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Piece of Mind: Romance blossoms with the Rose float

By Carol Cormaci

8:10 PM PST, December 26, 2012

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Stepping around the pots of glue and buckets of flowers, admiring the handiwork of volunteers stationed on scaffolds, one might not guess that this utilitarian float-decorating site that lies directly beneath a 210 Freeway overpass is also a hotbed for romantic encounters.

That might be an exaggeration. I don't actually know how many couples have made eyes at each other over tubs of orchids and ti leaves since 1976, when the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Assn. brought to life its first float entry for Pasadena's Rose Parade. But I have it on good authority that it has happened.

In fact, on Wednesday I met a few individuals whose love lives improved while lending a hand in creating La Cañada's annual floral-bedecked offering to the world.

This was not an angle I was expecting to uncover that morning when I spoke on the phone to Ann Neilson, president of the association. I was checking in with her regarding progress on this year's float, “Dino-Soar,” when she let slip that a married couple who have been relied on by our local “floaters” for nearly 30 years worked together on this city's parade entry as youths.

A little later in the morning I met Neilson at the decorating site on Hampton Road. She introduced me to Brian and Danelle Jacobs. The Jacobs have for the past several years called Sebastopol home, but at this time every year they come back to La Cañada to make sure all the right plant materials are on hand and are successfully attached to the appropriate places.

They wanted to talk flowers. I wanted to talk romance. I'd heard they met as teens, when they were volunteers in this very space. I didn't get too much out of the Jacobs, no tidbits about canood-ling in the food tent or holding hands on the scaffolding.

To hear them tell it, they just sort of met, through friends. Danelle (nee Klein) started volunteering on the La Cañada float about 29 floats ago, when she was 13. She says Brian started volunteering a year before she did.

They started dating casually when Danelle was around 15 or 16. At some point, years later, they realized they were serious about each other. It seemed as though people around them were aware of the potential for a solid relationship before either of them. “It's about time,” seemed to be the general consensus when they finally united.

I was curious to know what brings them back from Northern California to work on the float every year.

“We've grown up here,” Danelle said. “How many people can say they spend New Year's Eve with the people they've known since they were 15?”

Her husband suggested another reason: They've become go-to people for the association and, after nearly three decades, know intimately where every decorating supply is stashed. “We know the duct tape is kept in the cupboard above the refrigerator — even though refrigerator isn't here anymore,” he said.

Having heard that I was asking about the glue that apparently stuck the Jacobs together for life, Sarah Marshall piped up with her own float-related romance success story. Today Sarah is the wrangler and scheduler of volunteers for the float association.

One day, Sarah Kniering, who had been a widow for more than three years, was working on behalf of the association at a table set up in front of Vons, where floaters were selling memberships to the nonprofit.

Mayfield “Mayf” Marshall first encountered her there and later began showing up at the float site.

There was no mistaking he was there to see Sarah, not whatever float was being decorated that year. “We'd have lunch together there,” she said, pointing to the area of the parking lot where the food tent is set up.

A romance was launched and the couple are now enjoying wedded bliss, she said, her eyes lighting up. Having discovered two such scenarios in very short order Wednesday, who knows how many La Cañada float love stories there are? I think Sarah should consider it as a talking point when she's signing up volunteers. Hearts and flowers always seem to pair nicely.

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CAROL CORMACI is the managing editor. Email her at carol.cormaci@latimes.com.