On Christmas Day, Nampa’s Linda Varnes found herself heading down to her former home of Southern California to help with the Herculean effort of creating a float for the 128th Rose Parade.
The trip has become an annual pilgrimage for Varnes since she and her husband, Walt, moved to Idaho in 2000. She’s been volunteering for 34 years with the Lutheran Hour Ministries for its annual Rose Parade float.
“I’ll keep doing it as long as it’s fun,” Varnes said in a phone interview from Pasadena, Calif., the hometown of the historic event.
On Monday, Jan. 2, you can see the float with an Idaho tie during the 128th Tournament of Roses Parade, which airs at 9 a.m. on ABC and NBC. (The game between University of Southern California Trojans and the Penn State Nittany Lions airs on ESPN starting at 3:10 p.m.)
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The parade and game are traditionally on New Year’s Day but because New Year’s falls on a Sunday this year, the events will happen on Monday, Jan. 2.
This year’s float “Echoes of Success” is in the last third of the parade down Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard. It’s a special float, Varnes said, because it celebrates the 100th year of the the Lutheran Hour and the 500th anniversary of The Protestant Reformation that started in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church in Germany.
More than 100,000 flowers adorn this float. The exact details of the floral varieties used are kept secret until parade day, Varnes said.
Over her 34 years, she has helped design about 16 floats during her time with Lutheran Hour Ministries, an organization known for its radio show and for mobilizing a global network of volunteers. Varnes created the design for the stained glass windows on a country church for the 2014 float that won the Princess Trophy for most beautiful float under 35 feet. Last year’s “Jesus, the Light of the World” float was her most recent design.
She got involved in the float organizing committee, a group called the Petal Pushers, through friends when she lived in Orange County, Calif.
“I wanted my kids to have a chance be be involved in the Petal Pushers,” Varnes said. “It’s such a big part of our New Year’s tradition.”
Varnes has done everything from putting the seeds and flowers on the floats to creating designs that floral designers translate into the floats using different colored flowers.
“It’s like paint by numbers with flowers,” she said.
Things usually go off without a hitch, but there have been a few mishaps. In 1999, the top of one of the floats she helped design was knocked off when it was going under the underpass on Colorado Boulevard. The floats are engineered to collapse to go underneath that underpass. It didn’t work that year.
“We decapitated ourselves and had to put it back together on the street,” she says.
She doesn’t work directly on the floats any longer as her allergies have gotten worse. This year, Varnes is working in the Petal Pusher’s tent selling merchandise that helps offset the cost of building the float. Their goal is to raise $50,000, about half of what it costs to build the float.