Sonoma Stories: Champions of the Rose Parade hope this year’s won’t be last

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Adorable little kids resplendent in their dance costumes. Shiny fire trucks. Marching bands. War veterans. Shriners riding on clown contraptions. Floats. Politicians. Classic cars. Horses and pooper-scoopers.

Attracting entries to Santa Rosa’s 125-year-old Luther Burbank Rose Parade is no problem. But organizers once again are struggling to collect the donations essential to producing the parade and its accompanying festival.

“It would be a shame not to keep it going,” said Judy Groverman Walker, who has managed the community event since 2000.

But, Walker said, contributions from major sponsors have fallen off. Unless local businesses, organizations and individuals step up and fill what at present is a gap of about $25,000, she said, this year’s parade, on May 18, could be the last.

Walker believes financial stress created by the 2017 wildfires and this year’s Russian River flooding is partially to blame for the drop-off in sponsorship dollars.

The besieged PG&E has eliminated its gift to the parade, as have Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. Though the county withdrew its sponsorship, Supervisor Shirlee Zane donated $1,500 from her office’s discretionary funds, while Supervisor Susan Gorin donated $250.

Some local companies also have withdrawn or cut back their support.

Parade organizers collect fees from entries and vendors, but much of the event’s $100,000 budget comes from sponsorships and grants.

This is not the first time the Luther Burbank Rose Parade & Festival, operated by a nonprofit organization with a volunteer board of directors, has faced the possibility of having to dissolve because of insufficient funds.

In 2009, parade directors contemplated discontinuing the event due to a decline in financial support from the community. Two primary angels stepped up with significant donations: late entrepreneur-philanthropist Henry Trione and Jim Ratto, then president of refuse hauler North Bay Corp.

Others pitched in to rescue the parade, too. Zoe Valrey, 10, opened a lemonade stand and donated the proceeds. The following year, she rode in the financially reinvigorated parade as its grand marshal.

Since then, Ratto sold his company to Recology and Trione passed away.

Trione’s family has continued its support of the parade and festival. Vic Trione, a son of the late community leader, said the annual event is a Sonoma County treasure that deserves to go on.

“I would hope the community would continue to support it,” he said.

Santa Rosans gathered for the first Rose Carnival in 1894. Famed horticulturist Luther Burbank became involved in it about 20 years later.

It was canceled out of respect to Burbank following his death in 1926. There also were no Rose Carnivals during World War II.

In 1950, members of the Santa Rosa Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Jaycees, revived the festival, added a parade and named it for Burbank. There’s been a Luther Burbank Rose Parade and Festival every year since.

Typically in recent years, about 3,000 people march or ride in about 180 entries. Last year’s parade, themed “Together We Rose,” celebrated heroes of the 2017 wildfires and the community’s resilience.

This year, the theme is “Celebrating 125 Years!” The grand marshal will be community booster, volunteer and philanthropist Al Maggini, who at age 103 has seen more Rose Parades than just about anyone.

For more information on how to support the parade and festival, check out roseparadefestival.com.

Walker said she is certain she’s far from alone in hoping the 2019 event is not the last.

“One hundred twenty-five years is a long time to keep an event,” the parade manager said. “But there are not many like this one — it’s just a celebration of the community.”

You can reach Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 or chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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