In the final days and hours leading up to the Rose Parade, there’s always a little expected madness around the place where workers are busy gluing petals and applying thousands of flowers on South Pasadena’s float being decorated for the annual New Year’s Day spectacle.
Nothing ever changes, as those mainly responsible for its completion are confident, not about to push the panic button, knowing it will get done.
“It always does,” said Janet Benjamin, the decoration chair for the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee, watching as a team of volunteers work their magic performing a variety of tasks under her watchful eye. “It’s always crazy the last week.”
Benjamin said the crew is “putting a lot of petals on the float because we wanted to focus on detailed work this year, so it does make it a little more stressful,” as the task is of putting on the tiny flowers is highly labor-intensive.
Twenty-three different rose varieties will be on board the float, given the title “Victory at Last,” a salute to Women’s Suffrage, reflecting on the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting American women the right to vote.
Graphic designer Mike Mera created the float rendering, which features a scroll depicting the 19th Amendment, along with iconic period pieces representing women from the start of the movement, including hats and jewelry worn at the time.
Volunteers have come out from Texas, Georgia, Minnesota, Ohio and other parts of the country, many making it a bucket list trip to Southern California.
“We call them our bucket listers,” said Benjamin with a smile.
Others make it a short trip to support the effort. Diane Torres, a “bucket lister” from nearby Highland Park, was joined by her daughters, Serenity, and Angelina McKeon – one from South Pasadena and the other living with her in the nearby city – as they tediously glued petals on a flower.
“It’s great to help out in the community,” said Torres. “It will be fun to watch the float go down Colorado Boulevard (in Pasadena) during the parade. It’s nice to know we were part of it.”
Jackie Collesi from Cleveland, Ohio, made a return visit to the city after being away for about 10 years. “I just love the idea of it and that it’s the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment,” Collesi said.
Jenifer Morgan, a Los Angeles native, heard about the volunteer opportunity through her friend, Andrew Hunter, a member of the SPTOR construction team who has done lot of welding on the float over the past five years. “I wanted to give back to the community and help,” she said, working on the red, white and blue bunting surrounding the float.
Carrie Russell is no stranger to the float building experience, contributing her time and energy for the past six years. A key part of the decoration team, Russell, who lives locally, has no idea how many hours she’s put in, initially lending her time and talent this year back in July when the construction of the float began in earnest.
She works days and nights, lending a hand when and wherever she can.
“It’s rewarding watching the progress of it,” Russell said when asked what she gets most out working on the float. “It brings tears to your eyes the morning when they bring it out for final judging.”
Tournament of Roses officials traditionally come around the float site during the early morning hours on December 31 to inspect it one last time, ensuring everything is in working order and is ready to go before taking part in America’s New Year Celebration. They also size it up for one of a number of awards going to the top floats.
On Sunday, Russell arrived during the morning hours and was still working late into the night. “It does suck you in,” she said, laughing. “We’re volunteers so we come here when we can.”
Flying across country, Mary Waterman and her mother, Laurie, from Syracuse, New York, both teamed up to work on the float.
“We came out to see the parade and work on the float,” said Laurie, who has watched it over the years on television and is looking forward to seeing it in person. The theme is “Power of Hope” and Rita Moreno, Gina Torres and Laurie Hernandez will serve as the grand marshals in the parade.
Mary Waterman was asked if she was having fun. “Oh yes,” she assured. “We’ve noticed how nice everybody is here. There’s an instant camaraderie. Everyone works together well and pitches in.”
On Tuesday, the giant tent at the War Memorial Building was filled with the scent of hydrangea, gerberas, Tiger Lilies, button mums, carnations, natural materials and, of course, roses as teams of volunteers worked feverishly throughout the day.
Float construction Chair Joss Rogers, one of the newest members of the SPTOR committee, watched at the whirlwind of activity in front of him, calling it “a force,” noting, “When everything comes together it’s amazing. A bunch of things are going to happen when between now and when we drive it out of here (to the starting line), and I don’t fully understand what all that is, but there are people here who do. It’s just going to happen. It all comes together somehow.
“It’s a force,” he stressed one more time, chuckling at the thought. “It really is. It’ll get done.”
It always does.