Growing up in Independence, Randy Winship remembers watching the Tournament of Roses parades and thinking it would be fun to help make the bright-colored floats.
When he moved to Pasadena, California in 2003, where today's annual New Year's Day celebration takes place, he asked people around town how one got involved in such a venture.
“Nobody knew. I thought, 'This is Pasadena, how's that possible?” Winship said. “Then one day one of my skating students said, 'I help with that.'”
Winship tells this story after returning home from another marathon decorating session in preparation for today's 130th parade. In the days leading up to the parade, he put in nearly 100 hours as crew chief for the team decorating the City of Hope float, which celebrates the local hospital group. Going by his Facebook posts, his group finished the float sometime late Sunday
Winship's regular job for years has been manager of Pasadena Ice Rink, continuing a career in skating that's taken him to many places around the world. But in December he works 10 days for the Phoenix Decorating Company, which this year is producing 19 floats, supervising dozens of volunteers who will cover “every inch” of the float with various organic materials – various flower or tree parts, whole or ground beans and seeds. This is the 15th float he's worked on in 14 years now.
Winship, who graduated from Truman High School in 1976 and later the UMKC Conservatory of Music, said it's impossible watching the parade on TV to realize and appreciate the meticulous and tedious tasks that go into making the float.
“That's why I keep coming back; the transformation every day is amazing,” he said. That even goes for a couple years last decade when he worked in the Dallas area but would fly back and forth a few weekends in December to lend a hand. He's far from the only person that does so with the floats.
“Part of it is tradition,” Winship said of the volunteer dedication. “There's nothing else like this in the world; such a unique experience.”
One example of that meticulous work: One day this week saw eight people take four hours to cut the greens off seven Christmas trees to create a back deck. Another deck would happen another day.
For the butterfly wings, they use black beans, kidney beans, orange lentils and yellow split peas – all glued in one-by-one.
“We've used so many bottles of glue, and lima beans and navy beans, some people will say, 'I'm never eating a lima bean ever again,'” Winship said.
Other people actually start constructing the float's main structures in March, and they'll do test runs over the summer and fall long before any decorating takes place. Dry materials go first, then the flower parts and in the last couple days the live flowers. This year his float has 54 mache arrangements of flowers, floral trellis designs with more than 10,000 flower stems placed one-by-one into the framework.
The parade will be broadcast live at 10 a.m. on KSHB (41) and KMBC (12).
Winship's float is the 19th unit of 88 to be shown during the broadcast, so he figures it will be shown within the first 15 to 30 minutes of the broadcast.
As for the crew chief, he prefers the up-close view, and his apartment is conveniently near the parade route.
“I just walked down to the corner and watched it,” Winship said of years past.