bucket list

Building a Rose Parade float

Online connection leads to once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

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De Smet florist Chad Kruse thought he was traveling to Los Angeles in December to visit some flower markets and see the Rose Parade. To his surprise, he found himself working as a volunteer building one of the parade's floats.

The Rose Parade originally started with horse drawn carriages covered in flowers. The first parade had 3,000 spectators lining a five and a half mile stretch of Colorado Blvd. Today, the parade is watched around the world in almost every country, via television broadcast, cable, satellite or internet viewing.

On Jan. 1, 2022, in Pasadena, Calif., the 133rd Rose Parade made its way down Colorado Blvd. again. This year’s theme was “Dream. Believe. Achieve.” The parade consisted of floral-decorated floats, bands, equestrian units and tournament entries.

Seeing the Rose Parade in person is probably on quite a few bucket lists. It certainly was Kruse and his aunt Karen Hendricks. Kruse owns De Smet Flowers and Gifts, working in the floral business for 35 years. In high school he worked at the local florist shop, watering plants and dusting plants.

In 2018, Kruse was the South Dakota Florist Association President, and he had invited a floral designer from Los Angeles to come and show some sympathy work. They became Facebook friends.

As a florist, Kruse was part of the FTD and Teleflora Wire Service and watching the Rose Parade each year, he was excited to see how those services did with their floral float entries. He mentioned his desire to attend the Rose Parade to his aunt. She told Kruse she had it as a bucket item, also. She told him, “Let's go!” Hendricks did all the planning, and away they went.

As the trip came closer and closer, Kruse posted he could hardly wait to see the Rose Parade. The LA floral designer replied, telling Kruse to let him know when he got there so he would take him on a tour of the European Flower Market and some other sites that would be of interest to a florist.

On the day they were to meet, the florist called Kruse to tell him his plans had changed, and he would be working as a volunteer on one of the floats.

“Would you like a couple of assistants?” asked Kruse. “My aunt and I would love to do something like that."

After a quick check, an invitation soon went out, and Hendricks and Kruse soon found themselves in Downey, Calif., working on a 30-foot Rose Parade floral float.

The seeders, workers who glue seeds, spices or powders onto the float, caused a small delay. The rest met at the barn at noon on New Year’s Eve, working until 7 p.m. that night. The volunteers cut 15,000 roses at two inches and placed each cut rose into a water pick, so they were ready for the next day.

The next day had them up at 3 a.m., putting flowers on the float by 4 a.m. The crews worked on the float for over four hours until the judges showed up. Once the judges showed up, someone yelled, "Okay, we're done." Everyone stopped what they were doing and pulled the float out from the barn and into the sunshine, so it could be judged.

Once work on the float was done, and it made its way to the parade, Kruse and his aunt made their way to Pasadena. Kruse’s aunt had already arranged some seats on Colorado Blvd. to watch the Rose Parade up close. There they sat on bleachers, enjoying the Tournament of Roses - Rose Parade.

Kruse was amazed by the number of flowers that were used on the floats. The crews used seeds and powder from seeds that had been run through a blender. Each float had about 20 blenders to keep the powder color consistent. Some of the other floats used vegetables and fruits. Cabbages, Brussel sprouts and just about any vegetable or fruit were used in creating the artwork of each float.

Kruse was definitely affected by culture shock between South Dakota and California. In California, the population numbers are high. Crowds of people are walking and driving everywhere, with many diverse nationalities in one place. It is different for someone from a rural state like South Dakota.

COVID restrictions were more stringent in California, too.

“When we stepped in our room, we could take our face masks off,” said Kruse. “When we stepped out of our room, we had to put them on.”

While they were there, they traveled to Hollywood, visited the Walk of Fame and saw the Hollywood celebrities’ stars. They visited a Hollywood hotel where a number of movies were filmed, enjoying a cocktail while there. They also got to do a post tour of all the floats. Kruse was able to see the materials, techniques and arrangements on the floats.

After seeing firsthand all the work and money that went into each float, Kruse was asked if he had any changes in mind for the De Smet Old Settlers’ Day Parade. He said he did not. Any changes to our city parade would make for a short parade, but the florist might make a fairly good haul.

“If anybody gets a chance to do this, it's quite a unique experience,” Kruse said. “I would not do it on my own; I would do it with a tour group because they get you in on a few things that are behind the scenes. It's really unheard of for somebody to go out there for the first time and get to be involved in helping with a float.”

Despite all the cancelled flights due to the holiday and the weather, Kruse and Hendricks were lucky. Flying to California presented no problems, but when returning, their plane sat on the tarmac in Denver. When the plane finally made it to the gate, they only had fifteen minutes to get to their next flight. Luckily, it was just a few gates away.

Looking back on the trip, Kruse says working on the float was the high point of the whole experience. Memories were made, as one item on that bucket list was checked off.

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