A grinning “Sheldon the Turtle,” known by those who worked on South Pasadena’s float in Wednesday’s 131st Rose Parade, took a ride down Colorado Boulevard in memory of a man who knew how to crack a pretty good smile himself.
Paul Abbey, a dedicated volunteer on the city’s entry over the years before passing away in September at age 66, was remembered by the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee for his joyful laugh, big heart, and everlasting commitment to making the city’s entry the best it could be every year, and for Sheldon, a keepsake that went down the 5-1/2 mile route, enjoying the moment just like the man the city lost would have.
“He was the glue that kept us going,” said South Pasadena Tournament of Roses (SPTOR) Chair Courtney Dunlap, a big admirer of Abbey, noting he put in countless hours, days, nights and weekends tirelessly working in the trenches, ensuring the float reached the starting line on December 31st in time for the January 1 spectacle.
“We all miss him,” added Dunlap, adding that Sheldon the Turtle was placed on the back of South Pasadena’s float after TOR officials left the scene Tuesday following final judging, a crucial time when all entries are highly scrutinized and sized up for one of 35 awards presented at 6 a.m. the morning of the parade on the footsteps of the Tournament House.
Sheldon, constructed by Abbey a couple of years ago, was hanging around the float site behind the War Memorial Building in South Pasadena when some on the SPTOR committee got the idea of showcasing the frog in this year’s event because it meant so much to the man so many miss. “We re-screened, repainted and redecorated him and he hung out during the parade,” said Dunlap. “It was cool he was part of our float.”
Make that an award-winning float for South Pasadena, which earned the prestigious Mayor Award, going to the most outstanding float from a participating city. It marks the second straight year South Pasadena won the key award in a year that was golden for all six self-built floats, constructed entirely by volunteers, all coming away with honors.
While South Pasadena won the Mayor Award, La Cañada grabbed the Bob Hope Humor Award, Cal Poly Universities earned the Director Award, Downey took home the “Founder Award,” Burbank was presented the “Leishman Public Spirit Award,” and Sierra Madre walked away with the President Award.
SPTOR President Courtney Dunlap said, “It’s always exciting to win. It’s a really good for our city. It really fits our city and is a really good award for us to win. A two-year streak is nice and I hope we can keep it going. We’ll celebrate, and believe it or not in just a few short weeks we start working on the 2021 parade with the idea of working on another great float.”
“The cool thing about it is you never build a float for an award, you build a float for a city, and you hope you win an award,” said Brant Dunlap, Courtney’s dad and the vice chair of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses. “And we got it.”
A jubilant Janet Benjamin, the float’s decorating chair, praised the work of her volunteers for coming through in a major way, especially in the final hours before judging. “I can’t thank them enough,” she said. “They busted it out. We were a little worried about getting it done, but then we always worry about getting it done. They supported me. They supported the team and gave it their all. I’m so thankful for them. We couldn’t put out a float like this without them. Thank you to all the volunteers who came out and helped us. I can’t believe it. This feels great.”
Abbey would have been proud, knowing the City of South Pasadena’s float was an award winner for the second straight year. On another part of the float, dark beans spelled out PAUL ABBEY on the side of a star.
Appropriately, he was the star of the show. Janet Benjamin, agreed with Dunlap, following Abbey’s death in September, saying: “He meant so much to all of us, contributed a lot and will be deeply missed. It’s really hard.”
A spirited bunch of workers, in keeping with Abbey’s enthusiasm, finished the float just in time, minutes before the group of TOR judges pulled up at 7:15 a.m., clipboards in hand Tuesday, ready to size up South Pasadena’s float as a potential award winner.
“We had 60-plus volunteers here at 10 O’clock Monday night, others all night and we got it done,”
Brant Dunlap said. “It’s finished. Everyone did an amazing job.”
When the judges vacated the parking lot area of the War Memorial Building, signaling their exit with the ringing of a bell, a massive group of volunteers gathered for the traditional picture, officially documenting their effort, especially during those waning, pull your hair out, crunch time hours when the clock was ticking its loudest.
Joss Rogers, the floats construction chair, said he got maybe 45 minutes sleep over a two day stretch, and put in an all-nighter Monday into Tuesday when the rush was at its fullest.
“It’s pretty surreal,” he said, looking at the finished product in front of him. “You know what’s funny? It feels like your wedding day. You don’t remember a lot of it.”
Late Sunday night following the Crunch Time Party at the War Memorial Building, a major fundraiser for the float featuring dinner, a silent and live auction that raises top dollars to help pay for it, not a single flower had been installed as buckets of flowers sat outside the working area. Approximately 30 hours later in was completed to the amazement of people like Rogers, who couldn’t allow himself to feel like a zombie Tuesday night because somehow he was expected to be at work.
Sleep deprived, Rogers joked, “I’m not quite sure what we just did.”
What he and a ton of volunteers did was create a floral masterpiece with the “Victory at Last” themed float, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment ensuring a woman’s right to vote. Elements on the float featured a scroll, along with iconic period pieces representing women from the start of the movement, including hats and jewelry worn at the time.
“Those who worked on the float are just unbelievable,” added Brant Dunlap, recognizing the efforts of Benjamin, who seldom stopped during the two-day stretch to ensure the float was well decorated. “She will be the next Rip Van Winkle.”
Mike Mera, the designer for the float, is always intrigued to see it go from paper to a beautiful display of flowers, combining all the features on board. “To see all the effort that was put into it is just amazing,” he said. “It’s above and beyond what I was envisioning it to be. I think it came together really well. The colors are fantastic. Most importantly, I wanted it to commemorate an important time times in U.S. history.”
Diana Mahmud, the city’s mayor pro tem, who briefly worked on the float Monday, said the float “always comes together just like magic and I’m just so proud that our city chose to celebrate an event of women getting to vote in the United States.”
She was glad for the opportunity to chip in, adding, “It provides for a better understanding just how labor-intensive it is.”
After welcoming the TOR judges to South Pasadena, Courtney Dunlap, nearing the end of her two-year SPTOR presidency, could finally relax, knowing it’s a bit taxing when the group annually comes around to scrutinize what’s in front of them.
“I’m glad it all came together,” she said, looking forward to relaxing and getting some sleep after spending long hours at the float site. “It’s always a little scary when we have to pull an all-nighter but we knew we’d have a finished float by the time the judges came. I’m happy, but exhausted. But at the end of the day it’s worth it. We did it.”
Another float in the parade called “Years of Hope. Years of Courage,” created by the nonprofit Pasadena Celebrates 2020 under the umbrella of the National Women’s History Alliance, also celebrated the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment.
That was only one a small fraction of what was in store, all under the guidance of Tournament of Roses President Laura Farber, a South Pasadena resident and first Latina ever in that role. This year’s theme, “The Power of Hope,” celebrated the influence of hope. “With hope anything, in fact everything, is possible,” said Farber.
Throughout the year, from one stop to another, hailing the parade, she would tell groups, “You don’t want to miss this one. It’s going to be great.”
More than 80,000 hours combined services provided by 935 volunteers nicknamed the “White Suiters” as a result of their spiffy white suits worn by each volunteer, together they work to make America’s Celebration a huge success.
Starting precisely at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, the two-hour extravaganza opened with spectacular show, exemplifying the parade’s theme “Power of Hope” as 19-time Grammy award winner Emilio Estefan sang an uplifting number embracing samba and rap in the “Reaching for the Stars” performance. Soon after Honda’s float entry, “Our Hope for the Future,” embarked on the 5-1/2 mile ride down Colorado Boulevard to the loud approval of the large crowd along the famous roadway.
Not long after the flyover of a U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit bomber featured the first female pilot, Lt. Col. Nicola “Rogue” Polidor, joined by Major Justin “Rocky” Spencer, speeding down the parade route to the delight of the packed crowd.
In between, there were bands, equestrian units and dozens of float, including the 2020 Tournament of Roses Royal Court, carrying the 102nd Rose Queen Camille Kennedy and princesses Emilie Risha, Reese Rosental Saporito, Rukan Saif, Mia Thorsen, Michael Wilkens and South Pasadena’s own Cole Fox.
Grand Marshals of the parade Rita Moreno, Gina Torres and Laurie Hernandez epitomize hope, noted Farber, through their talent, persistence and dedication, they have achieved excellence in the belief what is wanted can be obtained. Moreno has received four of the most prestigious awards in show business; an Academy Awarda Tony Award, two Emmy Awards, and a Grammy award. Well-known for her roles on “Suits,” “Alias,” “Firefly,” and Westworld,” Torres was born in Manhattan to a close-knit Cuban family and raised in the Bronx. Hernandez earned Olympic Gold and Silver medals as a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Team.
Precisely in step, bands from Wisconsin and Oregon, representing the two schools that competed in the 106th Rose Bowl Game were there, many watching were their team’s colors anticipating the contest between the two opponents later in the day in the “Granddaddy of Them All.”
Trader Joe’s, which traditionally goes beyond the call of duty with its creative design, didn’t disappoint once again with its “It Takes a Flight of Fancy” entry as the Fearless Flyer is ready to soar in a pickle barrel, accompanied by a lobster, blasting through twinkling stars.
Not long after, Northwestern Mutual in its “Spend Your Life Living” entry showcased a family of llamas living the good life on vacation with a long ride down a lazy river, exuding the magic that family togetherness brings.
A 1916 Seagrave fire engine, owned by the Monterey Fire Department, carried the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame Class of 2019, including Eddie Casey, Cornelius Greene, Matt Linert and Jacque Robinson.
Just behind South Pasadena’s entry was Farber and her family going down the parade route in a 1911 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. It became the accepted vehicle of the aristocracy, royalty and shipped all over the world in its day.
A lively performance midway through the parade featured the North American tour cast of Disney’s “Frozen,” the hit Broadway musical currently playing a nine-week engagement through February 2, 2020 at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles.
The UPS Store float titled “Stories Change Our World,” revealed a family of endangered golden lions living in harmony with a community of birds. Since 2008, the UPS store has sponsored the Toys for Tots Literacy Program and provided millions of stories and books for children across the country.
Among Farber’s favorites was the Southern University Marching Band or what the TOR president affectionately calls “The Human Jukebox” because of it highly energetic nature, combined with the “Fabulous Dancing Dolls” leading the way. The 240-member ensemble has entertained audiences worldwide and prides itself in executing precision movement as it got some inthe the crowd on its feet, moving to the beat.
In a moving tribute to cancer survivors, the City of Hope featured some of those, including Jeff Carpenter from South Pasadena, who has beaten the deadly disease.
At the end of the day, those responsible for building and decorating South Pasadena’s float were still rejoicing.
“Oh my God, this is just crazy,” said a smiling Benjamin, not far from Dunlap, the president, adding, “It’s just amazing. It feels great.”
The South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade Float “Victory at Last” celebrates the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote.
The Coveted “Mayors Award” has been bestowed upon the South Pasadena self-built float for 2020. That makes two years in a row for SPTOR.
This speaks volumes to the hard working volunteers, designers, and all the support crews for the nearly year long project.
More to come on this special story…. stay tuned.
The Rose Parade Award Winners for all categories Are: