South Pasadena won the Rose Parade’s ‘Founder Award’ for the most outstanding float built and decorated by volunteers from a community or organization.
It’s a tall order every year, but those who build it always rise to the occasion, especially coming up big down the stretch.
“I can’t thank those enough who contributed their time and effort to this float,” said a smiling Brant Dunlap, talking about the City of South Pasadena’s latest entry – “Sky’s the Limit – another award winner that took part in Saturday’s 133rd Tournament of Roses Parade.
Shortly after 6 a.m. with the parade still just under two hours away, a loud cheer was heard from a small contingent of local volunteers after listening to the announcement from the footsteps of the Tournament of Roses headquarters in Pasadena that the float they helped construct was selected among the best to set sail down Colorado Boulevard.
Among them was Dunlap, the president of the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses (SPTOR) Committee, who has guided the float’s good fortunes the past two years.
“It’s beautiful, just beautiful,” he said, admiring the city’s floral masterpiece. “I’m just so proud of our team.”
A Tournament of Roses official told those on hand at the Tournament House that South Pasadena was the Founders Award winner, cementing the city’s third straight crowning achievement. The Mayor Award was won twice – once in 2019 and a second time in 2020 – before the parade was put on ice a year ago as a result of the pandemic. To earn another special honor in 2022, after sitting out a year, was monumental for the man overseeing South Pasadena’s hopes of adding more hardware to the SPTOR trophy case.
“That’s what happens when people put their minds together, start thinking alike and make something happen,” said Dunlap, pleased the award came the city’s way. “I love this float. This is my favorite.”
He called the team that constructed and decorated it “resilient” for putting in the hours over the long haul. Coupled with a committee that meets on a monthly basis making key decisions “we all wondered at times if we could really make this float,” added Dunlap. “We were challenged on the construction side but everyone persevered and made sure it got done.”
Joss Rogers, the float’s construction chair, also said it was a “team effort,” saying he was proud to be apart of it, adding: “The crew this year really killed it.”
Help came from everywhere, Rogers noting he was especially impressed with a couple of individuals who had worked on the Cal Poly float, providing some key knowledge in hydraulics and engineering.
“I’m really happy with the way the float turned out,” he said, “and what we were able to accomplish.”
After the work on the float’s construction was complete, including welding, sculpting of characters and foaming to set the foundation, Rogers and others moved over to the decoration side, called on to paint and apply a variety of materials – pampas grass, pinecones, liquid amber pods, evergreen and more – along with thousands of Roses, most put into place in the final hours leading up to the parade.
“It’s great when you have a team willing to wear a few different hats and pitch in wherever the effort is needed,” Rogers said.
The bulk of the construction was completed the first week of December, overlapping with decorating, which began to jump in with support in early to mid-November. It all worked as both the construction and decorating teams combined skills, making for a seamless transition.
“It’s really amazing to come here day after day for six months and to be surprised at the progress,” said Rogers. “You have these ideas of how it should look, but every time you show up [at the worksite] there’s something new. It’s like, ‘holy moly, we did this!’”
Taking notice all along was Dunlap, saying the float “really came out great. We used 175 bunches of flowers on this float which is just phenomenal. It really challenged us but in the end, I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Janet Benjamin, the decoration chair, said “It’s a special float,” while showing some emotion early Friday morning when the float was brought out from its giant work tent behind the War Memorial Building in town for final judging, as members of the Tournament of Roses walked around it carefully jotting down notes.
“A lot of hours,” said Benjamin, when asked what it took to decorate South Pasadena’s float, explaining that a lot of work was finished prior to Deco Week – the time after Christmas leading up to New Year’s when work is in crunch time mode. “We have so many flowers on this one and so much detail. It’s really a good one.”
Benjamin talked about the late Paul Abbey, who played a hand in reworking the float’s original design by Brian Ewing so it float could be built. A water tower in the initial concept was replaced with what she and Dunlap called a more workable mountaintop, crediting Abbey and designer Richard Carlow for making it happen while thanking Ewing for getting the ball rolling by kick-starting the idea.
“Our float is a tribute to Paul,” said Benjamin. “He taught me so much about floats, so much how to do things and how to handle people and be kind. We miss him, we miss him a lot.”
“Sheldon” a turtle, holding a sign reading “Thanks Paul” was placed in back of this year’s float, like three previous parades, to remember all of Abbey’s many contributions and positions he held, from SPTOR president to construction chair and others in between. “But for most people, he was their mentor,” noted Benjamin. “When things would get a little bit crazy he kind of calmed everything down, held everybody together. We’re missing a part of us. Sheldon represent Paul.”
Not only is South Pasadena’s float the oldest self-built in the parade, joining five others put together entirely by volunteers, but it’s the oldest – period – participating in the Rose Parade for the first time back in 1893.
Under the hood, so to speak, taking it down the route from start to finish to the delight of thousands viewing it from the sidelines and millions more watching on television screens worldwide were driver Andrew Hunter, and animator Diane Giles, working the float’s hydraulics. Among her chores was to lift a giant ostrich named Theodore Fahrenheit high in the air as Kenny Loggin’s “Danger Zone” from the movie “Top Gun” blared loudly to the appreciative crowd.
In another tribute, Theodore remembers the late Ted Shaw, a longtime South Pasadena businessman who gave so much to the float throughout the years. Theodore, wearing goggles and scarf, fueled by a jetpack, blasts off from the top of the mountain as four other ostriches, two raccoons and a bunny and Sheldon enjoy the ride aboard the city’s entry fitting the overall parade theme of “Dream. Believe. Achieve.”
“Ostriches don’t fly but Theodore dreamed that he could, believed that he could and he achieved it by going down Colorado Boulevard knowing he will fly,” said Benjamin, the daughter of Shaw, and longtime supporter of the float, thinking about her dad and all that he did over the years for the City of South Pasadena.
Dunlap insists Shaw was the type of person who would say, “Of course we can,” when someone would suggest “we can’t pull this off,” said Dunlap. “He did dream, believe and achieve when a lot of people didn’t think it could happen.”
He’ll forever remember Abbey “like the grandfather in our tent,” noted the SPTOR president. “Losing Paul has really, really been tough because he was the guy who was the first one here in the morning and the last to leave at night. I don’t have enough words to express what he meant to us.”
Looking at the finished product before the city float went on its voyage Saturday morning prompted a “Wow!” from Benjamin. “The man hours and the dedication our volunteers put into this, dealing with the floods, the heavy rain, the cold weather this past week. It’s just incredible when you think about them. We did it! It’s a gorgeous float and I think the City of South Pasadena will be very proud.”
To make it all come together, Dunlap said: “It takes a lot of people to get along, have a common goal, make it work, and have fun doing it.”
When looking at it, he sees “a float that makes you smile,” he continued. “I’m just so happy it came out this great.”
Asked what he’d like to say to those who toiled day and night to construct it, a laughing Rogers said: “I think everyone should take a well deserved nap.”
And to that, they just might take him up on it.