Long days and nights welding metal, inhaling paint fumes, or hunched over gardening shears might not seem a likely place for romance.
But for around 50 married couples and alums of Cal Poly Pomona and San Luis Obispo, pulling volunteer duties as Rose Parade float builders under an awning in a remote corner of campus proved to be just that. The two campuses have teamed up to build joint floats for 65 years.
Tracy McDonald, who teaches at Cal Poly Pomona and serves as the director of the campus’ Learning Resource Center, offers up some clichés about her husband Matt Sellers that make her three sons laugh and shake their heads.
“We fell in love welding next to each other,” she said. “There was a spark.”
McDonald, who graduated with her bachelor’s in applied math in 1992 and her master’s degree in 1998, was dating someone else when she met Sellers her freshman year. Sellers, who graduated in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, also was seeing someone else. They married in 1988.
McDonald said she was drawn to Sellers because he was cute, quiet, and able to fix anything. Sellers said he noticed some things about McDonald too that he liked.
“She was very independent minded,” he said. “She didn’t play a lot of games. She was very honest and open and very beautiful.”
Carrie and Jeff Knight also found each other working on a Rose Parade float for Cal Poly.
Jeff was a graduate student getting a master’s of business administration in 1987 when he met Carrie, a member of the class of 1991. Jeff also has a bachelor’s in business from the Pomona campus from 1984.
On the first day of getting to work on the float, Knight recalled that some of his friends were trying to get him to ask out a particular girl. Carrie watched as Jeff kept getting turned down.
“I knew he was going to crash and burn,” she said.
Jeff asked Carrie out on the date he had planned for the girl who refused him – dinner, the play “City of Angels” and dancing. The pair hit it off that night.
“We had a great time,” he said. “So we just kept doing stuff and doing stuff.”
The Thousand Oaks residents got engaged at the end of 1992 and married in 1994.
Most of the couples said that students are at their worst when working on a float – physically exhausted, dirty, and highly stressed. That might not seem like the best time to meet someone to some, but several said the pressure and the tough times bonded them.
Kit Hittinger said working on the float as young student volunteers in the late 1980s is definitely what solidified her relationship with husband Wayne.
“You put aside your differences to work towards a common goal,” Kit said. “That is kind of a standard feature of our marriage.”
Kit said the pair met briefly at a Rose float Halloween party, where they each attended with different dates. The El Monte residents went on their first date Dec. 1, 1985 and married in March 1990.
Wayne said that working on a Rose Parade float takes major commitment, something also needed for a successful marriage.
“If you don’t know someone after two years or three years on Rose float, you don’t know them,” he said. “You go two or three days without going to bed. You are a person willing to commit to that at 20, 21, 22.”
Tina Wong met husband Dale in the 1980s while working on the float. Dale was a graduate student and Tina, class of 1984, was studying computer information systems. Neither one of them had a date for the Cal Poly Rose Float Awards Banquet, so friends set them up. They decided to have a second date after that and the Rancho Cucamonga residents married in 1985.
She said that she felt she really knew Dale after their experience working on the float.
“You just kind of experience it all,” she said. “Before you get married, you know the whole person. We figured if you can make it through building a float together, you can make it through anything.”