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Tournament of Roses Pres. Richard Chinen enthusiastic about ‘Inspiring Stories'

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It’s easy to see what inspires Tournament of Roses President Richard L. Chinen. It’s the volunteers—935 of them, members of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association, putting on “America’s New Year’s Celebration” year after year since 1890.

“I played a lot of football growing up, and in Hawaii, we certainly never missed the Rose Parade. Seeing and hearing the Rose Parade live was life-changing for me,” Chinen told Tournament of Roses Examiner in an interview on Friday. He saw his first live parade from the sixth floor of a law firm on Colorado Boulevard. “I went down to the street level. On the street, hearing the bands—all of your senses become aware of what’s going on. Something so huge being led by volunteers.”

As president from now until mid-January 2015, Chinen oversees the 126th Rose Parade and 101st Rose Bowl Game on Jan, 1, 2015, as well as more than a week of events before and after New Year’s Day and community involvement year-round. His enthusiasm gives an insight into why he chose the theme “Inspiring Stories” for the 2015 Rose Parade. “It’s the greatest organization in the world,” he said. “The dedication of members really drives the theme this year.”

“Inspiring Stories” was chosen after tossing around various ideas within his family and among close friends. “I think it was a collective effort in our family in terms of what resonated, in terms of who we are as a community and in terms of what we’re trying to do to bring people together on New Year’s Day. ‘Inspiring Stories’…gave us the broadest canvas for builders, equestrians, bands to paint their own picture on.”

Chinen said for float sponsors looking for a humorous twist, “I think humor can really be inspiring as well. They say laughter is the best medicine. They will find a way to make it humorous.”

He told us that part of the inspiring story is when he sits in on teleconferences with volunteers from all over the county who take two weeks off at the end of the year to come to Pasadena and be part of the celebration. When they join, members must live or work within 15 miles of Pasadena City Hall, but they can maintain their memberships when they leave the area.

“You tell me what other organization you know that has members who are so committed to doing that,” Chinen asked. “People move, we are a mobile society. People could leave the Association and resign their membership.”

The Tournament also works with the City of Pasadena to address needs in the community. In addition to the grants made by the charitable Tournament of Roses Foundation, the Association contributes to an annual project picked by the city. The 2013 effort provided lighting for a small green strip known as Defenders Parkway.

“We excel at the grace of giving. I think this community, more than any other I’ve seen or lived in, really enjoys doing things for others. And we all do it together.”

The city, the Tournament, and sponsor Miracle Gro also teamed up to provide materials and manpower to spruce up three parks and a community building, El Centro de Acción Social. The photo with this article was taken at Brenner Park as the volunteers were finishing up.

“It’s amazing that these are Tournament members who have regular jobs and Tournament duties,” Chinen said. “These are something extra. That’s the kind of members we have, that care so much for their communities, and that Miracle Gro invested in the community. Anything we can do to facilitate, we will do that. We will do it for all our sponsors.”

He added, “We want to continue to be generous. Individual members and the Association as part of the Pasadena community really excel at the grace of giving. I think as a result of that, their children and grandchildren have that inspiring story to live out in their own lives.”

Chinen, who moved to Pasadena from Hawaii for law school, joined the Tournament in 1989 and has served on various committees including Alumni, Float Entries, Judging and Queen & Court. “Once you’re done with school, you have some extra time to give, and I thought there’s no better place to try to be involved than with the Association,” he said. “This event is what helped to put Pasadena on the map around the globe. There’s not a better group of people to work with.”

Commenting on being the first non-Caucasian president, Chinen said, “I think for me, it means that the Association is open to everyone who wants to give of their talent and time to do what we want to do. It doesn’t matter what sex you are, what color you are, what matters is your dedication to be involved…to be part of something incredible.” He enjoys meeting new people and working with folks from every walk of life and every vocation who are committed to the community.

Chinen will not be the first member of his family to ride in a position of honor in the Rose Parade. One of his two daughters, Megan, was the Rose Queen in 2004. At the time he was chairing the Alumni Committee, which has a mission of reaching out to previous parade participants and helping them stay in touch.

The duty of the parents of a Rose Queen, he said, is to try to keep their daughter going, “because it is a difficult process.” Most of the queens are seniors in high school, carrying a full load of Advanced Placement classes and prepping for tests, filling out college applications, and attending 100-plus events between October and January as members of the Royal Court. Megan missed all or part of 39 days of school in the fall semester.

“Our goal was to be sure she maintained the level of achievement in school and certainly did well for the community and the Association as a member of the Royal Court. We had no official duties but there was greater responsibility on us as parents to make sure she stayed healthy and got school work done.”

He praised the nine volunteers on the Queen and Court Committee, who with their spouses spend hours escorting the girls to the various events, acting as surrogate parents. “We were amazed,” he said. “That has helped shape my level of commitment.”

His personal goal for the 2015 Tournament is “to make sure that I represent the Association—my wife as well will be along with me—that we do so with grace and humility and will always be encouraging to members that give so much of their time.”

He wants to collect inspiring stories both from within the community and around the world to share with Tournament members, the viewing audience, and on the Tournament of Roses website. “It’s a day to be optimistic, stay looking forward,” he said.

Chinen plans on maintaining the entry numbers of floats of the 2014 parade, with 40 floats, 20 bands and 16 equestrian entries, and to continue the push for more fresh materials and more entertainment from the floats.

“I think that’s what people are crying out for,” he said. “The entertainment value on various floats has added a lot to the parade, giving people something extra on those floats.”

Attracting new commercial sponsors was a top priority for Past President R. Scott Jenkins when we spoke with him last year. Chinen said, “We’re going to continue to reach out to as many commercial sponsors as possible, but also there are some significant non-profits and communities out there who I think would really want to be part of what we are doing in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.” He mentioned that Donate Life floats present a message that is important to the organization and the world, and added, “Often times even corporate floats carry a message beyond their own product.”

With 40 floats and 24 trophies, there has been some talk about revamping the awards list. This reporter even posted our suggestions. Chinen said that while the issue is being considered, “There’s been no final decision.” There are ongoing discussions with sponsors, builders and designers “about what the right mix is, to make sure we stay relevant with the trophy names and what they’re awarded for. We want to incentivize float sponsors, builders, designers, decorators to build the most beautiful and innovative floats.”

He shared that one of the 2014 judges was teary-eyed when she told him she wished they could award every float a trophy, and said how difficult deciding which were the most deserving was. “We can’t discount any single one of them, no matter how small,” he said. “We do not want to discourage the effort and spirit put into any of the floats.”

Much of the excitement surrounding the annual Rose Parade has to do with the closely guarded secrets and fan speculation surrounding certain important announcements. First is the theme, which was announced on Jan. 16, and in October comes the announcement of the young women chosen to be on the Royal Court and shortly after, the name of the girl who will serve as Rose Queen.

And then there is the Grand Marshal. No hints came from Chinen regarding who will be the Grand Marshal or Marshals for the 126th Rose Parade or have the honor of flipping the coin for the 101st Rose Bowl Game.

“We don’t have one we are going to name yet, but I think there are so many people who would resonate inspiring stories,” he said. “I probably will stay with one, but that’s not set yet.” He claims he’s still looking for suggestions, and there could be more than one.

Chinen closed with an inspiring story of his own about the 2006 parade. The rain was coming down in buckets, along with high winds. Bands were soaked, floats were soaked. His duty that year was to walk with the Queen and Court float. He looked at all the cheering people lining the parade route, many of whom had spent the night in the rain and was awed that they stayed, that they didn’t pack up and go home.

The parade was on Jan. 2 that year, skipping the first because it was a Sunday. It was Queen Camille Clark’s 18th birthday. At Colorado and Hill, in front of Pasadena City College, people in the grandstands on both sides of the street broke out singing happy birthday to her. “I talked to the members of the Court,” he said, “and they said they wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“As I think about this past year’s event, after 125 years where we are today and where we hope to be in a changing society, it’s incredible we can do this. If I said to you, put together a volunteer group of about a thousand” to get sponsors, coordinate television coverage, and stay on top of the thousands little details it takes to put on all the events, “you couldn’t do it. Tens of millions watch, hundreds of thousands are on the parade route.”

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Columnists are not notified of comments via Disqus, so if you have a question or would like a reply to your comment, please post on Facebook at All Things Rose Parade or email lbmonteros@yahoo.com. The theme of the 126th Rose Parade and 101st Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 1, 2015 is “Inspiring Stories.” Subscribe to Tournament of Roses Examiner by clicking the "Subscribe" link for the latest news and for upcoming announcements.

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