Obama White House florist is among judges who give top honor to first presidential float in parade history; jelly bean-loving President Reagan depicted in seeds & rice...
Pasadena, California: The centennial celebration of President Ronald Reagan's birth on Feb. 6 officially begins today, and a gorgeous float in his honor, created from flowers and foodstuffs, wowed the cheering revelers lining the three-hour-long route for the Tournament of Roses Parade. Now in its 122nd year, the Rose Parade is America's biggest New Year's Day fiesta, and the Reagan Centennial Celebration Float was awarded the National Trophy for "best depiction of life in the United States, past, present or future." (Above: The float, mid-parade)
The fortieth president was famously known for his love of jelly beans, and California's Jelly Belly Candy Co. sponsored the float for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. It was the first-ever presidential float to grace the parade, according to the Foundation. (Above: The front view of the float during the parade)
Retired White House florist Nancy Clarke anchored this year's panel of float judges. She designed the lovely floral creations at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue during the first five months of President Obama's administration--and for President Reagan's White House.
Food and flowers...
The float featured 11 "photo" panels made from onion seed, poppy seed and rice, which depicted President Reagan's life from boyhood to movie star to president. First Lady Nancy Reagan was, of course, also depicted on the photo panels. The float was 55 feet long, 26 feet high, and 18 feet wide, and decorated with more than 65,000 roses and other flowers. In 1986, President Reagan named red roses as America's National Flower. (Above: The panels on the float, photographed in the Pasadena warehouse where it was finished by volunteers)
A replica of the statue of President Reagan that sits in front of the US Capitol, made from flax seed, was at the front of the float. A huge eagle spread its wings at the back, created from ironed magnolia blossoms and flax husks. Jars of centennial Presidential Jelly Bellys, like those that were given as gifts by the Reagan White House, were featured on the float, too. (Above)
This year's parade theme was "Building Dreams, Friendships and Memories," and the Reagan float was fronted with a placard created from poppy seeds that read "Ronald Reagan Inspired Freedom Changed The World." President Reagan served two terms in the nation's highest office, following two terms as Governor of California. He passed away on June 5, 2004. According to a White House spokesman, President Obama, currently on vacation in Hawaii, is in the midst of reading the bio “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime” by Lou Cannon. (Above: The front of the float, featuring the statue in flax seeds and the placard)
The National Trophy...
Clarke (left) was joined by co-judges Kirk Hendrix and Debbie Turner, and awarded the National Trophy to the Reagan float from a field of 47 entries, created by float artisans who had traveled from as far as China to compete. Clarke retired from the Obama White House in May of 2009, after a 30-year reign that included all the floral designs for the Bush, Clinton, Carter and Reagan presidencies. She also created the floral designs for the Camp David Accords during the Carter Administration, the Russian Summit during the Reagan Administration, the NATO 50th Anniversary Summit during the Clinton Administration, and finally, the flower designs for First Lady Michelle Obama's White House events. Clarke was replaced by current bloom chief Laura Dowling.
This year's Rose Parade featured a foodie Grand Marshal: TV personality, chef and cookbook author Paula Deen (l). The yearly extravaganza features a Rose Queen and her court, marching bands, dance teams, and equestrian teams, in addition to the floats. It is telecast live to more than 200 countries. It comes ahead of the collegiate Rose Bowl, which today matches Texas Christian University against University of Wisconsin.
"I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to be a part of such a special American tradition that brings such joy to so many every year," Deen said.
Above: An artist's rendering of the float before it was built, from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.
*Top photo by Rick Rockhill; other photos from Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation; Clarke photo created by ABC News in 2009; Deen photo from Tournament of Roses Parade