Don Worthington

Wonderful memory: Chester couple wins Giti Tire’s Rose Parade contest

Ruth and Walt Whitman at a VIP reception before the Rose Bowl.
Ruth and Walt Whitman at a VIP reception before the Rose Bowl. contributed photo

Every Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day mornings India Jones prepared the meal for her Oklahoma City family. While the holiday dinner cooked, India sat mesmerized in front her television, watching the Macy’s and Rose parades from start to finish.

Many of the parades passed in black and white. It wasn’t until 1969 that the Jones family purchased a color television – even though the first nationally televised edition of the Rose Parade in 1954 was in color on NBC. The receiving television screens then were about 12 inches wide.

India’s wish was to one day to attend the parades. She died in 1976 without attending either parade.

This past New Year’s Day, Ruth Whitman of Chester, India’s daughter, fulfilled her mother’s wish, attending the 127th edition of the Rose Parade.

Ruth and her husband, Walt, attended the parade under unusual circumstances. They were the guests of Giti Tire, one of eight winners in the tire company’s Rose Parade contest on its Facebook page.

The contest was one of Giti Tire’s efforts to increase its brand awareness in the United States. They were the official tire sponsor for the Rose Parade and also sponsor of the Decorating Places, the barns where some of the parade floats were prepared.

A reason for the branding campaign is the ongoing construction of Giti’s first American plant in Richburg. The Richburg plant will make passenger and light truck tires for retail outlets and, hopefully, original equipment for car manufacturers.

The Whitmans know all about Giti’s Richburg plant and its commitment to Chester County.

Walt, owner and president of MCON Construction, is a member of the Chester Development Association. He helped obtain all-terrain vehicles that Giti officials used to tour the 1,000 acre “mega site” for economic development in Richburg.

Ruth has volunteered economic development events including Giti’s June 16, 2014, announcement it was coming to Chester County and the Feb. 11, 2015, groundbreaking at the mega site.

Their connections were not a factor in their selection, Giti officials said. Ruth’s story was the reason.

It almost didn’t happen.

Ruth was reluctant to enter the Giti contest.

“I never win,” she said.

But to show her support for Giti, Ruth wrote her story and attached a picture of her driving a Corvette in a Chester Christmas parade. It was the only parade photo she had.

When she got a phone call several weeks later from a California number, she did not answer it. “If I don’t recognize the number I don’t answer it,” she said.

Her email account then exploded with messages from California from a woman named Ruby Vizcaino. Again, she didn’t open them. Her reason was the same, she didn’t recognize the name and was afraid of the consequences of opening an email from an unknown source.

“She is a cautious person with emails,” Walt said. “I convinced her to open them.”

Vizcaino is the marketing manager of events for Giti Tire’s U.S. headquarters in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. The Whitmans were on their way west.

It was the Whitmans first trip to Los Angeles. But, it also was a homecoming for Ruth. Her parents were among the thousands of Oklahoma residents who left that state during the Great Depression on the promise of work in California. Ruth was born in the Garfield Hospital in Monterey Park, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles and just south of the parade site in Pasadena.

The Rose Parade venture began during the early hours of the first day of the year. They left their Glendale hotel at 6 a.m. and were in their seats underneath the ABC television cameras – 30 feet above the passing parade – before the 8 a.m. start.

From the first float – Nature’s Hope by parade sponsor Honda – the Whitmans agreed, television doesn’t do the parade justice. You have to be there in person to realize how colorful, vibrant and innovative the floats are.

The heart-stopping moments started in the sky, not on the ground,with a flyover by a B2 U.S. Air Force bomber, the Whitmans said.

“It gave me cold chills. It was like a ghost across the sky,” Ruth said.

Other exciting moments were the Downton Abbey float, the Singpoil Group float and the Disneyland Resorts float. As each float passed, it took the Whitmans at least four pictures per float to capture all the details.

Ruth was also fascinated with the bands. Eighteen marched in the parade. Her favorites were the United States Marine Corps West Coast Composite Band and the band from Virginia Military Institute.

“I wanted the parade to keep coming,” Ruth said. “You were on the edge of your seat, you couldn’t get close enough.”

The parade was one-half of the New Year’s Day celebration. Their Giti adventure also included tickets to the Rose Bowl game between Iowa and Stanford and tickets to VIP tailgate reception where they had their pictures taken with the game’s trophy, officially the Leishman Trophy.

Tiffany & Co. designed and crafted the game trophy out of sterling silver. The trophy took about three months to complete.

Walt, first an Oklahoma football fan, followed by allegiances to Alabama, Clemson and South Carolina, didn’t have team in the Rose Bowl fight. But some of the Giti officials rooted for Stanford. Even though they sat in a sea of Iowa rooters, the Whitmans gave their support to the winning Stanford team.

Before departing Los Angeles, the Whitmans rented a car to do some sightseeing. The Avis representative who rented the car dispelled any rumors about how inhospitable Californians can be.

Walt had left his cellphone in the car at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. When Walt asked for directions to the Santa Monica Pier, the Avis representative programed the directions into the car’s navigation system as well as a return route to the Los Angeles Airport.

The Rose Parade’s theme was “Find Your Adventure.”

“Boy did we find ours,” Ruth said. “We have memories to last a lifetime.”

One, though, will stand out. When the Donate Life float passed them, the float was playing Louis Armstrong’s “It’s a Wonderful World.”

That was India’s favorite song, said her daughter Ruth.

As the float passed and the Armstrong’s gravelly voice trailed off in the distance, Ruth knew her mother was watching.

“She saw the parade through me.”