Coming Up Roses

GW senior Stephen Rutgers supervised the design and construction of a float in the 2010 Rose Parade.

January 04, 2010

By Julia Parmley

For most GW students, winter break offers a chance to catch up with family and friends, but senior Stephen Rutgers spent it breaking a Guinness World Record.

Mr. Rutgers supervised the decoration of the Natural Balance Pet Foods float for the 121st Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 1. While planning for the float began in early 2009, Mr. Rutgers and his team had only five days to decorate the float, which featured a snowboarding bulldog and more than 10,000 roses and orchids.

“The float turned out even more beautiful than I imagined,” says Mr. Rutgers. “I first thought it would look like a huge white blob of coconut, but it really came together at the end and looked absolutely amazing. Although I worked more than 100 hours and only slept about five hours in two days leading up to the parade, it was well worth it.”

Launched in 1890, the world-famous Pasadena Tournament of Roses showcases dozens of floats made of flowers and natural materials as well as marching bands and equestrians from across the country. Mr. Rutgers, who is from Murrieta, Calif., has been involved in the parade for more than 15 years through a long-standing family tradition. In 1992, Mr. Rutgers’s oldest sister, Stacey Johnson, began decorating parade floats with her high school drill team as a fundraiser. That year, his grandmother, Mary Ellen Byrne, began decorating floats and took her grandchildren, including Mr. Rutgers, every year.

“I eventually got hired at my current company Fiesta Parade Floats because of the experience I got when I went decorating with my grandma,” says Mr. Rutgers. “She unexpectedly passed away in 2002, so I continue to go every year to keep up her tradition. Every year, I write her name on a rose vial and stick it at the front of the float so she can ride down the parade route.”

This year’s parade was particularly special for Mr. Rutgers. The float broke the Guinness World Record for world’s longest float at 113 feet and 8 inches. The previous record had been 110 feet.

“The float had six operators inside controlling it, and it was amazing to see it drive down the street,” he says. “It was also great to see and hear everyone's reactions. I have heard people who grew up watching the parade say this was their favorite float of all time.”

Calling the parade “the main thing I look forward to every year,” Mr. Rutgers, who has supervised floats for the National Association of Realtors and the City of Palmdale, Calif., says the experience is always an amazing one.

“To say I was in charge of the ‘world's longest float’ and broke the world record is very special and something I will always remember," he says, "especially for the next week, because I think it will take my legs and body that long to recover from walking around the float hundreds of times each day. I can't wait to hear what the company has in mind to top this float next year — maybe surfing dogs or the world's tallest!”