HomeCommunity NewsDavid Laurell: Burbank Float Emerges From Cocoon at Rose Parade

David Laurell: Burbank Float Emerges From Cocoon at Rose Parade

The year was only a few hours old as Tournament of Roses President Alex Aghajanian stood on the front steps of Pasadena’s Tournament House to announce which floats in the 135th Rose Parade would be adorned with a judge’s award.

This is, perhaps, the most stressful time of the entire year for float builders as they wait to see if the creations they have been working on for the previous 12 months have been judged as being something really special by a trio of panelists.

Those minutes went by like hours for Linda Cozakos, the president of the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association (BTORA), as she had to remind herself to breathe as her fingers tuned a light blue, not from the morning chill, but from keeping them so tightly crossed.

Cozakos’ shallow breathing and finger crossing rapidly turned to exhaled excitement and applause as she learned this year’s BTORA entry, the Richard Burrow-designed “Caterpillar Melody,” had been graced with the Mayor’s Award for most outstanding float from a participating city.

“I really felt good about this float,” said Cozakos. “Everything about it fit in perfectly with this year’s parade theme ‘Celebrating a World of Music: The Universal Language.’”

It had only been 13 hours earlier that Cozakos greeted Heather de Kok, Judith Nakamura and Richard Schulhof, who served as the 2024 judges for the Tournament of Roses to BTORA’s headquarters on the Burbank Water and Power lot.

This year’s judges — Nakamura, a retired chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, de Kok, the founder of Canada’s Maple Leaf Cup Floral Design Competition who has also worked as an adviser at the Interflora World Cup of Flowers, and Schulhof, the deputy director of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum and former CEO of the Los Angeles County Arboretum — were given five minutes to peruse the Burbank entry.

Linda Cozakos, sporting patches representing the 51 floats she has worked on, gave a final look at “Caterpillar Melody” before the judges arrived.

Charged with judging floats in this year’s parade, the trio bestowed the awards based on creative design, outstanding presentation of the parade’s theme, floral artistry, and artistic excellence. “Caterpillar Melody” was one of 24 floats that won awards in 2024.

While the float’s attributes were visible to the judges, what they didn’t see is the same thing that would not be seen by the millions of television viewers the following day — the years of experience it takes to lead a team of volunteers to build a winning float.

Among those who have dedicated decades to creating the annual Burbank Rose Parade entries were Cozakos, who sported a white work coat that bore patches representing the 51 floats she has worked on; Steve Edward and Janet Diel who have each logged more than 35 years of volunteerism; Erik C. Andersen, who was marking his 41st year as a “petal pusher”; and former BTORA President Ernie LeBleu, who has been involved since 1989.

“I have been having some trouble with my legs, so I haven’t been actively involved for several years,” said LeBleu, who was celebrating her birthday on New Year’s Eve. “But this year they asked me to come back to do the butterfly which is my specialty. I did, but I found that in order to accomplish it I had to ask for help, which I’ve never had to do before. I feel that was the lesson I needed to learn for 2024, that there’s nothing wrong with putting your ego aside and asking for help when you need it.”

After the judges left, the organization’s committee members, volunteers and community members were invited to gather around the 45-foot-long float that sported more than 40,000 flowers, as local leaders such as state Sen. Anthony Portantino, Vice Mayor Nikki Pérez, Council members Tamala Takahashi and Zizette Mullins, City Manager Justin Hess and Assistant City Manager Courtney Padgett placed ceremonial roses on the float.

If you would like to see “Caterpillar Melody,” which was one of six self-built floats in last week’s parade, it is on display through the weekend at 141 N. Glenoaks Blvd. adjacent to the Wells Fargo building. You can also get involved in the creation and building of next year’s float by visiting burbankrosefloat.com.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino and float designer Richard Burrow were on hand for the New Year’s Eve judging.
Vice Mayor Nikki Pérez places a red rose on the float.
Judges from the Tournament of Roses were welcomed by Linda Cozakos and her team.
With a little help, Ernie LeBleu created the float’s butterfly.
City Manager Justin Hess and Assistant City Manager Courtney Padgett each placed a rose on “Caterpillar Melody.”
Councilwoman Zizette Mullins doing some dignitary design work on the city’s float.
Councilwoman Tamala Takahashi wishes “Caterpillar Melody” well before leaving Burbank for Pasadena.
Judge Richard Schulhof took notice of many details on “Caterpillar Melody.”

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

First published in the January 6 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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