This year’s Battle of Flowers Parade marks a historic beginning — and an end.

On April 8, the 131-year Fiesta tradition of the Battle of Flowers Parade will finally, after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, march through downtown San Antonio once again.

But for Rose Garcia, the event will put a bow on a 52-year career as the parade’s flower maker.

In that time, she and her family members have handmade an estimated 500,000 flowers that a volunteer crew uses to adorn the colorful floats. 

At age 70, Garcia’s decision to retire from her flower-making career is about letting others discover the joy she’s found in the uniquely San Antonio job.

Sitting at a wooden table in an old schoolhouse they call “the den,” Rose Garcia speaks softly as her hands skillfully work the paper, pinching and folding the bright pink tissue into a flamboyant flower as if marking time. 

“I can’t be selfish. Somebody else younger than I has to learn and take over,” Garcia said.

Garcia began making flowers in 1970 when she graduated from high school at age 18, joining her mother Genevieve Loera — who began making flowers at 13 — her aunts and their daughters and daughters-in-law to learn the flower-making business.

Rose Garcia is retiring after 52 years of creating flowers for the Battle of Flowers Parade.
Rose Garcia is retiring after 52 years of creating flowers for the Battle of Flowers Parade. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

In a tradition that started long before her time, Garcia recruited siblings, cousins and friends into the den, teaching them how to carefully craft the flowers out of delicate paper, brilliant foil and floral stem wire. It takes time to learn, so beginners start with simpler tasks.

“We don’t push,” she said. “Gradually, they get the courage and they want to learn. They see everybody around them doing it and they say, ‘Let me try.’” 

For six weeks starting in February every year, the team gathers at the East Side den where the floats are decorated and, working in an assembly line, they form and twist paper into a rainbow of blooms. 

The rooms where they work, where vintage-green chalkboards line the walls, soon fill with flowers gathered in overflowing boxes and hanging in bouquets along a system of clotheslines, numbered according to the float they’re designed for. The flowers are made to match the gowns of the Order of the Alamo “royalty” who ride on the floats.

The workroom also fills with the sounds of generations reunited. 

“It’s a lot of laughter, a lot of chatting about the families,” Garcia said. “Sometimes the children come in so we get to see their families … and we eat and continue to work.”

They share stories and also their heartaches. This year, that meant recalling the family members they had lost to COVID-19 in recent months. In October, Garcia’s brother died from the virus along with a cousin, Helen Reyes. “We lost too many,” Garcia said. 

Ready to retire in 2020 before the parade was canceled, Garcia agreed to return to flower-making this year as her swan song. The parade association is honoring Garcia’s contributions with a float in her honor at the April 8 parade and the theme, “Viva las Flores.” 

Garcia chose Reyes to succeed her as head flower maker before the woman died from complications of COVID-19 last fall. Another woman asked to take the reins was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Although Garcia hasn’t selected another successor yet, she said it will be a family member.

Despite the pain of loss and illness, Garcia said they all have missed Fiesta after the event was canceled in 2020 and the parades suspended in 2021 due to the pandemic.

“I think San Antonio is just ready to get out there and do Fiesta, be around people and have fun,” she said. “We’ve had too much sadness. It’s not just our family. There are a bunch of families out there in San Antonio who have gone through the same thing.”

Claudia Leudemann Kiolbassa, Queen of the Order of the Alamo, rides on a float decorated with flowers made by Rose Garcia during the 2019 Battle of Flowers Parade.
Claudia Leudemann Kiolbassa, Queen of the Order of the Alamo, rides on a float decorated with flowers made by Rose Garcia during the 2019 Battle of Flowers Parade. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Melissa Branch, vice president of the parade for the Battle of Flowers Association, said Garcia is family. 

“She really is someone we all admire and she has an incredible work ethic and a talent that we respect and love and care about,” Branch said. 

Garcia watches the annual parade every year, to see her handiwork and spend time with her family, and she plans to keep up that tradition, she said. 

“There are a lot of people in San Antonio who don’t know where they make the floats or flowers,” she said. “It’s just like the dressmakers [for Fiesta’s royal court]. They don’t know who makes the dresses.”

But Garcia knows — they are family — and she wants to take it all in. “I want to see it coming down the street,” she said.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.