LocationPasadena , CA United States
It is a lovely spring day in the historic Wrigley Gardens surrounding Tournament House in Pasadena. Close your eyes and open your imagination and you can envision the active scene in front of the house in the early hours of New Year’s morning as another Rose Parade gets ready to step off.
Inside the house, which contains the offices of the Tournament of Roses Association, Laura Farber, the current president, comes into the downstairs drawing room to greet a visitor. She is the first Latina to hold the position and the third woman. She grew up in Alhambra.
Farber is warm and friendly and one is immediately struck by the genuine enthusiasm she has for the Tournament of Roses, its history, traditions and its future. Her enthusiasm extends beyond the parade, and the highly efficient organization that puts on the annual event, to the theme for the 2020 Rose Parade: “The Power of Hope.”
That theme takes on almost a spiritual air as she talks about it. She speaks of hope as “never-ending, continuous. It never quits.” And she speaks of encountering hope in tangible ways in the bands from around the world who vie to be selected. She talks of what it means to kids, rich and poor, many of whom have never left their home towns or home states or home countries, to come to Pasadena. She talks of the West Harrison Hurricane Band from Gulfport, Mississippi and its founding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or the all female Helsinger Pidegarde Marching Band from Denmark and relates how the tournament works actively on the local level to help bands like these raise money to pay their way to Pasadena. Indeed, she was leaving the next day for Puerto Rico to do press and help raise money for the University of Puerto Rico’s Centenaria Banda Colegial band, which will be marching down Colorado Blvd. on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020.
She does a lot of this kind of thing. Talking to groups or individuals. All the time raising awareness about the association, its well-known parade and game activities, and its lesser known public outreach efforts, including fundraising. She’s especially proud that the Alhambra Unified School District Marching Band will be part of next year’s parade, the 131st in its storied history.
On Saturday, April 6 she will be among those being honored by the Alhambra Educational Foundation at its spring fundraising gala at the Hilton Los Angeles/San Gabriel. AEF, which plays a vital fundraising role for the Alhambra Unified School District, is leading the drive to raise money for the Alhambra band’s appearance. Others who will be honored at the AEF gala include the Alhambra Teachers Association, Ashton Potter, the district’s director of technology and information services, and Terry Jaurequi, a retired AUSD administrator. (More information on the dinner and tickets may be found at: www.aef4kids.com)
In choosing the “The Power of Hope” theme for the parade, Farber drew on her family’s own narrative.
She was born in Buenos Aires. Her family came to this country in the late 60s or early 70s, she says. Her parents had been studying biochemistry at the University of Buenos Aires but the political climate was becoming increasingly problematic and the country felt less safe. So they decided to leave.
“They left everything, everyone. They came with nothing. They didn’t know anyone. They didn’t know the culture, the language, nothing,” she says. But they did have hope and “ they thought they would have more opportunities here. And freedom.”
A professor in Argentina helped them get post-doctoral fellowships at UC Santa Barbara and that’s where they landed. A few years later, the family—she has two younger brothers—moved to Monterey Park when her father found a position with a biochemical firm in the area. He ended up at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where he was, for a time, the chief biochemist in the clinical pathology area. He’s retired now.
Her mother worked at the Veterans Administration Hospital before moving on to UCLA where she is now a professor in the David Geffen School of Medicine and is still doing pioneering research on the retina.
Farber grew up on Ladera Street in Monterey Park behind the golf course. She went to Monterey Highlands Elementary School and later took the bus to Alhambra High School. Kids from that area go to Mark Keppel now, she says.
She recalls some of her Alhambra High teachers fondly and identifies them with a formality that speaks to her student days. The list includes Ms. Parker who taught freshman English; Mr. Kneeland for pre-calculus and a Ms. Benson for physics who she said “I loved to the point that I started as a physics major at UCLA and quickly changed to political science because it wasn’t as exciting to me as politics.” She recalls having debate classes with Mr. Cullen and was on the debate team and was a song leader in her senior year. “It was just a wonderful environment, a very support, terrific environment,” she says.
She recalls attending Girls State, a summer leadership program in Sacramento. “It was kind of like a model U.N. sort of thing. And so you learned about the judiciary and the government and you would have a role in that. We just had our own little state that we kind of comprised. It was really, really cool,” she says. And she remembered that rite of passage for high schoolers in Southern California: spending the night on the parade route before the parade.
After UCLA, where she earned a degree in political science cum laude with departmental highest honors, she went on to get her law degree, also cum laude, at Georgetown University. She met her husband Tomas Lopez, who is also an attorney, when she was in her third year of law school. They have two college age children—Christopher, who is studying history, and Jessica, who is studying anthropology—at universities in the east.
Her husband retired recently from the LA County Community Development Commission in Alhambra so he might have the time to travel with Farber during her term as tournament president.
Farber herself is a partner in the Pasadena law firm of Hahn & Hahn, where she practices civil litigation with an emphasis on employment disputes. She is the fifth member of Hahn & Hahn to hold the post of Tournament president.
Asked what attracted her to the law, she says “debate in high school.” She notes that her grandfather was an attorney in Argentina, “but it was a very different experience there, very different. They don’t have the tradition of orality, they only had writing.”
“I was going to go the science direction and then there was something about politics and political science and being able to express yourself and to advocate. Especially, I have a strong sense of fairness and justice. There was something in me that just wanted to purse that and help people.”
Her work with the Tournament of Roses Association began 26 years ago. She has fond memories of the committees she has served on, recalling an encounter with the family of the actor Jimmy Smits when she was on the Decorating Places Committee. “I remember being down at our facility in the Arroyo and giving them a tour in Spanish,” which is her native language, she said, and recalled also meeting filmmaker George Lucas and celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, on later, English-language tours.
“It’s been wonderful. We have a very long ladder for our leadership, intentionally. So by the time you’re in this position you’ve touched every one of our operating committees, either by coordinating it or chairing it. So you know you can speak fairly intelligently about what our organization does and what it means and what it represents. And to be involved in the community because we’re much more than a parade and a game.”
This point brings up a discussion of perceptions that many people might have about the Tournament of Roses. She’s asked if she thinks many people see the Tournament’s community engagement role.
“That’s a good question and something that the Association has been very committed in pursuing this year,” she replies. “Through our foundation, we have an amazing presence,” she says, noting that even though the association is a non-profit, it gives out hundred of thousands of dollars to other non-profits in the community.
Other challenges the tournament faces include expanding the demographic in its leadership structure. “The face of the Tournament has changed dramatically and, I think in everyone’s collective opinion, for the better. We are now beginning to reflect the community that we live in, which needed to happen, but within our meritocracy.”
To advance visions of the tournament’s future, Farber said that this year they’ve developed an Innovation Team, comprised of folks in leadership roles as well as new and longtime volunteers from a variety of ages and experiences. “We urge them to think outside the box, if money was no object and technology was no object, what would you like to see? What would you want to do?”
Farber says this process if creating “an amazing interesting dynamic.” “Those ideas will be divvied up and given out to different committees to explore and consider. That will keep us vibrant. We need to make sure that we’ve honoring our great traditions while always moving forward.”
“Always moving forward,” just like the parade.