Villa Gardens Quilt

In Fall of 2018, Nan Johnson, resident of Villa Gardens, diligently spoke to everyone she could about the need to celebrate 2020 – the centennial of the passing of the 19th amendment.

Nan is a native of Rochester NY and served on the legislature in Monroe County for 20 years. She was a pivotal figure at getting the only National park dedicated to the women’s movement up and running and started the Susan B. Anthony Center at Rochester University.  She was in the heart of the birthplace of women’s suffrage and was determined to bring the celebration to the West Coast.

Nan brought together ten women to discuss what we might do to celebrate this special occasion. Someone brought up the idea of building a rose float and the idea was born.  Within a couple of weeks, Nan had scheduled an appointment with Laura Farber, the President of the Tournament in 2020 who supported this venture 100%!

Each year the President of the Tournament of Roses (who has been in line for this for 8 years) chooses the theme for the parade.  Farber’s theme for the 2020 parade was The Power of Hope.

Laura informed us that a Float in the parade will cost approximately $300,000.  Longtime politician and fundraiser, Nan Johnson expressed her feelings that this would be no big deal.  And we were off – working to raise funds and gather a team of people committed to seeing a float in honor of woman’s suffrage roll down Colorado Blvd in Pasadena on January 1st, 2020.

The group called themselves Pasadena Celebrates 2020 and partnered with the nonprofit organization, the National Women’s History Alliance, so that any funds raised could be tax deductible.

The name and theme of the float were chosen carefully:  Years of Hope, Years of Courage – acknowledging the 72-year fight to win the right to vote.  The float builder/designer was chosen and discussions ensued about how to raise the money and what the float should look like.  The dramatic end result was a winner!

About the design:  The banners on the back of the float have statements from the past from those proud women who fought and the banners on the front of the float represent the future.  It was important to Pasadena Celebrates 2020 that we represent women of all races and women of all ages.  We believed our work was to inspire women now, more than ever that their voice counted.  The 19th amendment was only the beginning and it was important that we acknowledge that not every woman had the right to vote in 1920.  There was more work to be done then and there is still more work to be done now!

The center of the float held 18 prominent people including five who are descendants of the suffrage movement:  Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Frederik B. Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Ida B. Wells.  Also, on the float were representatives of the Native American community, Iranian American Community and National presidents from the National Council of Negro Women, Girl Scouts of America, League of Women Voters and AAUW.  Dolores Huerta joined us as well as Lori Morgan, the CEO of our local Huntington Hospital and Mimi Aung, the JPL employee who was project manager of the Mars Rover.  Philanthropist Leslie Masson boarded the float as her donation was larger than any other and we could not have accomplished this feat had she not jumped in upon a crucial fundraising deadline.

Lady liberty stood tall at the back of the float wrapped in her sash. And covered in eucalyptus leaves.  She continues to represent a wonderful image of the freedom and hope for our country.

A previous 100-year celebratory float created by the Delta Sigma Theta sorority had 100 people walking behind their float.  We adopted this idea and invited people to join in a suffrage parade.  The enthusiasm was intense and we could have had 200 if it was allowed by the Tournament of Roses!  We asked each “out walker” as we called them, to donate $1,000 and dress all in white.  We invited men and women to join us, but only one male joined us on parade day.

This turned out to be a grass roots effort. With too little time to do serious corporate fundraising, all money was raised in a grass roots effort.  Previously mentioned the $100,000 (100 people donating $1,000 each and representing 17 states) given by the out walkers.  Leslie Masson donated $20,000 to get us through a crucial fundraising deadline as a result of a phone call from her mother.  Front Porch pitched in $10,000 and ten others gave $5,000 each. All other donations were $1,000 or less.  Villa Gardens residents became involved from the beginning. In addition to senior Advisor, Nan Johnson, Carolyn Harris joined the committee from day one.  Resident Association president, Nancy Bechtolt reached out to all Front Porch Presidents and made sure that all communities were aware of the project.  We received donations from residents and worked to promote the float to all communities when interested.

It takes a village.  As a key volunteer, it was my joy and pleasure to meet some amazing women who worked on the committee and volunteered to do all the work it takes for a project this size.  There were two key members who made sure the out walkers knew how to navigate a corner in a parade.  There were people at two different hotels at 4:00 am helping the out walkers get dressed and ready to go.  There was a local woman’s business association who held their holiday meeting in the float barn to raise awareness and funds for the float.  A local Girl Scout troop sponsored a decorating event for children at the float barn.  A local Pasadena Council member and his wife hosted the celebrities on the float at a party the night before the parade – to thank them for being there.

In the end the Tournament of Roses honored this float with the Theme Award.

On parade day, all involved were invited to Villa Gardens for lunch and a wrap party.  The hustle and bustle were a lighthearted way to end a year and a half of work. Each of the 200 people in that room has their own personal story to tell about why they chose to support this float and their experience throughout.

Nan Johnson inspired a wonderful celebration and global kick off to the year 2020 – not what any of us expected.  Now that we know that the 2021 parade has been cancelled, we reflect on the importance of that fateful day on January 1st.


Contributors to the project:

Nan Johnson                  Sylvia Guerrero                Dawneen Lorance

Carol Robbins                Annette Spence              Carolyn Harris

Martha Wheelock         Brenda Anderson            Annice Jackson

Jane Guthrie                  Denise Jones                   Judy Matthews

Ayesha Randall              Jean Owen                     Beverley Morgan-Sandoz

Susan Kane                     Marguerite Cooper        Marta Ruiz Escañuelas

Suzanne Burger              Dale Burger                      Lois Bass

Jessica Sofia Valle         Dr. Helena Johnson        Jenna Kever

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