In December 1941, 17-year-old Dolores Jean Brubach was days away from fulfilling her dream as Pasadena Rose Queen.
Then came the Pearl Harbor attack.
Suddenly, the cloud of war cast its somber shadow over Los Angeles and the nation.
The parade was canceled, the Rose Bowl game relocated to Durham, N.C., and for a moment, Brubach’s crown rendered obsolete.
“I was very disappointed. It meant a great deal to me, but I forced myself not to cry,” said Brubach in a 1957 news clipping, as she described being told that the parade was canceled.
That moment did not last long. Thanks to an idea from James Ingham, the vice president of the Tournament of Roses Association, Brubach traded her title of Rose Queen for that of Victory Queen.
The new name also came with a greater purpose – to encourage Americans to contribute to the war effort, so the lost Rose Parade could make way for a parade of victory.
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Brubach spent the days leading up to the New Year calling for war bond donations at public events and asking people to mail her postcards sharing their acts of wartime service. On Jan. 1, 1942, Dolores amplified her call nationwide through a live half-time broadcast from the Rose Bowl stadium.
“As Queen may I ask each of you, my subjects, to enter in our Parade of Victory. The parade will consist of defense bonds and defense stamps, generous donations to the Red Cross war chest, and your cooperation in making certain America’s victory in this war for freedom!” she said, according to a transcript published in the Jan. 2, 1942, edition of the Pasadena Post.
“Make it the greatest pageant of personal sacrifice America has ever known,” she added.
Brubach was joined in the radio broadcast by NBC announcers Don Wilson and Ken Carpenter and Tournament of Roses representative C. Hal Reynolds. Together they sat perched above an empty field, listening to the game on the radio and staring at the new electronic scoreboard, which was updated live to reflect the progress of the game.
“It gives a man a funny feeling to listen to those happy crowds and the noise and excitement back there and be sitting here–in the NBC booth atop the rim of the stadium where I can look down and see the playing field marked in white and its long rows of circular seats–empty,” said Reynolds. “Empty, and yet–it’s almost as if I can hear the ghostly echo of cheering fans.”
The radio broadcast ended with the four lonesome spectators singing “Auld Lang Syne” for their national audience.
“She said she teared up a little bit when they did that,” said daughter Debbie Kohler, in a recent interview. “She was very proud to be the Queen of Victory and she never felt slighted in the least for not having a parade that year.”
The 1942 game remained the only Rose Bowl played outside of Pasadena until the 2021 Rose Bowl, when the game was moved to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, due to California’s COVID restrictions. The only years the Rose Parade has been canceled in its 133 year history, are 1942 and 1943, due to the war, and 2021, due to COVID.
Ironically, Brubach had been reluctant to try out for Rose Queen in the first place, Kohler recounted. However, she and every other female student seventeen and older at Pasadena High School was required to audition in physical education class by walking in a straight line and up a flight of stairs in front of a panel of judges.
The process has changed significantly since then and now focuses on qualities including young women’s public speaking ability, academic achievement, leadership, and community and school involvement.
Back in 1941, Brubach was suprised to find herself making it through cut after cut. And, by the time of her coronation, she could barely contain her excitement.
The actual 1942 parade day was a muted event compared to the typical vibrant affair that draws thousands to the streets of Pasadena. Still, Brubach and the other members of the Rose Court rode in cars down Colorado Boulevard, accompanied by music from the Pasadena Bulldog Band, and attended a ceremony at the Huntington Hotel.
“Sure, it was disappointing,” Brubach told the LA Times in a 1987 interview. “As a girl I had dreamed of riding my own float in my own parade, and there we all were, crowded into four or five cars with nobody paying the slightest attention to us.”
However, even at the young age of 17, Brubach knew that the war effort took precedence over a parade.
“I can’t complain,” she told the Times. “I didn’t have a real parade, but I was able to sell a lot of war bonds as the Rose Queen that year and that was rewarding.”
The 1942 Rose Bowl was a bright spot in a dark and turbulent time. Shortly thereafter the war became even more personal for Brubach as her high school sweetheart, Herbert Chase, joined the armed forces in Europe.
The pair married while Chase was on leave in 1943. The wedding was a spur of the moment decision, so Brubach wore the finest dress she owned — her Rose Queen coronation gown. The couple went on to have four children in Pasadena and later moved to Claremont, where Brubach took a job answering the Claremont Unified School District switchboard.
Still, her dream of riding a float lingered. And, in 1957, it finally came true as she was invited to ride on a float sponsored by the Occidental Insurance Company alongside 1905 Queen Hallie Woods McConnell and 1946 Queen Jo An Culver. The float – a stunning multi-layer display featuring the three queens atop individual giant rose buds – ended up winning the grand prize.
“It was a beautiful big yellow rose and she wore a beautiful yellow taffeta strapless gown that was actually connected to the rose and so it looked like she was blooming out of this rose,” said Kohler. “It was absolutely the best thing that ever happened to her because of her not being able to be in the original parade.”
Brubach’s four children Gary, Cathy, Debbie and Bradley, ages 12, 8, 6 and 5, respectively, were able to attend the 1957 parade and wave proudly at their mother atop her float.
Brubach continued to be closely involved in the Rose Parade for many years and attended every parade event and luncheon she was invited to. And, In 1973, her daughter Debbie wore Brubach’s original coronation dress to her own wedding.
“I was so thrilled that she let me do that, it was so beautiful,” said Kohler. “It was the gown with three lives.”