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Pitching In on Rose Parade Floats

If you’re looking for something different to do this weekend or this coming week, and if you enjoy that special feeling of camaraderie that comes from doing cold, dirty, painstaking work with amiable strangers--then listen up.

Many of those people who design and build Rose Parade floats want volunteers. And they need them now.

This is not a new situation. Although the majority of cities and corporations are now using professionals to design and build their parade entries, petal preparation is still the stuff of volunteerism.

Look at C. E. Bent & Sons. Said to be the nation’s largest float builder, this Pasadena-based firm is producing 25 of the floats in this year’s parade, which means, according to director of special events Bill Walleck, about 2,500 volunteers are needed.

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More Than Bud-Pasting

“There’s more to it than pasting buds,” said Walleck, a former member of the Tournament of Roses committee and veteran of 27 parades. “There’s stripping and shredding, things like that. That’s why we rotate people, give them a chance to do everything.”

What with great snow in the mountains and cold weather here, Walleck conceded that it might be more difficult to recruit volunteers this year. But then he pointed out: “It’s more satisfying for the soul than the body,” he said. “Every year we have people saying ‘yes, we’d love to do that'--then the last week, they get disenchanted. Maybe the weather, maybe they just want to take off.”

They offer a training period, but “we’ll also train them on the spot. And even if it’s just for a short time,” Walleck added. “It could really brighten someone’s day to be spelled for a while.”

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Both C. E. Bent & Sons and the other largest builder of floats in the parade, Azusa Festival Artists, contract with private nonprofit organizations for a regular corps of workers. “We have a group called the Petal Pushers, 800 young people from the California Lutheran Laymen’s League,” who are bused in every year. “And this year we’ll have 120 hearing-impaired students from Cal State Northridge. They’ll be doing the Kodak float.”

C. E. Bent & Sons makes a donation ($500 to $1,500, depending on the size of the float) to each participating nonprofit group. Azusa Festival Artists pays on a per-hour basis, but also as a charitable donation.

Private individuals aren’t paid and can’t be guaranteed anything except cold fingers and a memorable New Year’s. Most of the corporate sponsors do come up with some sort of souvenir, such as a sweat shirt, and maybe an occasional meal, Walleck said.

While Walleck said his people can use any volunteer who shows up, Azusa Festival Artists says “basically no. We’ve contracted with groups to build all of our floats,” Robin Dolleschel said.

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Besides the pros, there are six floats that are “self-built”; that is, they represent five local cities and Cal Poly and are completely volunteer-financed, designed, constructed and assembled. And yes, these people are definitely saying “C’mon down.”

“We’d love it,” said Cel Kimberly, chairman of Downey’s float. “You don’t have to live in Downey. We’ll feed you.”

Downey entered its first float in 1920 and has done it annually since 1955. Since Proposition 13, Kimberly said, “It’s been totally volunteer. I mean, by the time we raise the money just to afford a float, we certainly couldn’t afford (to pay) a volunteer.”

Kimberly, who says this will be her 18th float, is a good one to ask why. Why get your joints cold and stiff? Why give up your New Year’s Eve? Not to mention post-Christmas sales shopping?

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“I just love it--the people--the camaraderie--the community spirit. It’s great. And when the finished product is done and goes down Colorado Boulevard, I just feel so proud.”

Victor Ell of the float entries committee points out that many organizations have already arranged for volunteers through church, civic and school groups, but anyone interested in volunteering should go to the specific area where the floats are being constructed. “Even if they don’t put you to work, it’s fun seeing how the floats are constructed,” Ell said.

Following are some of the float builders and, in some cases, locations where the floats are being decorated and telephone numbers:

Festival Artists, 120 N. Aspen, Azusa, Dick Chapman or Robin Dolleschel, (818) 334-9388.

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Fiesta Floats, 9362 Lower Azusa Road, Temple City, (818) 442-3990.

Burbank float committee, City Yards at Lake Street and Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank, or call (818) 840-0060.

Cal Poly, Rosewater Tent, 900 Seco St., next to the Rosemont Pavillion in the Rose Bowl.

C.E. Bent & Sons, 835 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, (818) 793-3174.

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Pasadena Decorating, 835 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, call (213) 681-0033.

American Decorating, 505 W. Foothill Blvd., Azusa, (818) 969-9716.

Downey Rose Float Assn., Rancho Los Amigos, 13030 Erickson St., Downey; call Cel Kimberly, (213) 803-5992.

Sierra Madre Rose Float Assn., 611 E. Sierra Madre Blvd.; the Rose float building is at the rear of the site, near Sierra Madre Park.

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South Pasadena’s float committee: a meeting to assign shifts and straw bosses is scheduled today at 10 a.m. at the parking lot at the rear of 1000 Fair Oaks Ave., where the float is being constructed. “Or if people can’t make that, they can just show up at the site,” chairman Robert Clanton says.


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