The question isn’t why anyone would want to clean up after the hundreds of horses marching in the Rose Parade. Peggy O’Leary, the Queen of Parade Pooper Scoopers, wants to know why anyone would not.
“I started on a whim,” the longest-serving volunteer cleaner-upper said. “One year, I watched the parade from the grandstands and observed a small contingent of volunteers picking up after the horses. It looked like fun.”
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O’Leary, who is not a member of the Tournament of Roses white suit brigade, signed up to volunteer in 1990, and has not missed a parade since, save for when the festivities were cancelled because of the pandemic.
She arrives on the parade route by 6 a.m., ready to join her two-person team, one wielding a push broom and the other a snow shovel. Their station is the famed TV Corner, on Orange Grove Boulevard, starting at Green Street and on Colorado Boulevard until the Elks Lodge.
Another set of volunteer scoopers follow each of the 17 horse units for the 5.5 mile length of the route.
Never mind the not-so-flattering white overalls the scoopers wear.
“We look like Pillsbury Dough Boys,” O’Leary said. She jazzes the outfit up with matching scarves and gloves, topped with a fresh floral crown she makes herself.
She tells rookies to “enjoy the energy of the parade and be safe. Stay out of the way of horses, floats and bands. And have fun.”
Timing is key. O’Leary said. Once a horse leaves its fragrant mark, scoopers scramble to pick it up without being caught by one of the cameras stationed on the corner. They tie up the goods and stash the bag under the stands. O’Leary keeps a can of air freshener in her back pocket, to spare front-row spectators from the not-so-rosy aroma. City workers later collect the bags.
And while the Rose Parade’s worldwide audience may not see them, the scoopers ham it up for their live audience. O’Leary bows after each pickup, and the crowds shower her with applause.
Her Rose Parade gig is a far cry from O’Leary’s pre-retirement career. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she and her family moved to South Pasadena when she was 12.
“I love South Pasadena for our small-town feel, the friendly neighborhoods, our schools and our community participation,” she said.
O’Leary taught at Belvedere Junior High in East Los Angeles and South Pasadena Junior High before earning her master’s degree. She retired from the University of San Francisco as senior associate director of the sports management master’s program.
She and her husband John Vandercook, a fellow longtime South Pasadenan, her son Sean and her two granddaughters get a kick out of all the New Year activities, pooper scooping included.
“I love the energy of the morning, greeting people on New Year’s, experiencing up close and personal the beautiful floats, bands and horse units, and hearing the crowd respond with applause and cheers,” O’Leary said.
Anissa V. Rivera, columnist, “Mom’s the Word,” Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Whittier Daily News, Azusa Herald, Glendora Press and West Covina Highlander, San Dimas/La Verne Highlander. Southern California News Group, 181 W. Huntington Drive, Suite 209 Monrovia, CA 91016. 626-497-4869.