SGV Tribune


  Date: Thursday, December 30, 2010

By Juliette Funes, Staff Writer
Posted: 12/30/2010 02:49:50 PM PST

This week is what volunteers who work on the iconic Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade floats affectionately refer to as Hell Week.

It's the last few days of December when thousands of participants pack the Rose Bowl and surrounding venues to adorn and garnish dozens of themed floats with floral regalia for hours on end.

The story is no different for the 7,000 San Gabriel Valley Kiwanis Club members, who, since Dec. 26, have been working 11 to 15 hours a day decorating the international club's entry, called "Children's Dreams."

"We, in a sense, call it our hell week," said Dave Wallach, district chairman of the Kiwanis Rose Float Project and member of the Hacienda Heights Kiwanis Club. "It's total mayhem, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. As it's closing into the last few days and everybody is seeing the floats come alive, everyone is eager to see them completed."

The 16-foot-tall, 35-foot-long float will be blooming with an array of colorful flowers, roses and orchids to encompass a magical land with toadstool houses and bigger-than-life dandelions and birds.

"There's a beautiful hummingbird on there and dragonfly," Wallach said. "It's whimsical, storybook and has remnants of Alice in Wonderland."

National and local members from the clubs for Arcadia, South Hills-Covina, West Covina, La Puente Industry and Walnut Valley - which serves Diamond Bar, Walnut and Rowland Heights - will decorate until New Year's Eve at the Rosemont Pavilion in Pasadena.

"The Kiwanis' whole goal is to give back to the youth and disadvantaged," Wallach said.

But before the float and its 16 riders can be the seventh in line to ride down Colorado Boulevard, workers have to prepare for the grueling work.

As a prelude, hundreds of volunteers began applying "dry" decorations during the first three Saturdays of the month.

Petals and plants, like seeds, strawflower and walnut shell, are blended

"We get seeds and beans of all sizes and colors, and you'll see nuts and pistachios and corn nuts, seaweed and all types of things like that," Wallach said. "Plus they're taking statice, minute flowers, and putting them in blenders to be applied to the floats because every inch of those floats have to be covered by something live."

Lending the biggest helping hand are local students from the Key (high schools), Builders (middle schools), K-Kids (elementary schools) and Aktion (developmentally disabled) clubs.

Hundreds of agile Key Club students from Wilson, Los Altos, Diamond Bar, Workman, San Dimas and Bonita high schools work hours-long shifts, helping

"Our kids help decorate 10 to 14 floats each year and donate hundreds of hours to make the Rose Parade the greatest parade each year," said Bert Brandt, secretary for the Walnut Valley club.

For the past four years, Jessica Polidano, the advisor of the Key Club at Nogales High School, has taken about a dozen students to work on the dry cutting and floral decorating phases on the Kiwanis float.

"The students really enjoy the process of being a part of it and seeing how everything is created. Before they've gone when they've had to put together the roses and put the finishing touches on the float," said Polidano, an English teacher. "This year they got to see the beginning process and have been able to see it from beginning to end."

Though they have the liberty to choose each year the service activities they want to participate in, helping out on the Rose float is a steady favorite, she said.

Students have "told me that they go with their families or if they know the Kiwanis is leading it, they'll go up with them and volunteer," Polidano said.

The organization needs the most help this week - crunch time.

Nearly 1,000 volunteers a day have been spending their days and nights working on the floral arrangements, placing fresh flowers in the right places and getting everything ready for the big day on Jan. 1.

"It wouldn't be fun if it wasn't stressful," said Wallach, who will invest 186 hours on this project. "I get to be behind the scenes. There's so much more excitement going on at that point."

On Tuesday, Dec. 28, members, with the help of Casa Blanca restaurant in Hacienda Heights, put on a huge dinner for all the volunteers.

Circle K Club members, including those from Mt. San Antonio College, will work a 24-hour shift from Dec. 30 to Dec. 31 to put the final touches on the float in time for judging.

"You'll have all these floats in full regalia and the judges will see these floats and we'll hear the music that will be on the floats," Wallach said. "They can see everything in full bloom."

This is the moment Wallach relishes, especially since he hasn't seen the Rose Parade live in eight years.

"I am responsible for getting the riders on the float at 4 in the morning and getting them ready to leave when it's over," he said. "I go home and watch it on TV later."

Despite the heavy work load, it's a labor of love.

"I feel pride just knowing that we played a part in the success of that float," Wallach said. "I wear a `K' on my heart. It's self-pride knowing that we got it taken care of and it was successful."

Kym Brownell of Mariposa paints a Morning Glory flower on Kiwanis International float. (Staff Photo by Walt Mancini)

Julie Pinchevskaya 18, and her sister Liza Pinchevsky 13, volunteer on the Kiwanis International float. (Staff Photo by Walt Mancini)and ground up to create the bird's beak and other components.

Linda Amendt of Murrieta, putting flowers on Dragon Fly frame on the Kiwanis International float. Amendt has been volunteering working on floats for the last 24 years. (Staff Photo by Walt Mancini)to painstakingly place rose petals, seeds and nuts on every nook and cranny of the float.
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