Laura Farber didn’t have to travel far this week to talk about two of her favorite passions – the 131st Rose Parade and 106th Rose Bowl Game.
The president of the Tournament of Roses Association makes South Pasadena her home and was pleased to take a short drive – avoiding planes, trains, cabs and public transportation – to call attention to the New Year’s Day spectacle.
“It’s such a pleasure to be in my hometown,” said Farber, the keynote speaker at the Women Involved in South Pasadena Political Activism (WISPPA) 2019 Cocktail Party at the home of Lisa Roa and Dr. Joseph Chen in the city. “I have got to tell you, when I received this invitation I said, ‘There’s no way we’re going to have a band trip that’s going to interfere with this event.”
A big part of her role in overseeing the operation of the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game, are the junkets, often joining her husband, Tomás Lopez, in visiting bands that will be performing in the 2020 Rose Parade.
Farber told the large gathering in the garden setting there are “two things the president gets to do that nobody can veto,” she said. “One of those is to pick a theme, which I’ll talk about, and the other is to pick a grand marshal, which I won’t talk about.”
The latter drew a laugh as Farber, stressing several times during her talk that the Tournament of Roses is much more than a parade and game, described some of the behind-the-scenes and inner-workings of the Tournament of Roses Association.
With input from her husband, Farber selected “Power of Hope” as the theme of the 2020 Rose Parade down Colorado Boulevard. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Farber’s native language is Spanish and told guests she’s a proud immigrant. Except for her brothers and cousin, her family remains in Argentina today.
“We selected the Power of Hope both based on our personal stories and because the Power of Hope can bring our community together at a time that our country and our world is so divided,” explained Farber after the event. “America’s New Year Celebration brings together people from all over the world and we want to do the same. Hope is continuous and never-ending. Hope is the belief that what is desired can be attained. From the struggles of those that came before us, to dreams yet to be fulfilled, hope is more than possibilities. With hope we can inspire others to do better and aspire to reach higher. With hope anything, in fact, everything is possible.”
For Farber and her husband, the theme has “a lot of importance to it, but it’s not just about immigrants, it’s also about the belief that what is desired can be achieved from the struggles of those who came before us – those who have yet to achieve their dreams,” she said to the seated guests,” she explained. “Hope is dignity, respect, it’s joy and it’s happiness. Hope is aspiration of achievement. And with hope we can aspire to do better and we can inspire others to reach higher. And with hope, everything is possible. Hope never quits. Nobody can ever take it away from you.”
The message is what she and Tomás wanted to convey when coming up with a theme “that would unify our very divided country, divided world with ‘America’s Celebration,’” aptly describing the Rose Parade’s nickname. “We wanted something that would bring everyone together and hope does that.”
Through hope, insists Farber, everyone can aspire to be their best and, in turn, inspire others to reach higher to achieve everything they want in life.
“With it is hope that we’re supporting our military and first responders bringing peace to this country and fighting for that,” she continued. “We hope for our scientists that they will find cures for diseases that so many people are afflicted with. We have the hope that our educators will have the support of their communities to do what we hope they will, which is to educate the future generations. We have hope for the band directors, that the kids are going to fall in love with music, that they are going to want to build their character and pursue their dreams.”
Farber has been a volunteer member of the Tournament of Roses Association since 1993 and was elected to the executive committee in 2012. Throughout her extensive Tournament career, she has served on and chaired various committees including decorating places, formation area, judging and membership development.
“The theme resonates with so many people,” she explained, noting that pins marking the parade theme, are generally rectangular or square shape, “but this year it’s round. The reason for that is that hope is never-ending and continuous. We wanted to have a little bit of symbolism in terms of the pin as well.”
Farber is only the third woman to serve in the role of president to the Pasadena Tournament of Roses in the organization’s 131 years. “That’s long time,” she said, before addressing diversity now found in high management positions at the organization’s headquarters on Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena, involving roughly 935 volunteers who work year-round to produce the parade and game. “When I joined the Tournament, there were a lot of people unhappy with the Tournament because it kind of looked one way. Now they don’t. The Tournament has done it, I think, in the right way and that is to take the time. We just don’t promote, folks. We actually make sure we have a pipeline. That’s what we’ve spent time building – a pipeline of persons that can reflect our community, so that we can have leadership that is reflective. It’s taken awhile to make that happen.”
An Asian oversaw the Tournament as president in 2015, the first African American guided it last year and Farber is the first Latina to serve. “And, I’m very, very proud of that,” she said, proudly acknowledging, “We have our first openly gay committee member.”
Farber stressed the importance of those taking the highest seat at the Tournament House have the “experience, the aptitude and the ability to take on these leadership roles. I’m very proud of that as well. I think you need to be intentional and you need to do it in the right way.”
As she prepares for the upcoming parade in six months, Farber announced that the highest number of international bands ever will be taking part “and the largest number from Latin America – intentionally,” she pointed out, noting that the Tournament of Roses, a nonprofit organization, helps the bands with fundraising and really gets to know the band members. “It has been amazing.”
Bands are required to raise the necessary funding for airfare, housing, and food before performing on the worldwide stage. Farber, after traveling far and near to meet band members, spends much of her time in cities promoting the Tournament of Roses through the media, and talks with city officials, booster clubs and other groups spotlighting the organization. But foremost on her to-due list is to spend time with band members, “making it a priority to get to know the kids,” she stressed, “answering questions and helping in any way we can.”
And when you ask, you receive, Farber noting one of her favorite roles as president is learning more about those who have never ventured far beyond their home city, and are now making plans to be a part of, arguably, the best parade on the planet.
“For us the stories are crucial,” explained Farber as she visits bands. “They all had amazing, compelling stories.”
Bands from Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Japan and Mexico and an all-female unit from Copenhagen will be in Pasadena to kickoff the new year. Among the bands from the United States will be one from the Alhambra Unified School District, comprised of Alhambra, Mark Keppel and San Gabriel high schools.
Southern University and A&M College band in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the “Human Jukebox,” as described by Farber, will showcase its high-energy as members play lively sounds down the 5-½ mile parade route. “They are phenomenal,” said Farber. “We’re so excited about that band.”
Tournament of Roses committee members hold what’s called a “movie night,” in which they look at every single video of the estimated 100 bands that apply to be in the prestigious New Year’s Day event. Bands are selected 18 months out so they have the necessary time to raise funds for the trip.
Along with the bands, the parade features approximately 45 floats all decorated with natural materials, among them the City of South Pasadena, boasting the oldest self-built, constructed entirely by volunteers.
“That is fantastic,” she said, explaining that the city is among five self-builts, while the other floats in the parade are constructed by one of three commercial builders. Equestrian units round out the entries.
The Rose Bowl Game, explained Farber, matches a team from the Pac 12 and Big 10 each year unless one of them is in the top four nationally and is looking to win the NCAA championship. In that bid, every three years the Rose Bowl hosts a semifinal contest in a team’s quest to win the national title.
Outside of the parade and game, Farber said a food and wine festival will return in late December, joining traditional favorite attractions like the long-standing Bandfest and an equestrian event. She hinted that the potential for a concert celebrating New Year’s Eve is in the works.
In addition, Farber told the gathering the first female pilot of a B-52 Bomber will among those flying over the Rose Parade or Rose Bowl Game as part of the pageantry on January 1.
Stressing one more time, “We’re much more than a parade and game,” Farber said the Tournament of Roses in May launched #ThisGen2019 – A youth empowerment at the Pasadena Convention Center. The inaugural event was designed to bring high school and college-aged students together to learn and discuss topics related to career, networking and personal development. #ThisGen2019 featured leaders from the business, entertainment and sports industry, all with various career backgrounds and achievements.
“There’s a lot that is going on, a lot that we’re proud of,” she said talking about the organization’s many efforts to bring the community together outside of the parade and game, including youth and grant programs, noting through the game, “We have contributed over a billion dollars to universities, schools and nonprofits throughout this country. It’s great to be part of that and share that with all of you.”
She concluded her remarks by acknowledging the city in which she and her family, including two children, live, noting: “We are proud South Pasadenans and so impressed with all of what you do…everyone in our community. That’s what we’re all about – community involvement and engagement. I couldn’t be more proud of our community and how much everybody cares and is engaged. For me and Tomás, we look around and we see hope. And you all represent that. Everything you do and give does not go unnoticed. Thank you for being a part of this vibrant, amazing place.”