Local florist and team win top two Rose Parade awards

After traveling to Pasadena, California, 12 years ago to watch the Tournament of Roses Parade, it was on Blake Hackman’s bucket list to go back.

A few years ago, he made acquaintances with Bobby Eldridge, owner of Prestigious Affairs in downtown Seymour who has worked on Rose Parade floats since 2003.

Over the years, Eldridge has taken local people with him to assist with the fresh flower work. This year, it was Hackman’s turn.

“Last year, I couldn’t go because of COVID. It got canceled, and I said, ‘Well, I’m going this year,’” Hackman said. “I broke my ankle, and I said, ‘I’m still going,’ so I went. I couldn’t do much, but I went, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

He was fascinated by the behind-the-scenes work.

“I’m the type of individual that doesn’t enjoy Disney World, but I want to know how they do it,” Hackman said. “When I saw the floats, it was nice to see the floats and everything, but I want to know how they do it. I like to know the inner workings, the way the brain works.”

To top off the experience, Eldridge, Hackman and the team that worked on floats for The UPS Store and the Louisiana Tourism Office won the top two awards in the 133rd Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, which featured 37 floats, 17 marching bands and 17 equestrian units and followed the theme “Dream. Believe. Achieve.”

The UPS Store won the 2022 Sweepstakes Trophy for its entry, “Rise, Shine and Read!” featuring a proud father rooster reading to his family of chicks on a 35-foot-tall, 55-foot-long animated float that demonstrated the importance of literacy. The award goes to the most beautiful entry encompassing float design, floral presentation and entertainment.

The UPS Store also won the parade’s highest honor in 2019 and 2020, and Eldridge worked on those, too.

The Louisiana Tourism Office’s “Feed Your Soul” float, which celebrated the state’s diverse beauty and unique cultures, won the second-highest honor, Wrigley Legacy Award, for most outstanding display of floral presentation, float design and entertainment.

During the parade, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, native Laine Hardy, who won Season 17 of “American Idol” in 2019, and the Hot 8 Brass Band performed on the float.

Both floats were built by Irwindale, California-based Fiesta Parade Floats, which has been a part of the Rose Parade for 33 years. That company had six entries, and all of them earned awards.

“We really do put our heart and soul into our projects,” Eldridge said. “We go 150%-plus or we don’t do it. We have a very large budget, and that makes a big difference when you’ve got great, quality product to work with.”

Floral design and construction were led by President Tim Estes, Floral Director Jim Hynd and a staff of world-renowned float designers and artists.

For the first time, those who did the floral work on the floats were invited to the tournament property to take pictures with the trophy during the awards program.

“That was a highlight for me,” Eldridge said.

Eldridge, who along with his wife, Dawn, now also owns Brownstown Greenhouse and Gifts, was inducted into the American Institute of Floral Designers in 2002. After that, the Crothersville native received the opportunity to sign a contract with Fiesta Parade Floats and has been invited back each year since to assist with the floral work.

Over the years, the floats he has worked on have received numerous awards, which is rewarding because the crew spends at least 12 hours a day the week of the parade working on the floats.

“It’s a labor of love,” Eldridge said. “It starts out kind of slow, and then hurry up and wait because we’re at the mercy of the airlines to bring us our product.”

Since this experience was new to Hackman, he said he asked a lot of questions so he could fully understand the process, and he learned a lot.

The process starts with an artist’s rendering, which has to be approved by the float’s sponsor. Then a floral director decides on the appropriate color and type of flowers to go along with the float’s theme, and it gets bid to a float company.

Hackman said Fiesta Parade Floats’ bids are a little higher because of the quality of the products used.

“They told me it would become obvious, and in the sunlight, it was obvious the amount of flowers that we put on our floats compared to the other float companies,” he said. “They used dried materials, whereas ours was fresh flowers, and it was massive amounts of fresh flowers.”

Each float has steel rods that hold up the large features, and then the people placing the dry material go to work, while those placing the fresh flowers add the finishing touches.

Of the seven people doing the fresh flowers on the UPS and Louisiana floats, three are floral designers: Eldridge, Michael Gaddie and Tammy Middleton.

“What amazed me is you’d sit there and you’d look at a bare spot, they would talk for five minutes and an hour later, the whole darn thing would be done,” Hackman said. “You wanted to stay out of the way because stems were literally flying. They are just so freakin’ talented. It amazed me the talent that they have.”

Seeing it all come together fascinated Hackman.

“It was much more impressive than what I thought it would be, and the feeling was much more impressive to know that you started with a blank canvas,” he said. “If (the floral designers) didn’t like something, they pulled it and replaced it with something else and they made changes away from the artist’s concept because it didn’t work, but they made it the best it could be.”

Eldridge said he’s glad they took the top two awards because it’s something Hackman will never forget.

“Next year, I go back and we’ll push hard hoping to get it again,” Eldridge said.

Hackman said he would be up for going again.

“If they ask me, yes because I’d tag along,” he said, smiling.