For about 15 years, a Seymour businessman has traveled to the West Coast the day after Christmas to put his floral skills to work.
Bobby Eldridge, owner of Prestigious Affairs, helps apply fresh flowers to a float that can be seen during the Tournament of Roses Parade each New Year’s Day before the Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, California.
More than 100 floats are featured in the two-hour event each year.
Eldridge, who is contracted through Fiesta Parade Floats, was assigned this year to create a float for Northwestern Mutual, a financial planning company that also is a sponsor of the Rose Bowl college football game.
As one of the lead designers, Eldridge worked with a team of more than 100 people to place the colors and textures of a multitude of flowers in just the right places, creating a visual impact as it makes its way through to completion.
“Our job is to make it come to life,” the 44-year-old said.
Flowers from around the world, including cymbidium orchids, orchid sprays and tropicals, are just some of those used to decorate the float, creating lush palettes of green, yellow and coral.
“It was absolutely stunning — beautifully done,” he said.
This year, Eldridge’s float won Director’s Trophy for outstanding artistic merit in design and floral presentation.
Though his company usually takes home awards for its work, he called this one was “the icing on the cake.”
“I personally feel it’s the second-most-honorable award, especially when you’re in the floral industry,” he said. “It’s a huge honor for me and for the company.”
For about 20 years, Eldridge has been involved in the floral industry, and in 2002, he was inducted into the American Institute of Floral Designers. Receiving that accreditation makes it possible for him to be hand-picked to work on the floats at the Tournament of Roses.
“It is my passion. I love nature. I love working with my hands. I love creating and designing,” he said. “It gives me a flexibility to use all of those loves.”
Eldridge said he spends up to 80 hours the week before the parade each year working on the float.
“We have a scheduled amount of work we have to do each day to stay on track,” he said. “It’s fun, and it’s intense. It’s very tiring, but the outcome is more beneficial.”
The company he works with constructs 10 to 14 floats each year, using a warehouse in Irwindale, about 20 miles west of Pasadena. The floats range from 55 to 60 feet long and 16 to 50 feet tall — all depending on their mechanics.
Eldridge is assigned to a specific float with a varying style and design every year.
This year, the goal was to have a “very classy” finished product, and Eldridge said they achieved that.
The smell of all the flowers combined?
“It’s awesome,” Eldridge said with a smile.
The night before the parade, Eldridge said the company moves the floats in a caravan — driving about 6 mph — to a location in Pasadena.
On New Year’s Day, he and the other workers gathered together and enjoyed seeing their finished product glide along the parade route.
“It’s emotional to see how we are perceived with the rest of the attendees,” he said.
Eldridge recalled how he once rode on a float through the 5.5-mile trek. He said seeing the reactions of the audience as he passed by was incredible.
“To see the children and see the appreciation that the community pours out, it’s just amazing,” he said.
To see the float from beginning to end, find Northwestern Mutual financial planning on Facebook and see its video.
“It is my passion. I love nature. I love working with my hands. I love creating and designing. It gives me a flexibility to use all of those loves.”
Bobby Eldridge of Seymour, on working on Tournament of Roses Parade floats