By Ashley M. Casey
More than a decade ago, when Hannibal High School music teacher Shirley Terrinoni worked in the Mexico School District, she added an item to her “bucket list”: decorate a float for the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year’s Day.
Shirley’s inspiration was her then-coworker, history teacher and travel writer Sandra Scott, who had volunteered with the Petal Pushers to decorate the massive, flower-covered floats.
Since then, it had been a dream of Shirley’s to do the same.
“She’s always wanted to go there. She filled out the online application. When we got accepted, she was pretty excited. I heard her scream,” said Shirley’s husband, marketing strategist Jim Terrinoni.
“I was very excited because I didn’t think they would take everyone (who applied),” Shirley said. But with thousands of volunteers and several floats to decorate, the Petal Pushers will take all the help they can get.
“We’ve done volunteering for about five years,” Jim said. For the Race Across America (RAAM) transcontinental bicycle race, the Terrinonis would travel to Parkersburg, W.Va., to operate a time station from 2003 to 2008.
Once the route changed and different volunteers were involved, they stopped going.
“It was some of the same people, but it wasn’t that core group,” Jim said.
After years of California dreaming, the Terrinonis, who live in Oswego, finally made their trip to Pasadena a reality.
They made the cross-country trek and stayed in Pasadena for a week before New Year’s to help the Petal Pushers.
The Petal Pushers are made up of 4,000 volunteers, ranging from ages 13 to 96, who gather to decorate seven floats for the Rose Parade.
The most famous of these floats is the one sponsored by Lutheran Hour Ministries in St. Louis, Mo. It is the only Christian float in the Rose Parade.
This year’s theme was “Dreams Come True,” and depicted a church with a grove of trees.
Jim recalled Petal Pushers coordinator Dick Gast joking, “I realize for some of you that putting a single rose on the Lutheran float would be like going to Mecca.”
The Terrinonis were two of the lucky few assigned to work on the LHM float, though they worked on others as well.
Shirley also worked on the “closer” float, or the parade’s final float, which was a giant football covered in palm bark.
“We were fortunate that we ended up on a float that most people wanted to be on,” Jim said.
They were assigned the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift. In some cases, the following evening shift worked through the night to get the floats finished.
“You wouldn’t think that it would happen, but every night when you leave and you know how much has been done, and there’s a second shift that comes in, in the morning you’re truly amazed at what was accomplished. Each person doing a small amount adds up quickly,” Shirley said.
Every surface on the float needed to be covered in flowers, seeds or other plant material.
“I’ve watched the Tournament of Roses Parade many times, and I know that they always tell you that everything has to be covered,” Shirley said. “But until you’re there, you don’t truly realize they mean everything from the trailer hitches to the grates that are over the engine exhaust outlets … All of those have to be covered one line at a time in seeds. Every space has to be done.”
“The judges go through it with a fine-toothed comb to make sure there wasn’t anything that wasn’t covered — not even a half-inch space,” Jim said. “Sometimes, you can’t even look at it because it’s so overwhelming.”
Despite the week of hard work, Jim said that working on the floats was “an enormous amount of fun” and the float designers’ “creativity is mind-boggling.”
“I witnessed the total experience. I’m glad I was there from the beginning when there wasn’t anything on the float to when it was totally finished,” Shirley said of their weeklong stay. “I think if I’d only been there one day, I wouldn’t have gotten the whole experience.”
Some of the families the Terrinonis met had been Petal Pushers for more than a decade.
“I would recommend it to anybody,” he said. “It is definitely a family affair. Outside of Disney, I have never seen … such a diverse population.”
“I would truly love to do it again,” said Shirley, “if I have the chance.”
Would Jim do it again?
“I’m open to thinking about it because it was a good experience. The people were so friendly,” Jim said. “We’ve traveled and done a lot of things, but never anything like this.”