Gerald Freeny first got involved with the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association—which puts on Pasadena’s Rose Bowl and Rose Parade—as a volunteer on the parade route at age 28. His grandmother instilled in him the value of service, and he thought this would be a way to give back to the community and meet new people. Volunteering for the association became a centerpiece of Freeny’s life. While making his career in law enforcement, he rose through the association’s ranks, first becoming a member then serving on a variety of committees before becoming its first Black president in 2018. Freeny is now a life member of the Tournament of Roses Association’s board of directors.
There’s nothing like being at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. You’re part of America’s New Year’s celebration, and you’re going to the greatest collegiate football game in the nation, the granddaddy of them all. The Rose Bowl is just awesome. I’ve had the opportunity to be everywhere in the Rose Bowl, from the press box to the seats to the field, and no matter where you are, you’re going to have a great seat and a great time.
Watching the Rose Parade in person is not the same as on TV. Depending on the weather, sometimes you can smell the roses. I can remember being young and camping out there to save myself a place to watch the parade. That’s just fun. It’s just fun to be out there.
The Tournament House is in the Wrigley Mansion. That’s our headquarters. In there, you can see the history of Pasadena—the participants that have been in the parade, the football room where you can see all the helmets from the Pac-12 and Big Ten. There’s information on every game that’s been played at the Rose Bowl. The Tournament of Roses is a family, so it’s just about being a part of the family and being there in the house.
My grandmother was a strong believer in giving back to the community. She always taught us to make sure you volunteer and give back. When I joined the tournament in 1988 as a volunteer, I was just looking forward to meeting new people. I never dreamed that I would be president one day.