Carol Belser

Carol Belser has been an integral part of crafting the Garland of Roses since 1987. (WDRB Photo)

MIDDLETOWN, Ky. (WDRB) -- Out of 5,000 stems of Freedom Roses, only about 450 will make the cut to become a symbol of the Kentucky Derby: the Garland of Roses.

It's been made by Kroger every year since 1987.

Two of the hands that so carefully make it happen belong to a woman whose kind and gentle wisdom grab your attention. Her name is Carol Belser.

"We want them to be very secure, so they won't fly off the garland of roses," she said Friday as she demonstrated the process.

Belser has been there from the very beginning.

"First, it was bags of potatoes and everything before the flowers was actually introduced into the stores," she said. "They brought in a small fixture of flowers and asked me to take care of the flowers, and that's how it all started."

She's helped construct the garland for every Derby since 1987.

"The adrenaline flows every year, and you're so hyped up," she said glowingly.

It's a big job, but one that comes with a big pay-off.

"Seeing that blanket of roses placed across that winning thoroughbred, that is such a warm, touching feeling," she said.

But this one might spark her emotions for a different reason.

"I had to take a deep breath and listen to that inner-voice that told me this is it," Belser said.

She plans to retire next month.

"I'm making room for others and someone else," she said.

Allison Gousha, the Kroger Derby Coordinator, will miss the mentor-figure.

"How to be picky, I've learned from her, and I've also learned things aren't as big of a deal as she makes them sometimes," she said with a smile.

But Gousha says the tradition will still be in good hands because of all the other florists and because she thinks Belser will be right back here next year—as a volunteer.

"I don't think that she can give that itch up," Gousha said.

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