Webster.com defines the word “flower” as “a state of blooming or flourishing.” Those terms perfectly describe the Rose Parade float built by students of the California Polytechnic State Universities located in San Luis Obispo and Pomona. Each campus builds one half, and then the two halves are joined, then completed, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. To say that the float blooms and flourishes under the creativity of the students is an accurate description of both the process and the completed creation.
With decades of tradition behind them, Cal Poly students have designed and built Rose Parade floats since 1949. The first endeavor, “Childhood Memories,” featured a large flower bedecked rocking horse with a child rider. According to a document at the University Library Special Collections at Cal Poly Pomona, the child’s name was Chip Batcheller.
As recounted in the document, this boy brought his own brand of showmanship to the parade: “Chip waved as the cheering crowd tossed candy to him. In response, he plucked handfuls of flowers from the float and tossed them to the crowd. By the end of the parade, every flower within his reach had been thrown from the float.”
On January 1, 2013 the 124th Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade rolled down Colorado Boulevard with the theme, “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” This year’s parade marked 65 years of participation for Cal Poly with their float dubbed, “Tuxedo Air.” Flightless Antarctic penguins prepare to take flight with the help of an artificial wing in this whimsical multi-colored entry full of vibrant orange, red, pink, yellow and blue flowers. Cal Poly’s floats have been award winners in the past and this year the “Bob Hope Humor Trophy,” made its way to the trophy display closet.
During a time when many of the Rose Parade floats are decorated with imported flowers, it is reassuring to know that Cal Poly float builders still use California-grown blooms. For the second consecutive year Cal Poly’s float was honored with the California Cut Flower Commission’s “California Grown” distinction because over 85 percent of the natural covering is California-grown. The roses, white irises, mums and daisies are fresher than ever due to the fact that they are grown locally.
Although some of the flowers, including rare blue statice, are grown at the San Luis Obispo campus, many are trucked in by Mellano & Company of San Luis Rey. This fact holds much significance to Mike Mellano, Sr., because Cal Poly Pomona is his alma mater. A 1958 horticulture graduate, this down-to-earth, self-effacing man can be seen in work clothes surveying his 400 acres of flower fields in North County San Diego.
Mellano’s father started the business in 1925 and the company has been providing flowers for the Rose Parade since its early days. Enthusiasm for the Rose Parade was generated while Mellano was still a youth. Every December he would look forward to riding with the drivers as Mellano & Company flowers made their way up to Cal Poly to embellish yet another Rose Parade float.
Besides providing flowers for the Cal Poly float this year, Mellano had fun with a bit of on-site work. On December 31, he served as a docent, answering questions posed by onlookers at the Cal Poly float decorating site located at the Rose Bowl. Mellano said that he enjoyed explaining the Rose Parade flower growing process. He also mentioned that he is anxious to support Cal Poly because it is his alma mater.
In the local fields of Mellano & Company, flowers are cut, brought in from the fields and then cooled overnight in 35 degree refrigerated warehouses. Flower bunches stay in the warehouses until they are placed in refrigerated trucks for shipping. The flowers for Cal Poly’s float are trucked up to Pasadena on December 29 or 30.
“Deco Week” for the Cal Poly float is held at the Rose Bowl beginning December 26 and ending on December 31. Float decorating begins around 8 a.m. and ends at about 10 p.m., or sometimes later. Students work in the cold, sometimes with small flowers and a lot of sticky glue. Fingers get sore, but the individual flowers eventually merge and evolve into something even more stunning than they ever were standing single in the fields.
A state of blooming or flourishing? “Yes.” But then, I know – in 1979 this gluey-fingered Cal Poly senior saw the float flourish.
However, don’t take my word for it – just take one look at the Cal Poly Rose Parade trophy collection and you’ll agree.