Pasadena Rose Queen 2024 Naomi Stillitano | The Inside Story: The Royal Dinner

Two weeks later, the Rose Queen celebrates her 17th birthday with some of the most important people in her life.

PHOTO: Jonathan Williams | The South Pasadenan | Family birthday dinner with newly crowned Pasadena Rose Queen Naomi Stillitano
PHOTO: Jonathan Williams | The South Pasadenan | Family birthday dinner with newly crowned Pasadena Rose Queen Naomi Stillitano. What's it like for the family with such an honor and a celebration of Rose Queen's 17th birthday.

On a wind-chilled night in November, the Stillitano family gathered inside Fogo de Chão, awaiting the all-you-can-eat delicacies the Brazilian steakhouse has to offer. Servers rushed by with silver-tinted skewers, serving each customer.

Naomi Stillitano, her father Piero, her mother Nerida, and her brother, Taaj, walked through the dimly-lit halls of the old Pasadena Bank Tower. Like any traditional Italian family, they each sat down, ready to discuss the evening together.

Like a climbing rose, the vines of support are embedded into the Stillitano family, threading their way from their summers in Italy to their home in Arcadia, culminating in a celebration of the 2024 Rose Queen’s 17th birthday.

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‘Being with family is so important,’ Naomi said. ‘We never eat dinner alone.'”

Life Inside The Castle

When the family is not on their way to Cosenza, Italy, where Naomi spent the first seven years of her life, following the legacy of her father, Piero, they’ve been surrounded by each other at the dinner table.

Cosenza is a city located in the Calabria region of southern Italy. It serves as the capital of the province of Cosenza, home to the University of Calabria, a major academic institution that attracts students from across Italy and around the world.

Calabria, in general, is known for its delicious cuisine, and Cosenza is no exception. Local dishes often feature fresh and high-quality ingredients, including seafood, vegetables, and olive oil.

Only authentic cuisine comes to the table when they’re having dinner together.

Naomi’s mother, Nerida, and also a dual citizen of Italy, is all over the kitchen while Piero is on TV duty. Naomi is usually helping her mother. The family doesn’t subscribe to traditional American cable in their house; only popular shows like Italia’s Got Talent or the latest on the several Italian news networks are on around the dinner table.

“When we get together and eat,” Nerida said. “The food is not the center of it. It’s not about the food.”

Then, they head to their chairs; each family member has their own spot, Piero at the head, Naomi to his right, her brother to the left, and Nerida certainly has the most seats at the table, constantly making trips back and forth to the kitchen.

That’s when the discussion begins. “It’s a matter of socializing,” Nerida said. “This is sacred.”

Nerida added more often than not, most of their dinners would be three to four hours in their family. Almost every night, the Stillitano family makes sure to prop up their iPad in an empty seat. They unlock it and hit the call; Naomi’s grandmother is waiting on the other side.

“My mother-in-law is an amazing woman,” Nerida said. “She taught me about family.”

The Journey Home

Every summer, the family makes the 16-hour, and around 5,600-mile, trip back to Cosenza, one of Italy’s southernmost towns.

In a city with a diverse and picturesque landscape, the historic center features medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture, including landmarks like the Cathedral and Swabian Castle.

The University of Calabria adds a modern touch, while rivers, bridges, and surrounding mountains contribute to the city’s overall beauty.

Naomi’s fondest memories stem from “her little town,” and as a young girl, she would walk into her favorite café, Dolci & Capricci in Rende, and order a chocolate croissant, a memory she holds onto whenever things can get uneasy.

At the age of 14, she volunteered at a local summer camp, where she spent much of her time with the children, including dance breaks and other activities. This experience became a significant influence in shaping her current role as the 2024 Rose Queen, following a recent visit to the Boys & Girls Club.

Even on her birthday, the children, some of her most loyal admirers, didn’t shy away from a birthday text.

“I have so many memories with them,” she said.

As the queen, the crown comes with a set of responsibilities, including community engagement, participation in youth programs, serving as an ambassador, acting as a role model for young people, and involvement in charitable endeavors benefiting children and families.

“One of the things it taught me is leadership,” Naomi said with purpose. “It’s a big part of taking care of kids.”

With all of the duties that come along with the mantle, being a student, Naomi quickly focused on the importance of the work that she’s doing, admitting at times the work can be tiring. Just this week, she was given some breaks.

Despite it, she harnesses fuel in the thought of the importance of the work she’s doing. Coupled with the support from her parents, the newly-crowned 2024 Rose Queen still can’t believe she’s the queen.

“I walk around and have this resolution,” Naomi said. “I’m the Rose Queen.”

Queen Mother and King Consort

Nerida and Piero’s first date revolved around a game of Risk with some friends, and now, years later, they have three children.

Piero is the Chief Financial Officer at CALSTART, a nonprofit organization based in the United States that focuses on accelerating the development and adoption of clean and efficient transportation technologies.

Founded in 1992, CALSTART operates as a national organization with the mission of supporting a sustainable transportation industry.

Nerida is a Broker Associate at Jason Mitchell Real Estate and is a member of the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce.

Working long hours, she decided to go to law school, attending the Irvine College of Law in Orange County and is scheduled to take the First-Year Law Students’ Examination or, “baby bar,” in June.

Shortly after proposing a toast to his youngest daughter, Piero said the decision didn’t come easy, as uncertainty tinted his voice; the anchor of his home would embark on a four-year journey to become a lawyer in the state of California.

“We’ve been very supportive,” Piero said. “She’s so motivated. We were unsure at first. We count on her a lot.”

Despite all of this, working full-time and being a part-time student, and the queen mother to the 2024 Rose Queen, she still finds the time to make dinner for her family.

“Part of my job as a parent is to guide her [Naomi],” Nerida said as the glasses landed on the white tablecloths, surrounded by Brazilian hors d’oeuvres and dry-aged roasted proteins like lamb and beef.

Royalty and Fame

It’s been about two weeks since the Stillitano family’s lives changed forever. There have been 104 Rose Queens in the parade’s history, a storied legacy cementing Pasadena as one of the most-watched towns in America on New Year’s Day.

Seven young women parade on a float down Colorado Boulevard for over five miles, waving to hundreds of thousands of people who line the streets along the route. On New Year’s Day, Stillitano will sit atop the massive carriage, symbolizing the American dream for many of us.

When she was 7 years old, one of Naomi’s first experiences was coming to the Rose Parade. To her family, she’s always been their princess. Now, she’s their queen, as they’ve grown closer than ever during a process that will alter the course of their lives forever.

“Tense,” Piero said. “It’s been a total change in life. I’ve gotten calls from all over the world. France. Italy. I’ve become a little more aware of things.”

Nerida, looking across the table, reassured he’s doing what any parent would do for their child: being a father.

“Through all of this, I think he’s an amazing dad,” Naomi, who’s at the center of all of this, looked over and nodded in approval.

PHOTO: Jonathan Williams | The South Pasadenan | Family birthday dinner with newly crowned Pasadena Rose Queen Naomi Stillitano. What's it like for the family with such an honor.
PHOTO: Jonathan Williams | The South Pasadenan | Family birthday dinner with newly crowned Pasadena Rose Queen Naomi Stillitano.