Traveling to California to help with floral design work on a couple of Tournament of Roses Parade floats has become a routine for Seymour business owner Bobby Eldridge.
While he recently did that for the 15th straight year, Eldridge got a new opportunity.
Just 10 days after returning from California, he was packing his bags and boarding a plane to head to Washington, D.C., to do floral design work for presidential inauguration events.
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“It truly was an honor,” said Eldridge, who owns Prestigious Affairs in downtown Seymour with his wife, Dawn.
“Just being able to mark it off the bucket list, I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” he said. “It truly was an experience I will never forget. It was something.”
Being inducted into the American Institute of Floral Designers in 2002 helped Eldridge, a Crothersville native, earn the opportunity to sign a contract with Fiesta Parade Floats, which enters floats in the annual parade before the Rose Bowl college football game in Pasadena, California.
“The first year was one of those, ‘You prove your abilities. Then if we like you, we’ll invite you back,’” Eldridge said. “We’ve been invited back, and it’s just a given for the last 16 years.”
Stanley Meyer, one of the lead designers, comes up with conceptual drawings that have to be approved by the sponsor of each float.
After each float is built, design teams spend a few days arranging the flowers.
“You take the concept and make it real based upon our abilities as artists,” Eldridge said. “Based upon the conceptual idea and the drawings, we do walkthroughs and an explanation of the color palettes and design ideas. Then once that walkthrough is done, we are turned loose to make it come to life.”
Eldridge always has been hands-on with the floral work, but in the last 10 years, he also has taken on the role of a design leader.
This year, he led a team of about 15 people. He has worked with some of them for several years, and he also is able to invite someone local to go with him. This year, it was Mary Eglen.
“Over the years, we have built great teams and great friendships and relationships across the country,” he said. “We meet up there, and I, for the most part, have the same structure. The people change a little bit every year, but I do have a small core group of about five that are always the same.”
They arrived Dec. 26 and worked through Dec. 30 in a warehouse in Irwindale, which is about 15 miles from Pasadena. They worked at least 12 hours each day.
Eldridge’s team worked on the Northwestern Mutual and Lucy Pet Foundation floats. Of Fiesta Parade Floats’ 12 entries, those two were the largest, he said.
This was his third straight year working on the Northwestern Mutual float. That company sponsors the Rose Bowl game.
“My team has had that one for three years because they like our work,” he said. “Once you put a good design team with a good sponsor, then we very rarely change because every year, they look forward to us coming back, and they know our work, and they know what it’s going to look like. All we’ve got to do is get the concept.”
This year’s theme was “Waves of Hope,” and the float won the animation trophy. It was designed around a young girl and her mother who are fighting cancer together. The girl sat on a wave with dolphins leaping around her. The front part of the float contained a sandcastle, a starfish, an oyster shell, a crab, a couple of beach balls and a large pelican sitting on a beach pail.
All of the features were made of either flowers or organic materials. The float was 22 feet tall, 18 feet wide and 55 feet long.
“When you look at the girl on the float, it was the spitting image of the little girl, so it was really kind of cool, very, very, very emotional, of course,” Eldridge said.
The Lucy Pet Foundation’s “Gnarly Crankin’ K9 Wave Maker” won the extraordinaire trophy and was certified by Guinness World Records as the longest and heaviest single-chassis float in parade history.
At 126 feet long and 148,250 pounds, it featured an on-board wave machine that generated waves on which eight dogs surfed the length of a 90-foot-long tank containing more than 8,000 gallons water. The dogs were chosen after a nationwide search.
The float was 24 feet tall, and Eldridge said if it was stood up on its end, it would have been 12 stories tall.
“It was the largest one I’ve ever done in my life. It was huge,” he said. “It took a while. Plus, it was so large and we had so many obstacles with that particular float because of the weight.”
Going from concept to completion with both floats, Eldridge said it was “mind-blowing.”
“We start with nothing. We start with a bare shell drawing and blank slate, and we go from that concept to bringing it to life,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to see the progression of that. When it’s done, on my gosh. That’s always what I look forward to is seeing it done, the completion.”
Eldridge was excited to see the floats receive awards and set records.
“The company that we work with, we get a huge amount of trophies because our work, I feel, is just one step above everybody else’s,” he said. “We’re the premier float builder.”
The day of the parade, Fiesta Parade Floats provided seating for Eldridge and his team. Overall, this year’s parade had 94 entries that traveled the five-mile route, which ends at the Rose Bowl.
Millions of people attended the parade or watched it on television.
“The first few years, it was really exciting, and it still gets exciting, and we look forward to it, but it’s just a routine now,” Eldridge said. “The company we work for is absolutely wonderful. They are really good to us, so it’s kind of family-oriented. We have a real good time there.”
The presidential inauguration opportunity came about in July 2016 when he was working with fellow florist Michael Gaddie in Anaheim, California.
They also traveled together to work on the Tournament of Roses Parade floats and over the years had expressed interest in doing flowers for a presidential inauguration.
“We were approached if we were interested in doing the presidential inauguration, and we said, ‘Yes,’” Eldridge said. “We made the commitment in July not knowing the outcome of the election because at that point, it didn’t matter because we were to do a job.”
They signed their work and confidentiality contracts Dec. 31, and then arrived in the nation’s capital Jan. 15.
Eldridge and Gaddie were joined by a group of people from New York to do on-site design and flowers for five of President Donald Trump’s events at Union Station, including a chairman’s event, a candlelight dinner for his private donors and three inaugural balls.
The candlelight dinner featured 250 tables for 1,500 people, and each table had a bouquet of more than 800 white roses. The chairman’s event had centerpieces of red roses. They also put up 20-foot-tall cypress trees.
“The floral pieces and room designs were quite an artistic accomplishment,” Eldridge said. “The vast number of flowers used was astronomical, and the designs were each unique for each event.”
To end the week, they attended the inauguration of Trump and his vice president, former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, on Jan. 20.
“It was emotional, it really was, especially during (Trump’s) inaugural speech because he really put forth some huge goals,” Eldridge said. “Just to be there with everything going on, it was really neat. It was really cool.”
Eldridge said he plans on being involved in future inauguration events.
“They were very pleased with what we did,” he said. “I think whenever the next inauguration comes around, I’m sure I’ll be involved in that to some degree. I’m almost positive I will be invited back.”
With the parade and the inauguration, Eldridge said he’s proud to represent Seymour and his business.
“I try to keep us on the map when I can,” he said, smiling. “You hear about so much in the world, but when you can say, ‘This is my town, and I know this guy,’ it’s always good to be able to keep our town involved because really, I was there, but I was representing Seymour.”