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Long Time Gone Presents: The Power of Flowers

By Betsy Barnett

January 21, 2020

The annual Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA is one of the most iconic and long-running traditions our country looks forward to each year. Who hasn’t awoken on New Year’s Day, maybe after a night of celebrating a little too much, and turned on the TV to watch the Rose Parade? There’s just something impressive about the thought of thousands of flowers woven together in an intricate and large design that illustrates the amazing imaginations of the people who dream up these multi-colored and multi-dimensional floats.

The first Rose Parade was staged in 1890 by members of the Pasadena Valley Hunt Club. It has been held in Pasadena every year since then on New Year’s Day. The Hunt Club was looking for a fundraiser and decided they should take advantage of the mild winter weather they enjoyed in southern California. One club member reasoned, “In New York, people are buried in snow. Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. We should hold a festival of flowers to show the world our paradise.”

Evidently, that reasonable thought was popular and reinforced as the parade has gone on ever since, and now, with the 2020 Rose Parade, the tradition has remained for 130 beautiful and fragrant years.

The Rose Parade always seemed to be a long way away from southeastern Colorado in a beautiful world filled with flowers and color and pomp as we watched the floats glide down the sun-drenched streets of Pasadena on the television year after year. It didn’t ever seem to have much of a connection to us out here on the gusty plains where those kinds of flowers…well….ain’t here.

But this year there is a strong southeast Colorado connection to the Rose Parade and her name is Melissa Bohl.

Melissa, who grew up in Walsh and attended college at Adams State College in Alamosa, is like the superhero of flowers. As the owner of Thoughts in Bloom in Lamar since 2004, Melissa says, “To me flowers are an expression of emotion. Every important milestone in our lives can be accentuated with flowers. I have a genuine love of people and want to give them comfort and celebration through floral design.”

In fact, Melissa loves working with flowers so much that this self-taught artist and businesswoman attended many hands-on workshops, courses, and symposiums. She traveled hundreds of miles as her passion toward floral art burned brightly. By 2018 she became a Certified Floral Designer (CFD) and is now the only CFD in southeastern Colorado and only one of nine in the state of Colorado.

Melissa’s imagination and abilities with floral design soon out-grew the possibilities that a small flower shop in Lamar can offer. The Rose Parade had always intrigued and as her skills matured, she decided to find out how to get involved with the float making. Four years ago, she was accepted to be an intern on a float where she learned a great deal about the process and how intense the work is.

This year she was contracted with Fiesta Parade Floats as a floral designer and was one of three designers who spent 4 grueling days—approximately 80 hours---creating one of the most talked about floats, the eventual winner of the Judge’s Choice Trophy, in the 2020 Rose Parade.

Another Lamar citizen, Berta Downing, who works at Thoughts in Bloom with Melissa, accompanied Melissa to Pasadena and served as an intern on the float project contracted by a company called Donate Life. Melissa says, “The sponsor, in this case Donate Life, is responsible for the overall concept. This year’s float was based on the Indian Festival of Lights known as Diwali. As a contracted employee I am assigned a float based on my years of experience and design ability. I was assigned to Donate Life’s float. They presented us with a theme that has changed my life forever.”

Along with the Rose Parade’s 2020 theme of “Power of Hope” the Donate Life company used the color and pageantry of the Diwali Festival theme to focus on the power of organ donation. Melissa describes the concept she was responsible for on the float, “Floral product is ordered earlier in the year to guarantee color harmony and availability. It’s much like meeting with a bride who describes her wedding theme and color palette, and, as a designer, I’m entrusted with the job of bringing those dreams and concepts into a readable reality. For this float I was to not only pay homage to those who have passed and donated tissue and organs, but also represent the ‘Hope’ of the future. These families of donors who have passed don’t say their loved one died, but rather, they gave their gift of life to another.”

The most impressive part of the float were the dozens of ‘floragraphs’ of deceased donors that were lovingly displayed on decorative vases associated with the Diwali Festival. Those riding the float were tissue and organ recipients. Those walking with the float were living donors who have donated kidneys, bone marrow or skin. “It was incredibly powerful,” according to Bohl.

Each floragraph was mostly completed early in the summer and sent to each family for completion. Floragraphs are made from 100% organic material including rice, ground walnut shells, and cinnamon. The faces are ‘painted’ from a photo of the donor using the organic materials. Each family then gets to fill in the eyebrows and were then present when their floragraph was hung on the float. Bohl said, “They were also given the floragraph at the end of the parade.”

Melissa struggles to explain just how intense, joyful, challenging, and beautiful the experience of creating this float was for her. When she thinks of the approximately 75,000 to 100,000 flowers and the approximately $300,000 investment the float takes, she is humbled and so very proud to be a part of such a spectacular experience.

When the 131st Rose Parade gets underway on New Year’s Day 2021 we need to pay closer attention as Melissa’s work will be there again. She’s already raring to go. It’s comforting to know that southeastern Colorado’s ‘Flower Power’ is changing the world one flower at a time.

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