Peggy McKibben is one of those women who fit beautifully in the background. She never pushes her way forward and is always smiling, always pleasant. You might have met her if Dr. Dunbar was your dentist; she worked for him for eight years. Or you might have talked to her, or seen her in her corner office at the Spooner location for the Shell Lake State Bank. She held a position there for twenty-four years. She's now retired.
One place you probably wouldn't expect to see her would be in a vast California warehouse right before New Year's Day putting thousands of roses in their vials of water, or gluing rice onto a float. It came as a surprise to her too. Normally a happy homebody and bank employee, in 2010 Peggy's brother, a Lutheran pastor invited her to go on a tour. His church group was going to visit Egypt and Israel, and ending at the Easter Passion Play that is performed every ten years in Oberammergau, Germany. He assured her that assorted family members would be attending too, so she said, "Okay." She had a wonderful time.
In 2015, she responded to an invitation from a cousin to go Cruising the Caribbean countries of Haiti and Jamaica. She said yes again and had a marvelous time. Then, just this past year at the end of August, one of her good friends, who happened to be born in the same local hospital a day after Peggy, asked if she and another friend would like to go to Pasadena to work on a float and see the Rose Parade. Peggy said yes.
They left on Friday, December 28 for a long travel day. Saturday they rested and did a bit of sightseeing. On Sunday they were to report to the warehouse at 8a and work until 4p. The ladies volunteered their services through Petal Pushers which is an organization under The Lutheran Hour Ministries which is under the umbrella of International Lutheran Laymen's League. The Lutheran Hour Ministries contracts with Phoenix Decorating Company to provide help with decorating their floats. This year Phoenix had 10 floats. Around 4,500 volunteers come to decorate the floats. Since they are volunteers, any money Phoenix would pay for their work, is given to The Lutheran Hour Ministries and that goes toward their float.
This Rose Parade, the Lutheran Laymen's League, who sponsor the Lutheran Hour, which can be heard each Sunday morning locally at 9a. over WJMC-FM 96.1, were once again sponsoring their annual float in the parade, this year's with the title, Joy to the World.
It was to feature a crown, a cross, and a nativity scene complete with doves and a full choir in their robes. When the ladies found out there was to be a Sunday service at 7:30a, at the same warehouse where they would be working after the ceremony, they decided to go and were pleasantly surprised that the pastor was Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, the Lutheran Hour Ministries speaker.
The service was held between the unfinished floats. When it was time to begin working, some volunteered for the scaffolding jobs, some for the detail work and others for positions in the flower tent. There were about 300 volunteers in total. The three volunteers went to the flower tent, and Peggy remembers the smell of roses was almost overwhelming, but only for the first fifteen minutes, then it all but disappeared.
Their roses came in "bricks," that is, a box that was four layers deep with every other row staggered, so the rose heads never touched. Each brick contained two dozen roses. The people who were working in a long row were to fill the vials with water and attach their rubber caps. Then they opened their bricks, stripped the leaves and cut the thorns and the stems. The stems were to be cut at a forty-five-degree angle and shortened to five inches long. The vial was then pushed onto the rose, not the other way around with the rose pushed into the vial so the roses would not be damaged.
The roses they were working with were a vibrant orange, and later on, they were still of an orange hue, but a softer orange. These 'finished' roses were to be packed in exact rows in their final boxes, most of the boxes were fifteen roses by twenty roses. When lunchtime rolled around, the women, who had packed continually for hours, had done only a small portion of the number of roses to be done. There were lots of catering trucks outside, but Petal Pushers had arranged a lunch from Pizza Hut for their workers. After lunch, Peggy, who was not one to settle for just processing roses all day, asked if they could move to something inside the warehouse where twenty of the floats were being finished. The powers that be said, sure. After all, these people, most of them local residents, were volunteers and could go home if they so choose, so the afternoon was run a bit loser.
The trio was assigned to work on Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day float titled "Garden Fresh." If you saw the parade, you might remember that this was the float that was covered in pumpkins, apples, chrysanthemums and asparagus fern. There were two real fruit trees in the front, one an apple, the other a lemon.
Again, if you watched the parade, the women worked on the camera side of the float. They were the ones who visited the 'glue station' in the middle of the warehouse and were assigned one of the six different types of glue. When they returned to their float with their glue pot and brush, they were to cover the piece of what looked like PVC pipe bent to look like a scalloped top of a fence with glue. They then took their flat sponge, dipped it in the crushed rice and applied it by squeezing the sponge around the pipe. When that was all covered, they went back and applied the rice powder on top of the crushed rice. Twenty people were working on the float, all in various gluey jobs, working from the top of the float down to the bottom. The three women spend three hours on their sections of fence.
The couple working on the large flowers needed two hours to apply individual petals to the flowers, not having to worry about attaching the seeds because anything like seeds, nuts or fiber had been applied days before. It was only the fresh flowers that needed to be applied at the last minute.
When their day was finally over, it was up to the next shift to finish it. They came on at 4p, and they were to work until it was done, even if it went well into the wee hours of the morning.
The next day, Monday, the floats would be judged. The following day New Year's Day, the women arrived in town early in the morning because the parade started at 8a. It was a brisk fifty-five degrees when they arrived, but as the day lengthened, the temperature went up. They found their assigned bleacher seats which were 45 minutes from the start, so they waited. It was thrilling to see the floats and hear the bands. According to their souvenir books, there were eighty-eight entrees. Everything ran smoothly until the very end when several bands came down the street out of order and the Chinese American Heritage Foundation float, the huge one featuring two train engines facing each other, never came down at all. When what everyone thought was the last band passed by, they, like so many other hundreds of people left. It was around 11a.
They wandered down the street and stopped at a Subway to grab a bite. While they were walking, down to the Subway, a float went by all by itself. They'd never seen that float before. Not long after that, another new float made its way through the crowds and passed them by. Needless to say, they had no idea that the extra-long Chinese American float had caught on fire and was blocking the last two floats from proceeding down the street. The bands made it through, but there was no room for the last two floats to pass. When the women were well into their sandwiches, almost an hour after the parade had disbanded, they heard music. Unbelievably, the Swedish Armed Forces/Royal Swedish Navy Band went proudly marching by in their snappy white and blue uniforms playing their instruments. They were the last, but they were not going to be the least.
Finally, the Chinese American float came by too.
Peggy is home now from her whirlwind trip. She's seen Hollywood from the tour bus, the Queen Mary that's become a hotel and docked in Long Beach and dolphins playing and whales feeding. She and her two friends saw all the sites and heard all the sounds of our neighbor to the west, and personally worked on a float that was in the very Rose Parade, 2019.
You would think that Peggy would be experiencing a major let-down from going ninety miles an hour to her quiet home in the country with her husband, Randy. Instead, she's busy back using her long-arm quilting machine, quilting her own creations and the creations of others. Creating a thing of beauty out of fabric that arrived as a quilt top, filler and backing is great fun to Peggy. Being a woman who enjoys detail, this is right down her alley.
Her Celebrations Quilts business is her version of retirement, and she's currently taking orders for a variety of various services which includes long-arm quilting, T-Shirt Quilts, and Photo Transfer Quilts. If this is something that interests you, further information on her quilt services are available by, calling 715-645-2401
Now when the snow starts to fly in earnest, and the house is quiet, except for the soft hum of her machine, her fun-on-the-run trip is only a short memory away, the time when she was a part of history at the Rose Parade.
About The Author
Diane is a features writer for DrydenWire.com. She started her fifteen-year career as a features writer for the Washburn County Register and has written for assorted newspapers and national magazines. She has also just released the third novel in her Chicago series of books – Scott Free in Chinatown. You can visit Diane's website at www.dianedryden.com or her facebook page at facebook.com/authordianedryden.