Decade by decade, they were asked to stand and be acknowledged.

Alumni and students spanning many of the 73 years of existence of the Cal Poly Universities’ Rose Float program gathered on May 7 for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to formally introduce The Don Miller and Ron Simons Rose Float Lab on the Cal Poly Pomona campus.

The vast range of attendees, including alumni dating to the 1960s, was indicative of the significance of the event as the Rose Float team moved on from a partially outdoor lab that provided limited protection from the elements to approximately 14,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor workspace, including a fully enclosed float construction bay, storage facilities and electronic and hydraulic shops.

“Stargrazers,” the 2022 Cal Poly Universities’ Rose Float – the 73rd float in the rich history of the program – was constructed in the new 5,700 square-foot construction bay, but the new $5.5 million Rose Float facility hadn’t been given a proper grand opening because of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“I worked at the old lab and the new lab,” said 2023 Rose Float President Ryan Ward, a mechanical engineering student at Cal Poly Pomona. “This is obviously a very big step up, and a culmination of all the effort and the years working at the old lab. It’s definitely a beautiful site to see. We’re being rewarded for all those years of work.”

Ward, along with alumni from various eras of the program, spoke to the attendees nestled in the lab’s outdoor courtyard off Kellogg Drive in the northeast corner of campus. Many shared stories of the previous lab, which was home for more than 30 years to the only student-built float in the Rose Parade, and touched on the dedication that steadily elevated the program through the production of myriad award-winning floats.

Bob Pettis (’63, agronomy), one of the program’s pioneers, accepted a lifetime achievement award on behalf of the late Ron Simons (’64, agronomy; ’69, food marketing and agribusiness management). Simons, for whom the new lab is named along with Don Miller (’52, horticulture), sparked much of the early success of the program Miller helped establish in 1949.

“This is such a historic moment,” Cal Poly Pomona President Soraya M. Coley said as she addressed the crowd. “As you heard from alumni and current students, the resiliency of those in this program is amazing. They’ve always said, ‘Nothing is going to stop us from having a float come down Colorado Boulevard.’”

Thanks to the new lab, that journey to Pasadena for the annual Rose Parade on Jan. 1 will be a little smoother.

New Rose Float Lab opening

By Clay Fowler
Published November 30, 2022