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A Rosy Outlook : The shock of the new (women, minorities) on the executive committee of the Rose Parade has worn off. Now it's time to get down to business.

December 18, 1995|PAMELA WARRICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I know there was some bad feeling at first but now it's a fact. We're here and people accept that," says Wu, who recalls a few chilly receptions last year.

"I noted some people wouldn't say hello to me," she recalls. "So, on many occasions, I would just go up and say hello to them. Take their hand and shake it. I didn't need to prove anything. This was an assignment and I accepted it."

About 40 of the tournament's 945 volunteers, all white men who had been members for more than 25 years, left the association after the women and minorities were welcomed into the leadership.

The 1996 tournament president concedes that the very public diversification has been no bed of roses. W.H. Griest Jr., who put in 29 years to get to the top, understands those who were angry and hurt that women and minorities were leapfrogged over them. But he has no patience with poor sports. "It has always been a very steep pyramid to get to the top, and some will always be disappointed," he says.

But for former mayor Cole, the peaceful manner in which the tournament was integrated proves how successfully an old and powerful organization can embrace diversity and change.

"This demonstrates that people can get along and says an enormous amount about Southern California's potential for overcoming its current cynicism and polarization."

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Under the terms of the 1993 compromise, Griest and eight other white males held onto their nine-year terms on the executive committee while the women and minorities were appointed to one- and two-year rotating "at-large" terms.

Once their rotation is complete--and new minority and women members join the committee--the first class of women and minorities may return to their previous places in the volunteer hierarchy and work back up to a full nine-year term.

"This makes the system a lot more complicated," Griest says, "but in the end it gives us more qualified people in the leadership pool."

For Ralph Gutierrez, a Pasadena educator and former Crenshaw high school football coach, a full term on the executive committee is still a goal. "I'm staying with the tournament for the duration, in whatever role I can," says Gutierrez, 63, who now holds one of the at-large seats.

"You got to understand, this is an organization built on tradition. And the tradition is steeped in its own traditions," Gutierrez says. He was a founding member of the tournament's membership diversity committee, which since 1992 has helped direct hundreds of thousands of dollars in contract work to women and minority vendors.

"I'm not the only one who thought people were rewarded for friendship and that there was a good old boys club here. What I discovered from being on the executive committee is, yes, it's all true. But now I see how the friendships develop. And when I see these good old boys in action, I see they got promoted because of merit and willingness to work."

Cheryl Ohrt, the third woman to sit on the executive committee, considers herself one of the good old boys. "Do I represent a minority? Just blonds, I guess," she jokes. "I am the only blond on the executive committee."

"And no, I am not--that is, not--a feminist. But my daughter, the women's libber, tells me she is very proud. [But] I think if you're out there working alongside the men, doing what they do, and you don't complain about hauling heavy fences, how can they object?"

Although the closest Ohrt, 47, has been to the parade is riding a motor scooter beside a float, her family ties with the Rose Parade are typical of many native Pasadenans'. Her father, Russell Stone, led the parade on his white horse for three years in a row. And her younger brother rode his little pony in the parade when he was a boy.

Her only complaint about her current assignment is how she got it. "I am happy to serve, but I wish I could be there because I'd earned it like all the other guys who worked their way up."

Gerald Freeny agrees. "Now that the door is open, I think most of us will put in the years to get back here [to the executive committee]. For me, an African American, I am carrying on a family tradition of volunteer work. And at 35, I'm still the youngest member on the executive committee so I have a lot of lifetime left to give to the tournament."

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The all-volunteer tournament association, which has a $3.5-million annual budget, receives no tax dollars for any of its work or for maintenance of the old Wrigley Mansion on Orange Grove Boulevard. This year's parade, which features Kermit the Frog as grand marshal and celebrates "Kids' Laughter and Dreams," is the tournament's 107th.

Although it took nearly a century, bringing diversity to such a venerable institution has made the tournament association a model for other voluntary organizations. Executive Director Jack French has given how-to presentations around the country and multicultural sponsors, who might have been shy about endorsements in the past, have rushed to join the parade.

All of which French now views philosophically. "I think the group that organized to confront us and force us into this rightfully felt they had achieved a victory. The truth is that we are the winners in the end."

According to Cole, this year's parade represents another breakthrough: "This will be the first time they ever had a grand marshal who was green."

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