Local florist and her 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 wish list to go back.

A few years ago, he met Bobby Eldridge, owner of Prestigious Affairs in downtown Seymour who has been working on the floats for the Rose Parade since 2003.

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

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

He was fascinated by the work behind the scenes.

“I’m the type of person who doesn’t like Disney World, but I want to know how they do it,” Hackman said. “When I saw the tanks, it was nice to see the tanks 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 the floats for The UPS Store and the Louisiana Tourist Board won the top two prizes at the 133rd Rose Parade on New Years Day, which consisted of 37 floats, 17 marching bands and 17 equestrian units and followed the theme “Dream. To believe. To achieve.”

The UPS Store won the 2022 competition trophy for its entry, “Rise, Shine and Read! featuring a proud rooster father reading to his family of chicks on a lively 35ft high and 55ft long chariot that demonstrated the importance of literacy. The prize is awarded to the best 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 there as well.

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

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

Both floats were built by Fiesta Parade Floats, based in Irwindale, Calif., Which has been part of the Rose Parade for 33 years. This company had six entries, and all of them won awards.

“We really put all of our heart and soul into our projects,” Eldridge said. “We’re going over 150% or we’re not. We have a really big budget, and that makes a big difference when you have a great, quality product to work with.

The floral design and build was led by President Tim Estes, Floral Director Jim Hynd, and a team 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 grounds to take photos with the trophy during the awards program.

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

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

Over the years, the floats he worked on have received numerous awards, which is gratifying as the crew spend at least 12 hours a day during the parade week working on the floats.

“It’s a labor of love,” Eldridge said. “It’s starting a bit slow, 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 that he could fully understand the process and learned a lot.

The process begins with an artist rendering, which must be approved by the float sponsor. Then a floral director decides on the appropriate color and type of flowers to accompany the theme of the float, and it is suggested to a float company.

Hackman said Fiesta Parade Floats offerings are a bit higher due to the quality of the products used.

“They told me it would become obvious, and in the sun it was obvious the amount of flowers we were putting on our floats compared to other float companies,” he said. “They were using dried materials, while ours were fresh flowers, and it was massive amounts of fresh flowers.”

Each float has steel rods that support the large items, and then the people who place the dry material get to work, while those who place the fresh flowers add the finishing touches.

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

“What amazed me is you would sit there and look at a naked place, they would talk for five minutes and an hour later it was all over,” Hackman said. “You wanted to stay away because the rods were literally flying. They are so talented. It amazed me how talented they are.

Seeing it all come together fascinated Hackman.

“It was a lot more impressive than I expected, and it felt a lot more impressive knowing that you started off with a blank canvas,” he said. “If (the floral designers) didn’t like something, they would take it out and replace it with something else and they would change the concept of the artist because it didn’t work, but they did it best. possible.”

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

“Next year I’m going back and we’re going to push hard in hopes of getting it again,” Eldridge said.

Hackman said he would be ready to go again.

“If they ask me, yes because I will accompany them,” he said with a smile.

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