Every Jan. 1 for more than 130 years, people worldwide trek to southern California to admire a show of blossoming beauty in motion known as the Rose Parade. For 45 of those years, one Tucson resident has helped create the masterful flower-covered floats enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of floret-loving folks.
Back in 1974, Bob De Armond, float supervisor for Fiesta Parade Floats, answered an ad calling for volunteers to decorate parade floats while living in Torrance, California. Due to the parade’s popularity, volunteers were only allowed to work an eight-hour shift. As his shift was winding down, the supervisor asked De Armond if he was coming back the next day. When he told her he was only allowed to work one shift, she convinced the event organizers to let him come back the following day and any other day he was available.
“Evidently, I did well,” De Armond said. “It was fun, exciting and artistic...it just came naturally to me.”
Within a few years, De Armond was promoted to managing groups of float-decorating volunteers, but was reluctant to take on the task at first due to shyness.
“I went home and talked to myself and said ‘Bob, you either got to grab (the opportunity) and do it or you are going to spend the rest of your life mousy,’” De Armond said. “It was difficult at the time but it all worked out fine and that’s how I got started.”
Soon after, the City of Pasadena, where the Rose Parade is held before the Rose Bowl, offered De Armond a position as the city’s float supervisor. For 19 years, he was in charge of the floats’ production, along with yearly fundraising campaigns to help offset costs and feed and house float volunteers during the week they are there. While it was fun, Bob said he was burnt-out after nearly two decades.
“After 19 years I decided it was a little more work than I wanted to do,” De Armond said. “It didn’t make me very happy so I started working for Fiesta, building floats.”
At Fiesta Parade Floats, De Armond and his team have worked for clients such as Target, Lowe’s, California Milk Advisory Board, the City of Riverside and numerous others. Floats for the parade usually cost anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000 and have less than a week to be constructed, according to De Armond.
“I’m still amazed that a company is giving me a quarter-million-dollar project to do a project in under a week,” De Armond said. “It’s a lot of faith to give you and it’s kind of scary when you think about it like that.”
National burrito purveyors, Chipotle, is De Armond’s client this year and their float’s theme is dedicated to America’s farmers. The float will include a big red tractor covered in red carnations, a field of corn, a grain silo, avocado trees, chickens, pigs, cows and all sorts of ‘farm stuff’, according to De Armond.
Style is very important, and while the public may not get to see the intricate detail, the parade float judges are definitely paying attention, said De Armond.
“One of the hallmarks of my floats is to take tiny seeds or individual things that you put on with tweezers so when judges are up close there is more of a wow factor,” De Armond said. “The first couple of days we do the seeds and all the dry stuff, and on the last day or so we add the roses, orchids and other flowers.”
Over the past two years, De Armond has taken friends from Tucson to help round out his team. Terri Harding, an engineering lab manager at Raytheon, and her husband, Nick, have accompanied De Armond both years, usually helping glue seeds and flowers to the float during the five days they are there.
Harding said it’s a surreal, bucket-list experience that breaks up her routine and allows her to ‘get away from the holiday hub-bub’. However, Harding does advise not to wear anything that could get ruined.
“Last year I glued flowers to the float’s color-coated panels that lets you know what flowers go where,” Harding said. “But you don’t want to wear anything nice. As a matter of fact, I’m going to dig out my jeans from last year with glue all over them.”
According to Harding, the big pay-off is the community of volunteers who become like family over the five-day build-a-thon and letting the world see what you all have accomplished come New Years Day.
“When we’re together and we see our float coming down the road, it’s exciting,” Harding said. “There just a great sense of community and I’m hoping to see a lot of people we met last year.
De Armond also said it’s the community of float builders, florists and volunteers that have kept him coming back for the past 45 years.
“It’s all my friends. I’ve had people work with me over the past 20-30 years,” De Armond said. “It’s kind of like a family reunion while we’re working...a very close knit group we have and I’m lucky to have them.”