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Planting flowers for the Rose Bowl parade

Avon couple helped decorate the Lions float

By Bill Vossler

Few people have the opportunity to work on a Rose Bowl float. But Cheri Appel of Avon did, and she took advantage of that opportunity. And her husband Mike was happy to help, too.

Mike and Cheri Appel of Avon worked on the Lions’ International Rose Bowl float this past winter. Contributed photo

The opportunity to work on the float was decided by a confluence of events: 1st -- Cheri wanted to; 2nd -- The new President of the Lions International is from Bird Island, Minn., and the Appels know him and his wife; 3rd -- Cheri and Mike have relatives they wanted to see in California.

The new president, Brian Sheehan, “is the first International president from Minnesota in over a century,” Cheri said. “We know Brian and his wife Lori, and knew he would ride on the float in the parade, and we wanted to watch.”

“Cheri had talked about going out to California,” Mike said, “to see some relatives, so we figured, ‘What the heck. Let’s go out there and help on the float too. That should be fun.’”

Cheri echoed the thought: “We figured it might be a good time. The Lions Club International is always looking for volunteers to work on the float.”

The first Lions float in the Rose Bowl parade happened in 1948, and the float has appeared in every Rose Bowl since 1992.

Lions Cheri and Mike Appel, Lion Lori Harr Sheehan, Lions Clubs International President Brian Sheehan, Lion Linda Molenda and Past International Director Mike Molenda stand in front of the float in progress. Contributed photo

Mike has been a Lion’s member since 1984, and Cheri joined in 2001. They are currently members of the Avon Hills Lions in Avon, where they do different kinds of volunteer work--like working on the Lions‘ float.

Planning for this year’s Lions’ Rose Bowl float began in February.

“During those 10 months, they create a design, create a structure, and (plan the) vegetation,” said Cheri.

The cost of the float runs over $200,000 each year. The money is raised from donations nationwide,” said Cheri. “Everyone wants to have a unique float.”

The Appels worked in a huge refrigerated warehouse assembling the Lions’ float among seven others, including the Honda float, which led the parade. “The refrigeration was not on while we were there because it was very cool,” Cheri said.

Since February 2022, more than 800 volunteers worked on the Lions’ float, Mike said. “A total of 20 were working on the float in the warehouse. Some people worked several weeks before the parade adding small items not needing refrigeration, like corn husks, seeds, tree bark, and other things that covered the floats up.”

That included the Lions’ logo, which was made out of dried rice, soy beans, and blueberries.

Mike said the floats looked like seed art at the Minnesota State Fair, with the addition of live flowers and plants.

Mike said it was an interesting day.

One of Cheri’s jobs was to add roses to the Lions Club International float. Contributed photo

“We started at 8 sharp on Friday, Dec. 30. Flowers shipped in from Ecuador. We worked on an assembly line of boxes of rose, with different people doing different things.” Mike said, “First, the roses had to be unboxed and leaves stripped from the stem. At the next station the roses were cut a certain length, and each one was inserted in a plastic vial with a rubber top and pointed end.”

At the very beginning of the assembly line, Cheri said, “Big plastic 25-gallon pickle buckets had the vials floating in cold water. Before you stuck the roses into the vials you had to make sure they had water in them. Because it was chilly that day, I didn’t want to stick my hands in any water.”

Then the vials with roses in them were stuck into a square foam board.

“That’s the construction foam that is sprayed between building walls, where it expands and hardens,” said Mike. “The flowers had to be stuck in the foam in perfect rows so they could be counted accurately.”

That was done by a rose checker, Cheri said. “He walked around to people sticking roses in the foam pallets, and checked the rows of roses both directions to make sure they were in a straight line. If not, they had to be rearranged. Our pallets held 210 roses in rows of 14 x 15, and when it was full, the board was taken to a tallier who listed the type, color, and number of flowers on each pallet, so if a float wanted 3000 light pink roses they would know how many boards with flowers to send to that float.”

The fresh-cut flowers were placed on the float far enough apart from each other so they could open up in the next two days. Mike said, “You could smell the flowers in the building, but in a couple of days the flower smell would be even stronger.”

About 3 p.m., greenery was added, as well as Folger‘s Coffee, which takes the place of dirt, Cheri said. “The floats need to be 100 percent covered with organic materials, like dried berries--the railings had dried cranberries on them--seeds, grass, bark, dried or live flowers. The Lions’ float had over 19,900 live flowers.”

Each rose had to be placed into a vial with water and then thrust into a pallet before being put onto the float itself. Here Mike performs this duty. Contributed photo

The night before the parade, the drivers stay with their floats overnight, Cheri said.

“I think they sleep in them or nearby until the next day for security reasons. I don’t know what they do about wind or rainstorms. The engine for the float is in back under the stone bridge with the Lions’ emblem on it where we put pink roses. The wheels are beneath the float, with everything built over that, and not a lot of clearance.”

A yellow line was painted down the middle of the 5 ½-mile route of the parade through Pasadena, but because the drivers are hidden, Mike said, “Some drivers are pretty much driving blind.”

Cheri said six people rode on the float -- the Sheehans, and four others.

“They sold raffle tickets and had a drawing for the four other riders. About 10 individuals paid to walk along the float during the parade.”

Mike said he found it curious that after judging the day before the parade, the float had to be driven 12 miles to the parade staging area, “At less than five miles per hour, so it takes over two hours. If no high winds or rain.”

At the very front of the float underneath the orchid tree is a very small grid covered in green vegetation that is about six inches by two feet. That’s where the driver of the float sees and looks through in the parade. The parade route has a yellow line down the center of the road, and that’s what they look for to follow on.

Cheri said, “The 700,000 people who were going to be along the parade route were warned not to set up until 12 p.m. Sunday, or they would be ticketed and fined. Many go out 24 hours in advance to save a spot for the parade. When I heard that I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ It was 43 degrees that night, and that’s darn cold for Pasadena.”

The finished Lions Club International float, completed in time for the big parade. Contributed photo

Traffic was a real problem, Mike said. “We’re not used to that kind of traffic, so finding the warehouse at 8 a.m. was difficult, but we got there on time. We rode a shuttle bus from where we were staying to the front of the parade route, into a horrendous gridlock getting into Pasadena. Took us two hours to go 15 miles, including a half hour at one intersection. No traffic control at all, but we made it with five minutes to spare. Crazy, but we were glad we had reserved seats.”

“But really,” Cheri said, “it was amazing how smoothly everything went.”

Mike said he had never planned on working on the Rose Bowl float, “But I enjoyed it. I’ve watched the Rose Bowl ever since the Minnesota Gophers were in it in 1961 and 1962, though in those years we had to watch at our neighbor‘s because we didn‘t have a TV. I’m fascinated by flowers, but never did I think I would spend a day out there working on the float.”

Cheri said, “Friends and family thought we were nuts to help with the float. But after we returned, and talked about it and showed pictures, they were excited, and amazed, and wanted to know more. We really enjoyed it.”

Mike said he learned that you’re never too old to do what you want.

“If you’ve got something you want to do, go ahead and try it. Take the opportunity and seize the day and do it. Life is too short.”

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