Herald American Lead Story

Downey volunteers prepare Rose Parade entry

DOWNEY — The city’s Pasadena Rose Parade Float, themed “Gold Rush,” is ready for a people rush to put on finishing touches and paste on 10,000 orchids and roses of various colors.

Several hundred volunteers from throughout the area are expected between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. Dec. 26 to Dec. 31 at the construction site, 13030 Ericson Drive in southwest Downey.

“Those who work in the morning will get lunch and those who work in the afternoon and evening will get dinner,” said Kelly Roberts Jr., chief float builder and a board member of the Downey Rose Float Association, a nonprofit organization headed this year by Susan England.

Roberts has been doing volunteer float work for 37 years, since he was 10 and has been the chief builder the past few years.

Roberts designed the float last February with Jason Redfox and Tom Neighbors. Volunteers have been working on it evenings and weekends ever since.

Other volunteer builders, according to the association’s web site, www.downeyrose.org, are Carl Johnson, Lowell Mathis, Mike Negrete, Andrew Marlarkey, Matt Schatt and Jeremy Clifton.

The float, 55-feet long, 18-feet wide and 30-feet high, has a wooden structure on the front part, depicted as Sutter’s Mill, after the historic gold mining operating in the mid-1800s. A railroad track runs from an elevated rock formation at the rear of the float down to the front and back up again. It will carry a “runaway mining car” occupied by Roberts and Negrete while Malarkey will be at the mill site, apparently trying to stop the rail car.

Riding on the float will be Miss Downey Emely Lopez, and guest riders Don Knabe, retired Los Angeles County supervisor, and his wife, Julie. They reside in Cerritos.

Roberts, a former mechanic at Knotts Berry Farm, said the float is one of the most detailed and technical entries in the history of the group, which was organized in 1952. He estimated the cost of the materials at $75,000.

The organization’s web page notes that various groups in Downey entered a Rose Parade Float in 1913 and again in 1920. But it wasn’t until 1954 when the current association was incorporated. It has entered a float in the parade every year since 1955, the website states.

Downey Rose Float Association gets a small donation from the city but most of its funds come from various events during the year including the Miss Downey Pageant each spring. Association Vice President Jennifer DeKay is pageant director.

Miss Downey and her court contribute to the association coffers by selling snacks and refreshments at the free summer concerts held weekly in Furman Park.

Downey is one of six cities where Rose Parade floats are made by volunteers, instead of a professional float building company. Those cities are all eligible for the Founder’s Trophy, which is given to the most beautiful float entry built and decorated by volunteers from the sponsoring community or organization.

Downey has won that trophy six of the last 10 years and 13 times overall.

Roberts estimated the cost of the Downey float, if built by a commercial firm, would be $325,000.

“This is accomplished each year by men and women, young and old alike, working side-by-side, giving willingly of their time, talents, enthusiasm and efforts to make it all happen,” the group’s website said. “Our members are civic-minded people from all walks of life; doctors, teachers, merchants, engineers, lawyers, secretaries, bankers, accountants, students, and retirees. They make up one of Downey’s busiest service organizations.”

England noted that although the New Year’s Parade in Pasadena this year is Jan. 2 (because Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday), the float must be ready for judging the morning of Jan. 1.

“The judges will come to us for the inspection,” said England, explaining it will be done at the Ericson Drive site.

The float will be towed to Pasadena the evening of Jan. 1 to be in place for the parade early Jan. 2.

England said she has no information on whether the Ericson site, home of the float for many years, will be affected by a $468 million industrial and office development by Los Angeles County, which owns the 80-acre site south of the Rancho Los Amigos National Trauma Center, where the float is built.

“If we lose the site, that may be the end of the Rose Float Association,” Roberts said.