It’s so rewarding to see people work together to accomplish something. I’ve tried to make it my mantra from the beginning that this experience is more about building people than building a float. —Elizabeth McConkie
There were times when Elizabeth McConkie cried and told her husband she wanted to quit.
As a member of the Rose Park North Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, McConkie, a wife and mother of five, was asked to oversee the creation of a float for the annual Days of ’47 Parade.
There were certainly fun moments of abundant participation and creative construction, but the assignment also came with stress, heartache and sleepless nights, she said.
“You spend several hours building something and a piece breaks off, then you have to fix it,” McConkie said. “The hardest part may involve telling someone to redo something without them taking offense. I’ve been on all levels of that with each piece. I also know I will never get all the glitter out of my house. But it’s so rewarding to see people work together to accomplish something. I’ve tried to make it my mantra from the beginning that this experience is more about building people than building a float.”
The Rose Park North Stake float is one of many built by Latter-day Saints for Utah’s biggest parade on July 24, which celebrates the 1847 arrival of Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley.
The process began about a year ago when parade organizers asked the stake to prepare a float and McConkie was called, she said. Her first step was to speak with as many experienced float directors as possible to gain an understanding of the scope of the project, the materials needed and how best to coordinate volunteer efforts. The experience was eye-opening because she had never been assigned a leadership responsibility of this size, she said.
Last October, McConkie and other float directors received a large binder containing general information, parade rules and requirements.
By December, a committee of “creative minds” was formed to consider the 2015 parade theme, “Pioneers forging a new frontier,” and generate potential float ideas. Because the Rose Park North Stake has significant ethnic and cultural diversity, the committee liked the idea of building a float to show that diversity in the community.
“We settled on taking a lot of the different churches in the area, particularly those that are historic, to represent that diversity of faith,” McConkie said. “It wasn’t just the Mormon pioneers that established the valley.”
They decided to feature nine historic religious buildings in the area, including the Salt Lake Temple, the Cathedral of the Madeleine and the Holy Trinity Cathedral (Greek Orthodox Church), along with churches belonging to the Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian and other faiths. Parade officials approved their float design in March, McConkie said.
The Rose Park North Stake reached out and invited each faith to take part in building the float.
“It was a good community outreach effort. We were able to make some friends,” said John McConkie, Elizabeth’s husband and right-hand man on the project. “They were all grateful to be invited.”
Next came the challenge of actually building the float. Over several months, McConkie relied on Ron Roskos, a stake high councilor, to help recruit volunteers, including Tom Hartvigsen, head designer; Micah Brewster, head of construction; Michelle Cloward, stake Primary president; and Bonnie Starr, the stake president’s wife. As many as 100 to 150 volunteers of all ages participated in the project.
“We had a lot of great people working behind the scenes,” Roskos said. “Everyone got involved and contributed.”
Hartvigsen, a graphic artist by profession, has previously worked on floats over the years.
“It’s a lot of hard work. I enjoyed designing the shapes of the buildings,” he said. “The idea was fun because it involved other religions and celebrated our commonalities and not our differences.”
The assembly of the float was rarely easy. Pieces often broke or refused to stick together. The building process became a pattern of finding a solution that worked for one night, only to return the next day and find it had fallen apart. In those moments, the group appreciated humorous comments that chased the tension away.
McConkie sympathized with one stalwart volunteer who had spent ample time and effort making bumblebees only to discover they were too large. She went back and made a smaller version. McConkie admired the woman for responding with a positive attitude.
“It has been a mixture of happy and tough moments,” said McConkie, who plans to walk along the Days of ’47 parade route and take photos from a distance. “Someday we will look back and say the whole thing was great fun.”
Two aspects of the project were especially meaningful for the McConkies: family bonding time and answers to prayers.
It wasn’t intended to be a family affair, but John McConkie said their four children (the fifth is serving an LDS mission) were pillars of support for their mother.
“They gave everything night after night, working side by side,” John McConkie said. “It has made us a lot closer as a family.”
There have also been a lot of answers to prayers. As the deadline approached, the committee prayed for volunteers who were “finishers.” One man with that reputation hadn’t planned to help, but he felt strongly he should change his plans. He showed up and helped get the float ready for a practice run with the Murray City Fourth of July parade.
“There have been a lot of answers to prayer,” John McConkie said. “The Lord really pushes us to our limits, tests us and makes us pray. When we pray, he takes care of us. He cares about the people working on the float.”
The Rose Park North Stake float took part in last Saturday’s Draper Days parade as a final test before the Days of ’47 Parade. Overall, it’s been a good experience, Elizabeth McConkie said.
“It’s been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do,” she said. “But it will be so rewarding to see it in the parade, to see the members of the stake and know they have been part of something monumental.”
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