It's Crunch Time for South Pasadena's Float Team

Delayed after four days of rain and with just five days until the parade, volunteers hustle to finish the float.

It's two days after Christmas and Bill Buckley has been de-stemming yellow mums since early this morning. This year is Buckley and his daughters' third time participating in the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade float.

It's understandable why Buckley and his family are working so close to the holidays on the float, themed "Backyard Adventure,"  featuring children, boats and a treehouse. Buckley, along with approximately 50 other volunteers, have gathered behind the to begin decorating. They have just five days until their float is viewed in one of the country's most famous parades.

Today is the first day the decorating team received the first shipment of flowers, including Mums, Gerbera Daisies, Carnations, Ginger, Bird of Paradise, Hydrangeas and of course, roses—thousands of roses, which will go all around the float in tiny drilled holes, each containing a water tube. Irises are also being assembled to construct waves for the back of the float.

"We just love to help, it's our town," says Buckley, whose de-stemming work has taken him through full boxes of flowers in a day. "It's so awesome to be a part of something so special."

As the oldest of all six self-built floats in the Tournament of Roses Parade, South Pasadena has also remained a no-charge decorating team over its 100-plus year tradition. Decorators and builders of South Pasadena's myriad floats have attracted hundreds of foreign volunteers from all over the world, including Scotland and England, as well as individuals who have participated over decades.

Assistant Construction Chair Chris Colburn "graduated" to his position from decoration to construction (He  first decorated the float 25 years ago when he was just 9 years old). This is his 17th time helping on the float. "It gets in your blood," says Colburn, who's had "the honor" of driving a satellite float and main float twice. "It's great [that] you can get into something that's such community involvement.

Colburn added that some of his best memories with the floats have been the friendships he's made, plus getting to drive the "First Outing" satellite float in 1994.  

As a Christmas present, Linda Kinkead's husband paid for a flight from Williamsport, Pennsylvania to South Pasadena so she could decorate the float for a second year. "I've been watching this parade on TV since I was a kid," says Kinkead, who was applying white sesame seeds as "skin" for a child figure. Gina Smith, another volunteer in her third year, met Kinkead and the two became friends over the years. "We keep in touch throughout the year on email," says Smith, adding that she and her son travel from Santa Barbara to decorate. "It's a family project."

The float is also an opportunity for many younger volunteers to bond with other and continue long-standing traditions for the next generation. Edward Villasenor has consecutively volunteered for 10 years with his family, including his grandmother and Head Decorator Julie Smith. Villasenor became friends with Zoey Pusateri, another young volunteer, who's decorated four years in a row. "I've been doing this for so long, it's just something our family does during the winter break," says Pusateri.

It's crunch time and very hectic now, according to Mary Jane Juranek, who's worked with the float for 16 years, from decorating, helping out at fundraisers throughout the year to manning the souvenir booth. She explains that although the float is going well, the economy has affected them. "It's always a challenge to get fundraisers that are going to be effective," she says. "We've been very fortunate; the people of South Pasadena have been supportive. We always appreciate what they do and we want them to be proud of the float."

Local florist Grace Kirkwood is marking her fourth year but has memories that span before the time she settled in South Pasadena. In 1984, her family first slept on Colorado Boulevard—while watching all those floats pass by Kirkwood promised herself she would get involved one day. "I told myself someday I am coming to help with these floats'," she says. Four years ago Kirkwood moved to California and has been lending her floral talents since.

The four days of rain put the float crew a little behind schedule, according to Kirkwood. The construction team is putting together the wood skeletal structure of the float today, while others are busy preparing the freshly refrigerated flowers, not yet attached to the float. "We're here until the very end," says Kirkwood. "Hopefully, we'll be done."



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