Pasadena’s Rose Parade and the Donate Life Float

Donate Life Float

The Rose Parade is one of the most iconic events in the United States. It is held annually on, or just after, New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California and features elaborate floats, marching bands, and equestrian units. After a couple years of being canceled because of the COVID Pandemic, the 2023 Tournament of Roses Parade is finally back. It is a spectacular event, with thousands of people attending and millions more tuning in to watch on television.

I had previously been to the parade, and Rose Bowl game, ten years previously but this parade was unique. There would be one special float that included facial portraits depicting individuals that had donated their organs. Donate Life America is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization leading its national partners and Donate Life State Teams to increase the number of donated organs, eyes and tissues available to save and heal lives through transplantation while developing a culture where donation is embraced as a fundamental human responsibility.

My friend Tina, who I’ve known for over 40 years, had a life changing event which happened only two years earlier. Early, one school-day morning, Tina had not heard from her two daughters on what they wanted for breakfast. After going upstairs to awaken them, she found the door to her youngest daughter Leah’s room locked. After repeatedly calling out for her, Tina, and her oldest daughter Kira, used a key to make their way into Leah’s room only to find that she had committed suicide.  Kira, who just received her first-aide certification, began preforming CPR on Leah, which helped keep Leah’s body alive, and she was rushed by ambulance to the hospital.

Afterwards, the doctors told Tina that Leah’s brain had no activity, and Tina and her family had to make the tragic decision of taking Leah off life support. Leah had previously told her mother that she wanted to be an organ donor, and her mother fulfilled her wish in her passing. Leah was only 16 years old. Her mother found Leah’s journal where she stated she was often bullied at school and was under the stress from the COVID pandemic lockdown. Basically, Leah was overwhelmed.  The Suicide and Crisis phone Lifeline is 988 and if you know someone that is contemplating suicide you can contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Hospitals will offer organizations, like Donate Life America, to those who may consider organ donation. It is estimated that nearly 50,000 people in the US die while awaiting an organ donor. Leah’s donation not only helped many others, she also saved the life of an 18-month old baby girl in California who needed a heart ventricle to survive.

Leah Roca Wahl
Leah Wahl

Having been in contact with Tina over this tragic period, she reached out to tell me that her daughter Leah would be honored with a float, for Donate Life America, in the 2023 Tournament of Roses Parade. Donate Life America commissioned a float to be made for all those with unique stories that had helped others over the past years during the pandemic. Donate Life America took care of all the expenses needed to fly out Tina and her family to California and also send someone to help create the portrait that would adorn the beautiful float which was named “Lifting Each Other Up”.

I made sure that my wife Sheri and I attended the event and went through the task of securing a room at the Arroyo Vista Inn in Pasadena and  purchasing grandstand seats with Tina’s family through the One Legacy Foundation. There are many ways to travel to the parade; by car, shuttle bus or walking to it. The parade stretches several miles. Since we decided to go by car, we rented a room, using AirBnB close by to the parade route, and paid preciously to have a parking spot reserve near our seats. While bringing the car took a lot of research and preparation, we wanted the ability to come and go as we pleased. The parade is well managed. There are street police and guides everywhere to direct and guide the traffic to your destination. The streets are marked or closed very early in the morning and no traffic is allowed to cross the parade route after 6am.

Anyone that has or will be attending a Rose Parade realizes that it is an international event. The Rose Parade is more than just a festive event. It is a cultural and historical phenomenon that has become an important part of American identity. Millions of people from around the world tune in to watch the parade, and for those who attend in person, it is an experience of a lifetime. It is a very well managed and organized event.

A little History of the Rose Parade

The first Rose Parade was held in 1890 as a way to promote the winter weather in California. At the time, many people on the East Coast and Midwest believed that California was too cold and inhospitable for winter travel. To dispel these rumors, members of the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club organized a parade featuring horse-drawn carriages decorated with flowers and greenery.

The parade was a success, and it became an annual event. In 1902, the Tournament of Roses Association was formed to oversee the parade and other New Year’s Day festivities. The first Rose Bowl football game was held in 1902, and it quickly became a popular tradition.

Over the years, the Rose Parade has grown in size and spectacle. In the early years, the floats were made of simple materials such as burlap and chicken wire. Today, the floats are made of steel frames covered in thousands of flowers and other natural materials.

In addition to the floats, the parade features marching bands and equestrian units from all over the world. The bands are selected through a rigorous audition process, and only the best are invited to participate. The equestrian units include everything from rodeo riders to precision drill teams.

The 2023 Rose Parade

The 2023 Rose Parade was one of the best yet. The theme for the parade was “Echoes of the Past, Visions of the Future.” The organizers chose this theme to honor the rich history of the parade while looking forward to the future.

The floats for the 2023 parade were spectacular. Each year, the floats are designed and built by professional float-building companies. The floats are required to be covered in organic, naturally-friendly materials such as roses, flowers, seeds, and leaves. Many of the float designs are kept secret until the day of the parade but there are tours for those to see the magic-making in action where the floats are assembled.

One of the floats for the 2023 parade featured a replica of the first Rose Bowl football game. The float included a miniature football field with players and cheerleaders made out of flowers. Another float honored the women’s suffrage movement, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2023.

The marching bands for the 2023 parade come from not only the US but other countries such as one from South Korea. The Pasadena City College Tournament of Roses Honor Band also marched in this year’s parade. The Honor Band is made up of students from Pasadena City College and is one of the most prestigious marching bands in the country.

The equestrian units for the 2023 parade were in attendance. These units include the Budweiser Clydesdales, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Mounted Enforcement Detail, and the Norco Cowgirls Rodeo Drill Team.

Tickets for Rose Parades go on sale in the fall of the previous year. They can be purchased online through the Tournament of Roses website or through authorized ticket resellers. Prices for the tickets vary depending on the location of the seats and the type of package purchased.

There are also several ways to watch the parade without purchasing tickets. The parade is televised live on several networks, including ABC, NBC, and Hallmark Channel.

As the parade comes to a close, the grand finale is always something special. The grand finale is a showcase of all the floats and marching bands that have participated in the parade. It is a moment of grandeur and excitement, with music and fireworks lighting up the sky.

The Donate Life America float was awarded the Sweepstakes Trophy, also known as the “Most Beautiful Entry award”,  which encompasses float design, floral presentation and entertainment, according to the ‘winners list‘ by the Rose Parade.

The float was a huge success and it was a great honor for Leah and her family. It was a reminder of the power of organ donation and the importance of giving back to those in need. It was also a reminder of the strength and courage of those who have gone through such a difficult time. The float was a symbol of hope and love, and it was a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is still light and love.

We had a great time watching the parade which helped to celebrate Leah’s life and those that also donate so much to others in need.

Pasadena Tournament of Roses
391 S Orange Grove Blvd
Pasadena, CA 91184
(626) 449-4100

Donate Life America
5516 Falmouth Street, Suite 302
Richmond, VA  23230

Arroyo Vista Inn
335 Monterey Road
South Pasadena, CA 91030
Tel: (323) 478-7300

One thought on “Pasadena’s Rose Parade and the Donate Life Float

  • March 9, 2023 at 8:15 am

    Such a beautiful tribute to Leah and all of the organ donors. The photos are amazing! Michael, the writer of this article, did a fabulous job. So appreciative of those who give their time and volunteer to help make this world a better place. Thank you to all of the families that have chosen the gift of organ donation.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *