Fiesta parade to honor Rose Garcia’s half-century of flower making

This year’s Battle of Flowers parade marks a historic beginning – and an end.

On April 8, the 131-year-old Fiesta tradition of Flower Battle Parade will finally, after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, pass through downtown San Antonio again.

But for Rose Garcia, the event will end a 52-year career as the parade florist.

During that time, she and her family members have handcrafted around 500,000 flowers which a crew of volunteers use to adorn the colorful floats.

At 70, Garcia’s decision to retire from her career as a florist is to let others experience the joy she found in San Antonio’s unique work.

Sitting at a wooden table in an old schoolhouse they call “the den,” Rose Garcia speaks quietly as her hands deftly work the paper, pinching and folding the bright pink fabric into a flamboyant flower as if marking time.

“I can’t be selfish. Someone else younger than me has to learn and take over,” Garcia said.

Garcia started making flowers in 1970 when she graduated from high school at 18, joining her mother Geneviève Loera – who started making flowers at 13 – her aunts and their daughters and daughters-in-law to learn the trade of florist.

Rose Garcia is retiring after 52 years of creating flowers for the Battle of Flowers Parade. Credit: Nick Wagner/San Antonio Report

In a tradition that began long before his time, Garcia recruited siblings, cousins ​​and friends into the den, teaching them how to carefully craft the flowers from delicate paper, shiny foil and of floral stem wire. It takes time to learn, so beginners start with simpler tasks.

“We don’t push,” she says. “Little by little, they have the courage and they want to learn. They see everyone around them doing it and they say, “Let me try.”

For six weeks beginning in February each year, the team meets at the East Side lair where the floats are decorated and, working in an assembly line, they shape and twist paper into a rainbow of flowers.

The rooms where they work, where vintage green slates line the walls, soon fill with flowers gathered in overflowing boxes and hung in bouquets along a system of clotheslines, numbered according to the float they are destined for. The flowers are made to match the robes of the Order of the Alamo “royalty” who ride the chariots.

The workshop is also filled with the sounds of the generations gathered.

“It’s a lot of laughs, a lot of talking about families,” Garcia said. “Sometimes the kids come in so we can see their families…and we eat and keep working.”

They share stories and also their sorrows. This year, that meant remembering the family members they had lost to COVID-19 in recent months. In October, Garcia’s brother died of the virus along with a cousin, Helen Reyes. “We lost too many,” Garcia said.

Set to retire in 2020 before the show was canceled, Garcia agreed to return to flower making this year as her swan song. The Parade Association honors Garcia’s contributions with a float in his honor during the April 8 parade and themed “Viva las Flores.”

Garcia picked Reyes to succeed her as chief florist before the woman died of complications from COVID-19 last fall. Another woman who was asked to take the reins was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Although Garcia has yet to choose another successor, she said it will be a family member.

Despite the pain of loss and illness, Garcia said they all missed Fiesta after the event was canceled in 2020 and parades were suspended in 2021 due to the pandemic.

“I think San Antonio is just ready to go out and party and hang out with people and have fun,” she said. “We had too much sadness. It’s not just our family. There are a bunch of families in San Antonio who have been through the same thing.

Claudia Leudemann Kiolbassa, Queen of the Order of the Alamo, rides a float decorated with flowers made by Rose Garcia during the 2019 Battle of Flowers Parade.
Claudia Leudemann Kiolbassa, Queen of the Order of the Alamo, rides a float decorated with flowers made by Rose Garcia during the 2019 Battle of Flowers Parade. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier/San Antonio report

Melissa Branch, vice president of the Battle of Flowers Association parade, said Garcia is part of the family.

“She really is someone we all look up to and she has an incredible work ethic and talent that we respect, love and care about,” Branch said.

Garcia watches the annual parade every year, to see her work and spend time with her family, and she plans to continue that tradition, she said.

“There are a lot of people in San Antonio who don’t know where they make the floats or the flowers,” she said. “It’s like the seamstresses [for Fiesta’s royal court]. They don’t know who makes the dresses.

But Garcia knows — they’re family — and she wants to figure it all out. “I want to see it hit the streets,” she said.

Rosalie M. Dehner