If 100th Tournament of Roses 2018 Queen Isabella Marez is not polished in her picture-perfect royal attire during this year of reign, you’ll find her in her other favorite outfit of choice: scuffed up softball cleats and dirty practice gear.
It’s a dichotomy that reminds those around her of the Royal Court’s transition to modern times, and that a girl these days can be, above all, all things.
“I love that about her and find it so funny,” said sister Alex Marez. “She’s either in full makeup or all grimy in practice gear.”
Either way, Marez is either coming or going, riding out the tail-end of a whirlwind year that will include about 100 public events as queen with her six Royal Court members, serving out the TOR’s choice of theme “Making a Difference.”
“From the beginning she was really inspired by the theme … she’s always been super involved in making a difference in people’s lives,” Alex Marez noted.
Queen Isabella has a long list of volunteerism. Now a senior at La Salle High School, the Altadena resident is service commissioner for Student Life and a Youth Ministry leader, a member of Support Our Troops Club, Key Club, Unbreakable Club, Hispanic National Honors Society and National Arts Society. She also serves as a Junior Ambassador for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where she has been instrumental in organizing a visit from the Royal Court.
While doing an internship at Children’s Hospital, Marez also discovered a possible career path in the medical field, that of a physician’s assistant or working with children as a trauma therapist. She hopes to combine a major in social justice and human anatomy.
“Children’s Hospital has taught me so many things, I’ve been amazed to learn just how many different kinds of health professionals there are, so many different ways to make connections with patients and families,” Marez said.
During a recent sit-down to reflect on her year thus far as Rose Queen, Marez shuffled her books away, having taken advantage of a 10-minute break to catch up on homework ahead of her senior year finals. She leaned back in one of her favorite chairs in the “great room,” also her favorite room in the TOR House due to its history of housing the Royal Court. “I love knowing that all of the other courts have sat in this room, gotten ready here,” she noted.
Marez and her six royal princesses this year may have begun a new tradition: For the first time ever, they chose a charity of choice to promote throughout the year, giving their platform a special relevance to the nonprofit Elizabeth House, a charity focused on providing housing and support to homeless or at-risk expectant mothers. From the beginning of her tenure, Marez has been vocal about her wish to be an agent of change; not only for women’s rights but also for the rights of the LGBTQ community.
“It’s out of compassion and respect for that person as another human being that a difference is made,” Marez said.
“We have this incredible platform, the power of us seven, and I’d love it to be a tradition that keeps going. I’d love other courts to know they also have the power to use their voices for change and for the greater good,” she said. “I hope that they chose a charity that empowers women and involves children and bettering the lives of people in Pasadena.”
La Salle High School President Richard Gray said the school is proud to now claim having had 13 young women as Rose Queen in its history. This year alone, La Salle had three young women among the 33 finalists. It didn’t surprise him that they chose Marez out of the group.
“Bella just has one of those engaging personalities that instantly makes you feel comfortable, so I’m not surprised she rose to the top,” Gray said, noting that Marez has honed her leadership skills during her time at La Salle High School, especially while playing varsity softball and during a change in coaches this past year. “An example of her leadership was when Bella really roused the troops to the cause to embrace the new coach.”
Softball, Marez said, has taught her teamwork, time management and the power of positivity. “She’s by far the loudest one out on the field,” notes her sister Alex, laughing. But having played recreational and club softball leagues for some 13 years, dreaming of playing at college level, Marez had to rethink her priorities this past year when she went uncommitted to a college-level softball team. She had applied to all colleges with
Division 1 softball programs.
“It was a really big shock to me … I had this big plan that I’ve been counting on for so many years, and to realize that might not happen was a hard thing to go through. I had to change that plan,” Marez said, noting that the possibility of not playing college ball ultimately has worked to her favor. “I’ve been putting softball first for four years, and I think now with these new opportunities I’m taking a little step back and trying to look at the whole picture.”
Marez did end up receiving an academic scholarship to play softball at Sarah Lawrence College, as well as Illinois College, but she’s taking her time in making a decision. Other possibilities might be Drexel University or Manhattan College, where she might try to join the team as a walk-on.
Working through difficult matters isn’t new to Marez, notes her La Salle mentor and teacher Jenne Hakanen, who is chair of the mathematics department. Hakanen has observed Marez grow over four years on a personal level.
“I’ve seen her blossom into this very fine young lady … she is very considerate of others, hard working. She’s very motivated, too — she wants a successful future and isn’t afraid of going for it,” Hakanen said. “Bella is such a genuine person and always puts forth her true self. She’s always been that person to step forward and take charge when it comes to serving others.”
Hakanen plans on making a huge sign for Marez when she attends the 129th Rose Parade, the first time she is going in 15 years.
“I really want to be there for her, although I imagine Bella will have plenty of fans up and down that boulevard,” she said.
Marez said she is thrilled with the Rose Court experience, especially for bringing her into contact with the six princesses, who are “really beautiful, intelligent and strong young women.” Getting to know the Tournament of Roses committee, especially, she said, has been a privilege.
“Getting to know all the other six beautiful girls has been magical. There is nothing like the [TOR] family, nothing like it anywhere else in the country because it is so special and so prestigious,” she said.
TOR President Lance Tibbet echoed Marez’s accolades, noting that she has taken every one under her wing and is doing “a marvelous job” as queen.
“One of the things people don’t realize, she’s sort of, in a way, the den mother, she sort of keeps the team together. She keeps everyone on track; she’s the encourager, the cheerleader. Being the spokesperson is an added weight, but you know, she lives up to it very gracefully. I’m very proud,” he said.
The court’s grand finale will be its appearance on the Royal Court float in the 129th Rose Parade, in front of about 1 million televised viewers, and then attending the College Football Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 1. Marez will wear the approximately 6-pound Mikimoto crown, featuring more than 600 cultured pearls and six carats of diamonds, for about 12 hours.
“It does hurt a little, but I guess it’s the price you’ve got to pay,” she said, laughing. “But I don’t care — I can’t wait to get on that float!”