By May S. Ruiz
When Isabella Marie Marez was crowned the Tournament of Roses’ (TofR) 2018 Rose Queen, she joined a select group of young women chosen to ascend to the throne for the annual Rose Parade. But that she happens to be the 100th marks a significant milestone.
Marez, who has been interviewed countless times, and most probably asked the same questions, nevertheless answers with a nary a trace of tedium when queried about this distinction. Her face lights up when she replies, “It’s a big honor and one that I never expected to have in my life. It’s a magical experience – I’m meeting people I never would expect to meet, doing things I have never been able to do.
Being on the Royal Court is really being part of a sisterhood. I’ve become friends with everyone because we all go to the same functions – we’ve done about 90 events, going to as many as three or four in one day. We are all bound in this same experience and we have a very close relationship.”
“From this experience I learned that being on a team isn’t always that easy,” confides Marez. “When we were assigned to the Court we were seven different young women who are equally strong and passionate about what we believe in. Now we are one unit working towards a common goal.
We have to find ways to really bond outside of the Court – to just hang out like normal teenagers. I know that we’re going to be best friends but being as close outside of our duties is what’s going to make us really successful. There was so much we didn’t know about each other. But having been together for a while, we were surprised at what we could accomplish because we’re closer.”
To future Rose Queens who will follow in her footsteps, Marez offers some tips. “Stay true to yourself and communicate with your Court. Be honest with each other and work together. You’re not alone but part of one team – all seven of you.”
Marez is likewise surrounded by a loving and supportive family. She says, “It was my mom who inspired me to try out for the Royal Court. She makes us all watch the Rose Parade on TV every New Year’s Day; she marvels at the B2 Stealth Bomber Flyover that kicks off the parade.
My mom is so proud of me and beyond excited to see me at the parade and to be at the football game. She can’t wait; she invited our entire family. My mom is from New Mexico so all my relatives from there are coming to Pasadena to cheer for me.
I’m really looking forward to it. I can’t wait for New Year’s Day to be here – to wake up at 1:30 in the morning, get ready, and ride in the float. I just want to experience the joy of having all of Pasadena being together on that one special day.”
The duties of the Rose Queen are already part of Marez’s ethos. She explains, “I’m on the Service Commission in my school, something I’m very proud of. Our high school wants to underscore the difference that education makes in someone’s life. That’s also what I want to emphasize as a person and as Rose Queen.”
A senior at La Salle High School in Pasadena, Marez has played softball for the past eight to ten years. From it she learned time management, an asset that is crucial as Rose Queen. She states, “I know how to organize my days to include academics, sports, and my duties. Being on a softball team most of my life has prepared me for this. This requires the same dedication and time management as a sport.”
One thing Marez doesn’t have to worry about is college admissions. She applied through early action and has been accepted to Manhattan College in New York. She enthuses, “I’m very excited! It’s my first choice because it’s a private La Sallian university which shares the same code of ethics as my current school. Social justice is a big part of our curriculum – being inclusive, showing respect for people, giving back to the community, helping those who are less fortunate.
To that end, I want to study pre-Med to learn about human anatomy and social justice. Someday I want to be a physician’s assistant and work in refugee camps in Latin American countries … maybe join Doctors Without Borders, the Peace Corps, also do some missionary work.”
Informing others about Catholicism is also important to Marez. She states, “Catholicism today is different from what it was when I was growing up. It has gone through an evolution and Pope Francis has done so much to make it relevant to people in today’s world. This Pope is in touch with our present-day reality; not how things should be, but how things are. My parents raised me with the moral that you may not always get what you want and you need to adjust to what’s been handed to you. I believe that there are only two things you can control – your attitude and your effort.”
With her hectic schedule, Marez doesn’t get a lot of downtime. She says wistfully, “Whenever I get the chance, I do homework. And I try to sleep. I love watching movies with my family – my mom and sisters are film fanatics. Watching movies and playing softball are a big part of my life.”
Friends are also a huge part of her life. Informs Marez, “I went to high school with my two best pals; and I have two or three best friends out of school. It’s a very tight relationship, we’ve known each other since middle school. They’re very happy for me and I do miss them a lot. I haven’t been able to see them as much but they’re very excited for me and each time I see them they tell me to enjoy it because this is a once in a lifetime experience.”
During Marez’s coronation, Lance Tibbet, 2018 Tournament of Roses President, expressed a sentiment along the same vein when he said, “Queen Isabella’s life changed the moment I announced her name.”
Tibbet and Marez share a common appreciation for the Tournament. He echoes Marez’s words, “I have experienced things I never would have, had it not been for Tournament of Roses. One thing the Tournament’s great about is that it doesn’t assign you based on how old you are or what jobs you’ve had.”
“I can tell you several stories,” Tibbet relates. “I was on the intersection of Colorado Blvd. and the end of the 710 freeway at 6:00 in the morning on parade day when a group of band buses had come up and was supposed to stop to drop off the band members. And I had to make that happen – you can imagine the crush of people, cars, and equestrians. Nothing in my work background prepared me for that kind of situation and it is what continues to hold my interest.
I’ve had the chance to meet the Army Golden Knights who were doing a parachute jump at the start of the parade. We went up with them to do a practice run. I wasn’t going to jump out of a plane, mind you. But to go up with them, be with them, see what happens, and learn about that is a remarkable experience. It was not something a nursery man in Pasadena would have had the occasion to do.”
Continues Tibbet, “It’s been amazing to interact with people from all walks of life over the years. One of my best friends, who will be president next year, is a retired law enforcement officer and someone I would never have met. It would have been very unlikely anyway, because that would have been a bad thing.
What I’m saying is, the Tournament has given me the opportunity to do things and meet people. And, at the end of the day, this is about people and the Tournament is a family whose members I value.”
Having been with the TofR for over three decades, Tibbet has served in various capacities, including being chair of Budget and Finance, Governance and Personnel, Equestrian, Kick-Off Events/Hall of Fame, Parade Operations, Post Parade, and Queen and Court.
“I was part of the committee that selected the 80th Queen; I was the chairman when we selected the 90th Queen, and now I’m president for the 100th Queen,” Tibbet recalls. “There hasn’t been any significant change in the selection but what has changed is the make-up of the participants, or the young women who have tried out. Over the years I saw a shift in their attitude, which I found quite interesting.
The first time I was on the committee, in 1996, when we asked the young women trying out to tell us in 15 seconds why they want to be on the Court, the answer we usually got was ‘I want to be a part of something bigger;’ ‘I want to give back to the community;’ etc. When I was chairman of the committee in 2007, the answers we got were, ‘I want to be famous;’ ‘I want to be a star;’ ‘I want to be a celebrity and I think this is the best way to get that opportunity.’ Today, as president, what I’ve heard was them wanting to give back to the community. It’s great and I’m glad to hear it because that’s what this is about.”
Tibbet says further,“In all the time I’ve been with the Tournament, our core events, namely the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game, have remained mostly unaltered. Certainly the floats are bigger and grander, the reliability and engineering have improved. And our other events, like the coronation or the tailgate, have changed to be more relevant.
But one of the things about the Tournament that has really transformed that people don’t know is the way we’re involved in the community – from our foundation, to the community support. We give over $165,000 a year just to local events; the foundation gives over $265,000 a year to non-profits in the community; we’re giving scholarships; we’re being strategic with our partners like Disney, L.A. Dodgers.
MiracleGro assisted us with the Muir Ranch, Pasadena High School’s garden. We’re helping renovate the John Muir High School baseball field. The Parade and Game provide about $300M in the region. And that’s the significant thing – we’re more engaged in our own backyard, in a very targeted way.”
“There is no special event being planned to celebrate the 100th Rose Queen,” discloses Tibbet. “We partnered with the Pasadena Museum of History (PMH) on a fantastic exhibit called ‘The Royals of Pasadena’ to recognize that landmark. We’re excited that we were able to show people the history of the Rose Queen and Court. We want to be sensitive to the fact that there are, and have been, other women on the Court. Unless we’re also going to do something for them, we’re not going to make too big of a deal on the 100th.”
“This year’s Rose Queen and Court events and commitments are mostly the same as in the past several years,” Tibbet says, “They make a hundred appearances on behalf of the Tournament. For young women who are in the midst of college application and all their activities, it’s such an honor that they can commit to that. They do a fabulous job – I don’t know how they can handle that kind of schedule. And they do it all so gracefully – they take it on with a gusto. They don’t complain, they’re incredible!
I am continuously surprised, because when I was their age all I had ever done was have a paper route. And as far as a significant accomplishment, I played baseball. Whoopee! These women are actively involved in so many clubs and organizations, things in high school that really impact their fellow students’ lives in positive ways. I think that’s phenomenal and I give them a lot of credit because I wouldn’t have found the hours to do it all.”
“These amazing young women demonstrate that there’s so much more to the Tournament than the Parade and the Game. We are proud, as an association, to provide opportunities for kids to leave home for the first time to participate. The band kids, in particular, aspire to become better for the chance to be selected by their music directors to travel to Pasadena.
We celebrate in our New Year’s Day Parade the artistry of the kids, the beauty of the floats, and the outstanding talents of athletes who play in the Game. By doing so we bring people together – we all know there are people out there who want to divide and separate us – and it is a remarkable thing that we get to do,” Tibbet says with pride.
The pageantry displayed every New Year’s Day in Pasadena is broadcast all over the world. It is seen by over 50 million viewers watching on television at home and close to a million people on the five-mile parade route on Colorado Blvd.
If, on that singular occasion, we are all united in friendship and harmony, then the Tournament of Roses, the Rose Queen and her Court can add one more accomplishment – extending goodwill to humankind. We should be so lucky to have 100 more Rose Queens.