The Cal Poly Universities’ float program started the new year on a high note, winning the Lathrop K. Leishman award for Most Beautiful Non-Commercial Float for “Soaring Stories” in the 126th Tournament of Roses Parade.
Although Jan. 1 was one of the coldest Rose Parade days on record, with the early morning temperatures dipping as low as 33 degrees, Greg Lehr, director of development for the Rose Float, said that winning the award helped fight off the chill.
“This is one of the most hands-on projects in America, and the students deserve every moment of this,” he said. “These students are genius at what they do.”
The float depicts a fairy tale castle and a griffin leaping off the pages of storybooks, encompassing the parade’s theme “Inspiring Stories.”
Nolan Whitener, Rose Float program lead, has been in Pasadena since Dec. 26 working on last-minute details of the float. All the late nights and hard work have paid off with an award. “Tonight, we can rest easy,” he said.
This is his fourth year being a part of the Rose Float. “I love the camaraderie and the teamwork, especially between the two schools,” he said.
For him, the best part is starting with a metal frame, an engine and an idea, and seeing that turn into a reality.
Lauren Gomez, Rose Float club president, echoes the sentiments of Whitener, saying that it’s rewarding to watch concept turn into creation.
“Millions of people see it around the world, and that’s really cool,” she said. “I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
It was a day of firsts for Soraya M. Coley, who enjoyed her first Rose Parade on what was her first day as president of Cal Poly Pomona. Coley and her husband, Ron, a vice chancellor at UC Riverside, also received national exposure on the KTLA Channel 5 broadcast of the parade.
“This is special,” Coley said. “I got to have a small part in the float, too. I put some silver leaf on.”
Seven veterans who are students at Cal Poly Pomona attended the parade to pay tribute to the late Louis Zamperini, who was selected to be the grand marshal but passed away last July. Zamperini’s family rode in the parade. The life of Zamperini, who ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and was later captured as a prisoner of war in the Pacific theater, was the inspiration for the book and the current movie “Unbroken.”
With numerous students and staff from Pomona and San Luis Obispo in the grandstands, the collegiate camaraderie could be felt in the air.
As the float rounded Orange Grove Boulevard and onto Colorado Boulevard, the students in that section of the grandstands jumped to their feet, cheering and chanting “Cal Poly! Cal Poly!”
Each year, the Cal Poly Universities program gives an international “learn-by-doing” lesson, and once again kept innovation at the forefront of the design.
For the first time, the rear panel contained living flowers instead of the cut flowers that usually adorn floats. In addition, photovoltaic solar panels were used to power the animated flags.
“Soaring Stories” also kept sustainability a priority, fueling the float with cleaner-burning propane and recirculating the water in the waterfall. The float also is certified “California Grown,” which means that at least 85 percent of the plants were grown in California.
Four days before the parade, Coley made her presence felt by attending a gathering of more than 100 alumni, family and friends at tents adjacent to the Rose Float decorating site in Pasadena. There, Coley introduced herself, shook hands and easily mingled with the crowd.
Among the alumni who attended the Cal Poly Pomona Alumni Association event were Tony Marraccino and Michele Gendreau, who are longtime supporters of the Rose Float program. To keep the energy level up on the chilly Sunday afternoon, the award-winning Poly Trolley served up tacos and sliders with handmade potato chips to the crowd.
After the meet-and-greet, Coley and her husband left their imprint on the Rose Float entry. Together, they spread adhesive and carefully placed petals from silver leaf plants on the glue pot decoration at the front of the float as students from Cal Poly Pomona and San Luis Obispo worked around them.
For a gallery of images, visit the Cal Poly Pomona Facebook page.