry taught me a lot about professionalism and how to do nearly anything with balloons,” said Brandon. “However, the courses for becoming a certified balloon artist are not as informative about how to run a business as a college program, and I decided that learning more about the hospitality industry could open doors to other career paths in event planning or managing event venues.”
With that, Brandon enrolled in UNT’s hospitality management program, where he’s learning to master the business side of the company’s operations, including marketing, running events and managing a team of employees. But for Brandon, the most important thing is how what he’s learning will help him continue his dad’s legacy.
“I know it was important to my dad and my mom that I get a degree because neither of my parents had the opportunity to attend college,” said Brandon. “I do believe my dad would be proud of me. At the funeral, so many people that neither my sister or I had met told us about how proud he was of us. I can honestly say I want to be just like my dad.”