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Inspiring Float Illuminates Donate Life Message for Rose Parade Escort

When I was selected to represent Lifeline of Ohio to escort our 2014 floragraph family to California for the Parade of Roses, I felt privileged to be entrusted with such a special opportunity.

The Sills family completes Robert's floragraph.

The Sills family watched Robert’s floragraph be featured on the Donate Life float.

Lifeline of Ohio’s 2014 floragraph honored Robert Sills who gave the gift of life on Feb. 27, 2010.  I joined his wife, Barbara, daughters Brooke and Bergen, and son-in-law Erik in Pasadena to celebrate Robert’s legacy and his decision to light up the world through the gift of life.  Although I anticipated an emotional and moving journey, nothing could have prepared me for the experience I was so fortunate to have shared with this inspiring family.

We arrived in Pasadena on Sunday, December 29, excited for the unveiling of the nearly-complete Donate Life float, “Light up the World.” Upon our arrival at the Rose Pavilion, we were amazed by the countless number of volunteers – more than 650 – that were ready to jump into action and help. Erik and I got to work high up in the rafters, placing flowers on the very top of the float.  Barb, Brooke and Bergen grouped flowers in boxes which were distributed for various parts of the float.

Julie and the Sills family place roses on the Donate Life float.

Julie and the Sills family place roses on the Donate Life float.

After three hours of diligent labor, the Sills family and I had the privilege of placing 47 dedicated roses in remembrance of our 2013 pediatric donors.  This was very emotional for all of us as we were so touched by the prayers, memories, and sentiments that families had scribed on the rose tags for their loved ones. It was one of my most memorable experiences of our time in Pasadena, especially since many dedications belonged to families that I had gotten to know very well in my role of in-house donation coordinator at Nationwide Children’s. I was so humbled to recognize them and to introduce their heroic child to the rest of the world with their presence on the Donate Life Float.

On Monday morning, we attended a breakfast honoring the 81 donor floragraph families. We also got a sneak preview of the theme song for the Donate Life float which was a revised rendition of “I See the Light” from the Disney movie Tangled.  The song held particular significance as we thought about decorating the float and how each part, each flower, each rose shines a light on donation.

This float Lit up the World at the float judging before the Rose Parade

This float Lit up the World at the float judging before the Rose Parade

Another highlight of our journey was the float judging. It was like a dress rehearsal for parade day.  Picture this: “I See the Light” is playing over the speakers and the float riders are seated throughout the float while the walkers are standing close by, marching in place and waving to an absolutely silent audience (as instructed) of roughly 350 people…all the while, Robert’s portrait joined 80 other floragraphs in coming alive, and for a few moments, it truly felt as though each donor was right there with us.   Immediately following the judging, the crowd erupted into applause, cheering, and shouting, accompanied by tears and embracing.  It was almost impossible to believe it would get any better than this.

Finally, New Year’s Day – parade day! – arrived! We left the hotel at 7:00 a.m. to get our seats in the grandstands for the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade. As we anxiously awaited the start of the parade, another donor family shouted, “The Donate Life Float won for best theme!” There were cheers, whistles and thundering applause throughout the grandstands! As our “Light up the World” float drew near, everyone was up on

Robert's floragraph on the Donate Life Float

Robert’s floragraph on the Donate Life Float

their feet with cameras ready.  The float crept into the light from behind a nearby building, and the noise from the crowd was deafening. There in front of us were living donors and transplant recipients with tears filling their eyes and heads and hands held high, giving thumbs up, waving and shouting “thank you for your gift!” and on the very last lantern of the float was Robert, his floragraph smiling to audiences worldwide.

I looked around me as families embraced and it occurred to me that these people were a part of something bigger, something so uplifting that it almost seemed miraculous.  They were being given the chance to create new memories with their loved ones and to remember and honor those who donated in the most unique way.   Not only does organ, eye and tissue donation give the gift of life to those in need of a life-saving transplant, but it lifts the

The Donate Life Float greeted the world at the 2014 Rose Parade!

The Donate Life Float greeted the world at the 2014 Rose Parade!

hearts of these family members and truly shines a light on their lives.

I want to thank Lifeline of Ohio for this opportunity and I can’t thank the Sills family enough for sharing their amazing journey to honor Robert with me. This experience has truly opened my eyes to the joy and hope that families can feel, and I am comforted in knowing that the decision to donate life truly can light up a family’s world.


Written by: Julie Hall, in-house coordinator at Nationwide Children’s Hospital



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