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Zaragoza part of Rose Parade on New Year’s Day

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Zaragoza part of Rose Parade on New Year’s Day

Jose Zaragoza will be representing his late son, Matthew Zaragoza Van Gelderen, and the California Transplant Donor Network at Thursday's 120th annual Rose Parade in Pasadena.

Photo contributed/

POSTED December 30, 2008 11:41 p.m.

Jose Zaragoza will be among those on the Donate Life float at the 120th annual Rose Parade on New Year’s Day.
But he won’t be alone.

Zaragoza, who is involved in the California Transplant Donor Network, will be representing his late son, Matthew Van Gelderen, who died on Sept. 23, 2005 after being taken off life support. The East Union High football player suffered a fatal head injury a week earlier in a non-league game at Bear Creek.

He and his wife, Zona, made the tough choice of having their 16-year-old son’s vital organs donated to those in need of a transplant.

“Jose will proudly wear Matthew’s East Union High jersey to honor Matt, his football team, teachers, coaches, friends and school,” said Zona Zaragoza, who will be joined in the grandstand by her son, Mark Fabbri, and daughters, Katrina and Kristy.

The family is no stranger to the national spotlight, having appeared on the syndicated Montel Williams Show earlier this year. There, they met Lorma Sealey, the recipient of Matthew’s heart and both lungs, and Tom Starr, who received their son’s kidneys.

Jose Zaragoza, who, on behalf of CTDN, talks regularly to schools and other organizations about organ and tissue donation, also threw out the ceremonial first pitch at AT&T Park during a 2006 game involving the Washington Nationals and the hometown San Francisco Giants.

“He threw a beautiful rainbow for a strike,” his wife recalled.

This time, he will be among the 26 riders on “The Stars of Life” — or float No. 69 — in the 2009 Tournament of Roses parade.

“Each donor represented in a floragraph is a true ‘Star of Life,’” said Bryan Stewart, chairman of the Donor Life float committee. “All of their stories are unique yet profoundly connected, as their gifts came from a singular desire to help others.”

Incidentally, Matt’s memory, “The Ultimate Gift of Giving,” was aired on Spanish-language television, Univision, on Christmas Eve.

Since making the five-hour drive to Pasadena on Monday, the Zaragoza Van Gelderen family has been involved in a flurry of activities. Included was the float rider dinner and orientation.

On Tuesday, they had a chance to observe the float-decorating events and attend the “The Stars of Life” gala later that day.

“I didn’t realize how much was involved (in the Rose Parade),” Zona said.

She also was overwhelmed at the scale of the floats, with some three- to four- stories tall, and costing anywhere between $2,000 to $3,000 to build.

Jose Zaragoza was more excited than nervous about the upcoming Rose Parade.

“We’ve been so busy,” he said. “There’s so much you have to go through.

“I’m just honored and excited that people are interested in remembering Matt.”

Come New Year’s Day, he’ll be standing alongside his son’s memory for all the world to see.

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