City native builds float for Rose Parade

While millions of people around the nation ushered in the new year sitting in front of their televisions watching the Tournament of Roses parade, one valley native had a birds-eye view not just of the parade, but of what goes into putting the event together in the days and weeks prior to Jan. 1.

Edythe DeMarco, 88, of Williamsport, called her trip to Burbank, California, an “experience of a lifetime.”

DeMarco spent a month and a half in Burbank visiting her daughter and son-in-law, Cheryl and Timothy Wilkins, this past fall. Though the trip was, first and foremost, a chance to spend time with family, but also to be a part of something unique and interesting.

She made the journey to work as a volunteer on the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association float entry, “Stompin’ Good Time.”

Wilkins works for the City of Burbank and is a member of its Tournament of Roses Association. She purchased tickets to the parade months in advance.

This was the city’s 87th entry into the 130 year tradition.

The Pasadena Tournament of Roses began in 1890 as a promotional effort by Pasadena’s distinguished Valley Hunt Club, who’s members were looking for ways to promote the “Mediterranean of the West.” They invited their former East Coast neighbors to a mid-winter holiday, where they could watch games such as chariot races, jousting, foot races, polo and tug-of-war.

The abundance of fresh flowers, even in the midst of winter, prompted the club to add a parade to precede the competition, asking entrants to decorate their carriages with hundreds of blooms.

Throughout the years floats have become more elaborate and many now feature high-tech computerized animation and natural materials from around the world. A few floats, like the one DeMarco worked on, are still built exclusively by volunteers from their sponsoring communities, but most are built by professional float building companies and take nearly a year to construct.

The 2019 Tournament of Roses Parade featured dozens of floats, equestrian units with approximately several hundred horses, as well as many marching bands.

In the case of the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association entry, float designs are chosen via a contest open to everyone. Designs are presented to the general membership and a winner is chosen. Building the float typically begins in June and the finishing touches are put on in the weeks and days prior to the parade. That’s where volunteers like DeMarco come in.

This year’s float design, “Stompin Good Time,” was created by Brian Cozakos and Adam Ostegard, to fit the parade’s theme of “The Melody of Life,” and features various animals playing instruments and enjoying time spent together.

Hundreds of volunteers help pull the float together — welding, carving, decorating and screening. DeMarco and her daughter were put to work dismantling large pine cones.

“Our job was to use clippers to cut the scales off the cones,” she said.

Those scales were tossed into a box and later would be used to craft an owl that sat on the roof of the cabin. DeMarco said while the job wasn’t hard, per-say, it was at times difficult to use the clippers.

“We sat inside a huge building with hundreds of volunteers,” she said.

What DeMarco found fascinating about the float building process was that every inch must be covered in natural materials.

“Everything had to be made with flowers, seeds, grass and things that are from nature,” she said.

As a master gardener herself, she especially enjoyed viewing the floats and seeing the floral creations.

Though the weather was a bit chilly — just 35 degrees the day of the parade — DeMarco said it was a “spectacular” experience that she would love to do again someday.

“It was a good education on the history of the parade,” she said. “It was a wonderful opportunity.”

As if the experience itself wasn’t enough, DeMarco was happy to learn that the“Stompin Good Time” float took home the award for “most outstanding use of animation.”

When she isn’t volunteering for one of the most viewed events on national television, DeMarco is active at the RiverWalk senior Center in South Williamsport. She also enjoys gardening, caring for her home, writing letters, spending time with her family, cooking, baking and spending time with her beloved Maine Coon.

DeMarco has four children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.