A Journey of Hope: Part 1

December 27, 2013

Each year, Donate Life organizations from across the United States and throughout the world celebrate the “gift of life” through organ and tissue donation by creating a float to be featured in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California. Gift of Hope is proud to be a part of this amazing event.

Over the next few days, we will feature the stories of Illinoisans and Hoosiers who are organ and tissue donation advocates and have been a part of making the 2014 Donate Life Float a reality.

Today, we would like to introduce Larry Lefferts. Larry is a donor father and an avid advocate for organ and tissue donation. He and his wife, Vivian, represented Gift of Hope at last year’s Tournament of Roses Parade. They enjoyed the experience so much that they are returning for the 2014 parade as members of the Donate Life Float Advisory Committee.

Without further ado, here is Larry’s story in his own words.

The Lefferts family at the 2013 Rose Parade.

The Lefferts family at the 2013 Rose Parade.

The English language is far too inadequate to describe the beautiful experience of being involved with the Donate Life Float! Words like “joy”, “pain”, “comfort”, “healing”, “support”, “compassion”, “love”, “sharing”, “caring”, “thankful”, “remarkable”, “overwhelming” do not seem adequate in conveying just what this experience was all about. We met new, very dear friends who make one feel like they have been our friends for a very long time.

There is Kevin Monroe, who donated a kidney to his brother and has worked on every Donate Life Float. He was in charge of a shift for building the float. After telling him Vivian was riding the float, he asked what state we were from.  When we said Illinois, he said he knew about us and then said something about our fireworks business and our son. His eyes swelled with tears as we talked about John and we all cried. What compassion he showed us!

Then there is the driving force behind the float, Bryan Stewart.  It was amazing to watch his skill at handling all of the things thrown at him. We also got to know Bryan’s assistant, Annie Kiefhaber, quite well. We were even able to help her with coordinating buses for the parade. 

And there was Heidi Schaiberger!  We were so very blessed to be able to meet her and share the experience with her. 

The joy and anticipation on the day of the Parade was palpable!  The Donate Life folks sat facing each other on both sides of Colorado Blvd which hosts much of the parade route.  It was a joy watching the other floats and bands go by as everyone cheered.  We could see a couple blocks up to “media corner” as floats turned towards us.  There was a clear view, stirring much excitement, when the Donate Life Journey of the Heart Float turned the corner.  To watch it approach us and see it so clearly was truly a life changing moment. I saw my lovely bride, Vivian, clutching my son’s photo and waving back at all of us! I was flooded and overwhelmed with emotion as I watched this beautiful creation sail by us and heard the Float’s theme song, Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be In My Heart.”  I was truly blessed to be there for this moment! It was joyous!

Larry and his daughter as they wait for the Donate Life Float.

Larry and his daughter as they wait for the Donate Life Float.

Vivian and I felt so very blessed!  Our lives were changed on that day. We pledged to return at some time in the future and volunteer in the hopes we could again experience the healing joy.  Imagine our excitement when Annie Kiefhaber called us and asked if we would like to be on her Donate Life Float Committee!  We were, and are, thrilled beyond belief at this opportunity. It is our hope to make the Donate Life Rose Parade Float Class of 2014 feel as blessed as we were made to feel by those who were there for us!


Illinois Partners with Donate Life America to Register 20 Million in 2012

January 11, 2012

We need your help to register 20 million Americans as organ and tissue donors in 2012!

Jessica Melore celebrated her 30th birthday on January 4, a milestone she wasn’t sure she’d live to experience. At 16, Jessica received a lifesaving heart transplant. Her story of hope and survival helps to launch Donate Life America’s bold new initiative: “20 Million in 2012.

Donate Life America — the national organization promoting organ, eye and tissue donation in the United States – designed its “20 Million in 2012” initiative to focus on dramatically increasing the number of people registered in state donor registries. This official launch of the campaign comes on the heels of DLA’s announcement during the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena  where it has sponsored the Donate Life float each year since 2004. This year’s float again featured inspirational stories of organ donors and their families, a tradition that the “20 Million in 2012” campaign will continue as it features powerful stories of people affected by organ, eye and tissue donation.

“I am so proud to be a part of the campaign’s “I am HOPE” storytelling project,” says Melore. “Real-life stories like mine often inspire people to sign up to be organ, eye and tissue donors.”

By registering your decision to be an organ and tissue donor, you can give hope to more than 112,000 Americans—more than 5,000 Illinoisans—waiting for lifesaving transplants. “We are committed to saving and enhancing as many lives as possible through organ and tissue donation,” says David Bosch, Director of Communications for Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, which coordinates organ and tissue donation in Illinois and northwest Indiana. “Nearly 6 million Illinois residents have registered their decisions to save and enhance lives through organ and tissue donation. In 2012, we hope to inspire and motivate thousands more to make this ordinary decision that can produce extraordinary results.”

Gift of Hope and other Donate Life Illinois coalition members will support the “20 Million in 2012” campaign’s four featured national events:

  • The Donate Life Flash Mob on March 24
  • Donate Life Blue and Green Virtual Fashion Show on April 20
  • Donate Life Champions in Fall 2012
  • Donate Life Linking Hands for Life being held all year long

For more information about the “20 Million in 2012” campaign, visit DonateLifeAmerica.org. To register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor in Illinois, visit DonateLifeIllinois.org.

Donate Life Rose Parade Wrap-Up

January 5, 2012

Last week was an amazing time for organ and tissue donation advocates across the country and throughout the world.  Donate Life organizations partnered to build and enter the “One More Day” Donate Life Float in the 123rd Tournament of Roses Parade.  The float generated hundreds of donation related stories in the media and showed the estimated 70 million people watching the Rose Parade that organ and tissue donation saves lives.


This year’s Rose Parade was an especially significant event for organ and tissue donation advocates here in Illinois.  The Donate Life Float featured two riders who call the great state of Illinois home. Alex Rodriguez, of Cicero, was sponsored by Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network riding in honor of his brother Francisco “Paco” Rodriguez.  The second rider, Linda Henning, resides in Crossville and was sponsored by Donor Alliance of Denver, Colorado.  Linda rode in honor of her son, Marc, a former cadet in the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Alex Rodriguez and Linda Henning in front of the Donate Life Float

Both Alex and Linda spent their time in Pasadena building awareness for organ and tissue donation and networking with donor families and recipients from across the United States.  It was truly an amazing time to honor loved ones, make life-long connections, and celebrate the “Gift of Life” that is organ and tissue donation.

Alex Rodriguez sitting next to Paco's heart recipient, Alexis Sloan, on the Donate Life Float

If you would like to learn more about the Donate Life Float and the Rose Parade, check out the links to news stories and resources at the bottom of this post.  To see more pictures of our Illinois float riders, visit the Donate Life Illinois Facebook Page or go to the Donate Life Float Media Center.

National Media Surrounding the Donate Life Float

ESPN.com – The parade of life

CNN.com – Two families bond after child’s death saves another

Regional Coverage of Illinois riders and honorees

Fox Chicago News –Friends and Family Honor Boxer Paco Rodriguez

ABC Chicago – Late Chicago boxer to be honored at Rose Parade

Univision Chicago – Niño Azteka será honrado en Los Ángeles

Telemundo Chicago – Murió en el cuadrilátero, pero sigue viviendo

The Denver Post – Organ donors’ families celebrate gift of life at Calif. Event

Carmi Times – Phillipstown represented in Rose Parade

More Resources

Visit the Donate Life Facebook Page for photos of the Illinois riders and honorees.

Go to DonateLifeFloat.org for more information on the Donate Life Float.

Register your decision to save lives through organ and tissue donation at DonateLifeIllinois.org!

2012 Donate Life Rose Parade Float

December 23, 2011

It’s that time of year when Donate Life America partners with the Rose Parade to build organ and tissue donation awareness across the United States. Each year since 2004, Donate Life has entered a float in the Rose Parade which takes place annually on (or near) New Year’s Day in Pasadena. The partnership with the Rose Parade has inspired countless Americans to register their decisions to save lives through organ and tissue donation.

Rendering of 2012 Donate Life Float

This year, Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network is honoring Francisco “Paco” Rodriguez by sending his family to Pasadena to participate in Donate Life Float activities from December 28th until January 2nd. Paco’s family will help decorate the Donate Life Float, network with donor families and recipients, and spread organ and tissue donation awareness. Alex Rodriguez, Paco’s brother, will even ride on the Donate Life Float during the Rose Parade!

Sonia, wife, and Ginette, daughter, put the finishing touches on Paco's floragraph.

From December 28th until January 2nd, the Donate Life Illinois team will be in Pasadena with the Rodriguez family sharing photos and updates on Facebook and Twitter. Use the hashtag #DonateLifeFloat on Twitter to see updates from Donate Life Illinois and, possibly, other Donate Life organizations.

Happy Holidays!

– Josh

“An Amazing Experience” – A Recap From Our Rose Parade Rider

January 24, 2011

I feel so honored to have been chosen by Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network to be a float rider on the Donate Life Float in the 2011 Tournament of Roses Parade.  I rode on the float to honor my son, Jeff Meyer, who became an organ/tissue donor when he passed away 10/23/01, his recipients, and my husband, Jim Tilton, who received his new healthy kidney 3/18/89.  We put a rose on the float to honor Jeff, as well as one for a friend for her precious little granddaughter who passed away at 11 months old waiting for a transplant that never came in time to save her little life.  Our family, volunteers and friends were as excited as me knowing I would be on the float.

We had a busy 4 days in Pasadena, CA, as we were involved in many Donate Life Float activities, parties and the Rose Bowl Game. It was so wonderful to meet the other float riders and floral graph families. It was so awesome to get to help decorate the float and see it become such a beautiful float.  Seeing all the amazing floragraphs on the float honoring donors was touching.  As the float rolled out of the hanger and seeing the kites being brought up along with the floragraphs, was like seeing it come to life and represent life.  Then all of us riders climbed onto our seats for float judging with photos in our hands of our donor loved one or their donor who gave me a new chance at life.  And as the float judges walked around our float and talking to riders you could see the tears in their eyes too.

Dee (center) rides the Donate Life Float

The excitement started New Years Day at 7:40 AM as we climbed on the “Seize the Day”  Donate Life Float. The float won the Theme Trophy in the parade judging. As the parade started it was just so awesome to see how excited people became as our float approached them. All along the parade route it was awesome seeing people react as they’d realize what the float represented. Many stood, clapped, threw kisses, showed hugs, or had tears in their eyes.  It was great to be able to interact with the crowd while on the float as we rode the 5 mile parade route.  Most floats represent a company or city, but the Donate Life float represents life, memories, love, caring, giving and hope.   You could just see this float had true meaning to those watching the parade.

Towards the end of the parade, as we were stopped, a couple of teenage girls were just smiling and waving to us, so I motioned for them to come over to the float.  I gave them a “Seize the Day” lapel pin and it brought such smiles to their faces as they put them on their jacket. I took their picture as we pulled away. It was neat to see how excited they were, and it made them feel more part of the float.

The two plus hours we were on the parade route went so fast, but I came away from it so blessed.  The Donate Life float had a meaning that touched people’s hearts and made them see how organ donation touched our lives. The Donate Life Float not only shows awareness of the importance of being an organ/tissue/eye donor, but touches the hearts of those who see the float’s true meaning of giving love, hope and life to others.

I had the most amazing 4 days of my life that I will never forget.  I was so blessed to be part of this wonderful float and parade.

Delora “Dee” Tilton

Groveland, IL

Visit the Donate Life Float media center to view more photos from the parade.

Seize the Day!

Rose Parade Float Theme is Announced

June 25, 2010

Donate Life America has announced the theme for the 2011 Rose Parade Float. The theme is, drum roll, please……Seize the Day. Complete with soaring kites, floragraph portraits memorializing deceased donors, 24 riders and thousands of roses, the float will “honor all donors and the everyday dreams they make possible through the gift of life.”

To learn more about the Donate Life Float and last year’s Illinois rider’s experience, check out Donate Life’s Rose Parade site and our coverage of last year’s parade:

Illinois Float Rider – Rose Parade Slideshow Recap

Recap on Award-Winning Donate Life Rose Parade Float

Donate Life America’s Rose Parade Photos

Seize everyday!


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Donate Life America’s Rose Parade Photos

January 7, 2010

Donate Life America has posted hundreds of photos that capture the ongoings of the Rose Parade on their flickr page. Be sure to check them out and  here are a few of Donate Life Illinois’ favorites:

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