When he took over as chair of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee, one of Brant Dunlap’s main goals was “to make a 7-year-old or 70-year-old smile, chuckle or giggle” as the city’s float rolled down Colorado Boulevard in the annual Rose Parade.
Mission accomplished for Dunlap, and a team of volunteers who worked long hours, especially those down the stretch, on the city’s floral masterpiece – “Spark of Imagination – which sparked the interest of not only the worldwide television audience and thousands more watching live along the sidelines but TOR judges who honored South Pasadena Monday with the coveted Bob Hope Humor Award ahead of the 134th iconic floral event.
“We absolutely did that on this particular float,” said Dunlap, whose reign in office went past the usual two years with a third when COVID cancelled the event one year, talking about the impact it made on viewers. “It just makes you laugh. That’s all I wanted.”
Fittingly, the float’s latest winner was awarded the prize for putting the most whimsical float in the parade. The Bob Hope Humor Award is a first for the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee.
“Speechless,” said Dunlap after hearing 2023 Tournament of Roses President Amy Wainscott make the announcement in front of TOR headquarters in Pasadena just after 6 a.m. on Monday, about two hours ahead of the scheduled start of the parade. “Super happy. The float is funny, so I think we earned it.”
A year ago, under Dunlap’s guidance, SPTOR walked away with the coveted Founder’s Award, most outstanding float built and decorated by volunteers for a community organization, for its “Sky’s the Limit.”
“It was creative and whimsical in a different way,” he said. “We had an ostrich with jetpacks flying off a mountain. Ostriches don’t fly. This year’s float has everything, including boots kicking air, which means nothing, but it’s funny and a cage trapping a mouse. People are going to love it. It’s both whimsical and comical.”
The float, given the title “Spark of Imagination,” also featured a stack of books, one for science, a second for atoms and third for chemistry, sitting alongside three mice – individuals in that role – wearing lab coats next to swirling cranks, twirlers, a goof clock with spinning hands and more, all in an effort to inspire learning.
Tackling the role of mice, were a pair of volunteers from Minnesota – Tara Carlson and Lindsey Busch – who earned the opportunity as a result of working on their seventh South Pasadena float. Carrie Russell, another longtime volunteer who living locally, was the third mouse selected to take a ride of a lifetime.
Rob Benjamin, the co-construction chair for the city’s float, was filled with emotion after hearing the complete list of 23-award winners at Tournament House, proud that South Pasadena was one of them.
“It’s just awesome to see what everybody came together to do,” he said, fighting back tears, recognizing the massive amount of hours he put in the effort, the better part of a year – most of them in the past six months. “It’s a culmination of a lot of people putting in a lot of hours working.”
A large gathering of volunteers, noted Benjamin, “worked through wind and the cold” on the eve of the parade and worked around the clock. “Everybody kept pushing, and we got it done.”
Following the all-nighter, he summed up the effort, saying: “The float looks great.”
Benjamin’s wife, Janet, the decoration chair for the city’s float, called South Pasadena’s entry “incredible,” thanking a contingent of workers who “didn’t sleep, barely ate, and never complained with anything we asked them to do,” she said of the crunch time effort, especially over the final 36 hours leading up to the event. “And that’s what makes the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses what it is.”
Steve Fillingham, the float’s co-construction chief with Benjamin, said he was proud of “a lot of new people who came in to help get this thing done. It was a tough road because we were lacking volunteers, but the ones that did come in proved to be just incredible. We put a float together this year without working with real scaled drawings. It was a lot of work in doing and undoing to try and make things right, but in the end we got a great product.”
The theme of the 2023 parade was ‘Turning the Corner,’ “and our float is all about educational programs,” explained Dunlap. “It represents science fair projects that allow children to explore their own ideas and creativity. Hopefully, it will help them determine where they want to go in life, what they want to do. This float gives them some idea to think out of the box. I think we met the theme well.”
“Turning the Corner,” as outlined in the Tournament of Roses program could be “actual, in the famous turn for the Rose Parade” – Orange Grove and Colorado – “or a figurative one like the unlimited potential that each year brings.”
Animation features on the float included a giant hand turning a crank and those boots, continuously circling, going round-and-round
The float’s concept of a science fair came from Scott Feldmann, a former CEO of the local chamber, while Richard Carlow and Mathew McCoy created the float design rendering. Carlow, has long been a creative force behind the city’s success over the years, working on his 14th South Pasadena float.
Carlow, a professional theme park and toy designer when his creative juices aren’t part of South Pasadena’s float efforts, was all smiles as he matched his design against what was witnessed in the 134th edition of the parade.
Calling it a “big wow!” giving it a careful look, Carlow said, “I think it’s absolutely gorgeous. It looks just like the rendering. It has the brightness, it has the humor, it has the message that ties to the theme that we’ve been given.”
Proudly, South Pasadena’s float is the oldest in the parade, its participation going back to 1893. It also holds the recognition of being around longer than any of the other self-builts, those constructed and decorated entirely by volunteers, as opposed to entries created by commercial builders where costs are involved.
One day ahead of the parade in the early morning hours, a group of vans pulled up to the float’s worksite and out came about a dozen Tournament of Roses (TOR) judges, pens and notepads at the ready, to take notes as they carefully sized up South Pasadena’s float for one of its awards.
The float, driven out of its giant tent into a parking lot area behind the War Memorial Building in town, was on full display as a silent crowd on hand watched as the crew of judges scrutinized every inch of the structure, signaling the end when one rang a bell after five minutes. They quickly retreated to their vehicles, making their exit to a loud applause from those witnessing procedure.
As they started to depart the scene, Dunlap waved, expressed his thanks for coming, before telling a group of workers who had poured countless hours into the yearlong project how proud he was of their effort, and for fulfilling his goal.
“I just wanted people to look at the float and be happy about it,” he said. “It does that. I think it’s amazing. It brings a smile to people’s faces and, as president, that’s what I wanted.”
Thirty-nine floats went down the 5.5-mile route during Monday’s parade, which also featured 16 equestrian units, 21 bands and musical performances, along with 17 assorted Tournament of Roses entries.
Among the award winners were all six “self-builts” entered, those constructed entirely by volunteers, unlike those put together by commercial companies and charging thousands of dollars.
The list of self-builts joining South Pasadena in winning this year included Cal Poly Universities, Sierra Madre, and the cities of Downey, La Canada Flintridge and Burbank.
“It was a sweep,” exclaimed Dunlap of the huge achievement. “It’s a big thing for all of us to come away with awards.”
The most prestigious float honor, “The Sweepstakes Award,” was presented to Fiesta Float Builders, for its “Donate Life” entry, as the float was recognized as the “most beautiful entry, encompassing floral design, floral presentation and entertainment.”
Other impressive entries, meeting the judge’s highest marks, were Louisiana Travel, which showcased “the most outstanding display of showmanship and entertainment.” The Wrigley Legacy Award went to Trader Joe’s for “the most outstanding display of floral presentation, float design and entertainment.” Bazic Products, another crowd pleaser, was crowned for “outstanding artistic design and use of floral and non-floral materials,” while NASCAR, a first-year entry, received the American Award for “its depiction of national treasures and traditions.”
Other floats were praised for their creative concept, use of flowers, animation, imagination, innovation, and technology.
Yet, none entered brought out the humor like South Pasadena’s unique entry, based on the judge’s decision.
“It’s a great float and really fun,” said a smiling Dunlap. “I didn’t see that one coming, but we’ll take it.”