HOUGHTON LAKE – Every year, millions of people are drawn to the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl because of the tradition, the pageantry, and of course, the football.
These three things are what first attracted Houghton Lake’s Steve Press to volunteer with the “Granddaddy of ’em All” 45 years ago, and they’re what have kept him coming back every year since.
“I’m a traditionalist. I love history and I’m just humbled to be a part of this,” said Press.
As a young man, Press left Michigan and headed west. He admits he didn’t have much of a plan, but he ultimately landed working in real estate in Pasadena, California.
One of his co-workers was a member of the Rose Parade’s Executive Committee. It was a conversation with him that led to the start of Press’ tradition of volunteering with the Tournament of Roses.
“He just asked me one day if I wanted to get involved — you had to be sponsored by somebody. [I thought] ‘Well yeah!'” Press recalls.
So every year since 1977, Press has volunteered in the planning and execution of the Tournament of Roses. Committee assignments changed frequently so he was able to experience nearly every aspect of planning the parade and big game.
Over the course of 45 years, a lot has changed. Press moved back to Michigan and co-owned an asphalt company with a childhood friend. The seasonal work allowed him to return to Pasadena in the winter and keep his tradition alive.
Eventually, he started a family and with his kids in mind, he sold his share of the asphalt company to buy a resort in Houghton Lake.
“It was the greatest thing I ever did for [the kids] and for me. I tell people it added 10 years to my life,” Press said.
Now, the kids have grown up and moved out. The resort has been sold and Press sells RVs in Houghton Lake.
Through every change, Press has kept the tradition and returned to Pasadena every year to volunteer.
In December and January, he volunteered with the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl for the 45th straight year. He went in knowing it would be his last.
Per tradition, a Tournament of Roses volunteer can only serve 45 years. Press would keep volunteering if he could, but he’s come to accept the ending of his volunteering tradition.
“I get it. I understand [the 45-year rule] now. I’m willing to let go.”
From meeting President Gerald R. Ford to watching his favorite team — the Michigan Wolverines — win the Rose Bowl in 1997, volunteering has given Press unforgettable experiences and great stories to tell.
“It was a bunch of California people [volunteering],” Press recalled of meeting Gerald R. Ford. “They said ‘well Press, you’re from Michigan, why don’t you work with the President? You deal with whatever his needs are and the secret service.'”
Press has kept a file for each year he’s volunteered and his office is filled with mementos from the Rose Bowl. He said he might one day put together a book for his kids to pass on his memories and love for the Tournament of Roses.
The game between Ohio State and Utah this year may have marked the end of his Rose Bowl tradition, but Press said there’s satisfaction in knowing that he did his part for one of America’s greatest and most historical traditions.
“Every assignment I’ve had has been fun. No matter how mundane it was or how trivial it might be. It was just fun to do my part. Every year.”