#MatteosDream: History of Lions Floats

Lions Clubs International

Lions Clubs International has an interesting history participating in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif. It was a history that nearly didn’t happen.

“The first Rose Parade Lions entered was in 1948,” said Past District Governor Jon Casteel, who is a historian of Lions in the Rose Parade. “They designed, built and rode in the float. But it was so much work, they decided to never do it again.”

The Tournament of Roses Parade began on Jan. 1, 1980. It was to be an American version of the festival of Roses in Nice, France. You can read more about it here.

Since it first began, participation in the international event is by invitation only. When the Lions were invited to participate in the 59th Annual Rose Parade, it seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up.

Footage from that parade can be seen on YouTube, courtesy of a grandfather who happened to be filming from the crowd that day. The Lion’s float can be seen at 4:14 on the video.

While the Lions decided to decline invitations from the Tournament of Roses Association, they changed their mind in 1967.

Lions entered the parade and showcased a float for a second time on Jan. 1, 1968. However, like their first entry, they handled all the designing, constructing and decorating of their float. Again, it proved to be too much work and Lions vowed to never enter the parade again, according to Casteel.

But in 1992, Lions decided to accept the invitation under the guidance of then International President Donald E. Baker to participate in the parade.  The third time was the charm.

Lions Clubs International

Lions Float Inc., a non-profit corporation, was formed in 1994 to direct the preparation and funding of the Lions float in the parade.  It’s a year-round activity involving the designing, fundraising and coordinating of volunteer decoration of the float in December. To raise these funds, Lions Float, Inc. sells a variety of commemorative items such as pins, shirts, license-plate frames, sun shades, antenna balls and hats and offers fellowships for donations honoring PIP Banker and others.

Lions Clubs International’s float in the 125th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade marks a special occasion. It’s the first time Lions have chosen a specific service project as the inspiration behind the float design.

By now many have read and shared the unique story of Matteo’s Dream, a playground in Concord, Calif., the Lions built for a little boy who was blind and suffered from cerebral palsy. It was his parents dream to have a playground where their son, who was bound to a wheelchair, could play outside with other children. Lions answered the call and made their dream come true.

Lions Clubs International is showing support by hosting our first-ever social media contest on Facebook and Instagram. We’re giving several chances to win an official Matteo’s Dream Rose Parade commemorative pin.  You can read more details about the contest and the official rules here.

Additionally, we are asking Lions everywhere to continue sharing the YouTube video in an effort to spread the word about the unique story behind the float design.

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