Hawkeye fans help build Rose Parade floats

'We were so excited Iowa was going to be here'

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PASADENA, Calif. — Everyone working on an entry for float builder Fiesta Parade Floats in Friday’s 127th Rose Parade has to wear a red jacket per company protocol.

“But I have my Iowa shirt right under it,” said Cynthia Sherman, 68, of Grinnell, one of two Iowans working for Fiesta at this year’s Rose Parade, which will precede the University of Iowa’s first appearance at the Rose Bowl in a quarter century.

Sherman owns Bates Flowers by DZyne in Grinnell and has traveled to California to work for Fiesta during the Rose Parade for six years. But she’s been in it for the flowers, not the football.

Until this year.

“We haven’t gone to the game before, but we are this year,” Sherman told The Gazette. “We were so excited Iowa was going to be here.”

Although Sherman and Iowa City Hy-Vee employee Laurel Hollopeter, 55, of Victor, are the only Iowa residents working for Fiesta — among the largest builders of floats for the parade — others with Iowa ties have their hands involved in the intricate and elaborate floral arrangements on some of the 40-plus parade floats.

And, Sherman said, they all stand out this year.

“Everyone is noticing the Iowa people,” she said.

This is the eighth year Hollopeter has headed west to help prepare floats for the parade, but this will be just his second game.

And he bought the tickets months ago on a hunch.

“When we purchased our tickets back in September, Iowa was doing well and I had this feeling,” he said. “I had an inkling they would be going.”

Hollopeter, a floral manager for Hy-Vee, said his love affair with flowers blossomed decades ago — he began working in the field in 1979 and attended Kirkwood Community College for horticulture. Helping with floral float arrangements was an outgrowth of his passion.

“It was just something I always wanted to do,” he said.

Hollopeter does parade work only once a year — for the Rose Parade — and every float he’s worked on has won some type of prize, including the grand prize sweepstakes.

This year, Hollopeter is working on the Fiesta-backed Dole Packaged Foods float that has chosen the theme “soaring in paradise” in conjunction with the larger parade theme of “Find Your Adventure.” The detailed floral work involves tropical flowers decorated in a sort of jungle motif, with elephants, lions, leopards, and snakes mixed in, Hollopeter said.

According to Rose Parade officials, float preparations actually begin almost immediately after the previous year’s parade ends. The process involves planning, developing a frame of steel and chicken wire and “cocooning” — when the frame is sprayed and then painted in the colors of the fresh flowers planned to be attached later.

According to parade rules, every inch of every float must be covered with flowers or other natural materials, like leaves, seeds or bark.

“Each float is decorated with more flowers than the average florist will use in five years,” according to the parade’s website.

Sherman is working on two Fiesta-backed floats — one for Kiehl’s Since 1851, a cosmetics company, and another for AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The Kiehl’s float, she said, “has a lot going on,” with a mock Mount Everest, Greenland and desert.

“It’s supposed to show their products are good for all types of climates,” she said. “And the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is a very pretty float.”

Sherman arrived in California the day after Christmas and said she doesn’t expect to sleep much before the final judging, scheduled for Thursday morning.

Staying up all night working with roses can be challenging, Sherman said, but there’s nothing like seeing it come together and then put on display for the millions expected to either line the parade route or tune in on TV.

“It’s fun to see everything come together,” she said.

Part of the enjoyment of participating in the Rose Parade, according to Sherman, is working with florists from all over the country. But this year is special because of its closeness to home.

“That was a big bonus on the whole thing,” she said.

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