One krewe started as a fundraiser. Another was sparked by the notion that Baton Rouge needed a night parade. And a third is all about the kids.
This Carnival season marks milestones for three local Mardi Gras krewes. And they couldn't be more different.
There's the elegance and glamour of Karnival Krewe de Louisiane, started 30 years ago as a fundraiser for a local cancer center. Also marking three decades is the Krewe of Southdowns, kicked off by a local doctor who just wanted to have a little fun marching through the streets in a night parade lit by tiki torches. And then there's the Krewe of Lyonnesse, which is celebrating 20 years as Baton Rouge's only children's krewe.
Karnival Krewe de Louisiane
Karnival Krewe de Louisiane, which organized in 1987, will have its big night Feb. 3, when krewe officials hope to surpass the $3 million mark in funds raised for cancer research, cancer education and indigent cancer patient care at Mary Bird Perkins — Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center.
"I well up with tears at how far we've come. That first year we netted $30,000," says Susan Lipsey, who chaired the first ball in 1988. She and husband Richard, himself a past king, are serving as this year's grand marshals.
"There was no annual giving program in place," recalls Lipsey. "We decided to call it the Governor's Ball to give it some cachet, but I don't think the governor ever came. We didn't form a krewe; we just sold tickets to whoever wanted to come. John Folse and Kacoo Olinde were the first king and queen. I came up with idea of having (teenage) lords and ladies in costume instead of debs; they came out as couples."
One of those couples was Lipsey's daughter, Laurie Aronson, who also reigned as queen in 2012, and Matt Saurage, son of Donna Saurage and the late Norman Saurage. Donna Saurage, who reigned as queen in 1990 with the late Kevin Reilly Sr. as her king, was serving on the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center's board when the ball was conceived.
"We were looking for a fundraiser," Donna Saurage says. "We had done Breakfast with Santa, but we had no big signature event. It's really exciting to see how much it's grown."
The first two balls were held at the old Bellemont Hotel on Airline Highway. In 1990, Michael Martin, who was then executive director of the cancer center, hired veteran Disney World production director Lin Holdridge to produce the shows.
With themes like a Broadway-style musical with a cast of more than 100, a James Bond production with a spacecraft hovering overhead and a 1940s big band-style broadcast complete with a Radio City Music Hall set, the Governor's Ball became one of the hottest tickets in town.
In 1993, the ball moved to the River Center. That year boasted the krewe's first celebrity queen, the late comedian Joan Rivers, in a production titled "Sorcery in the Sea."
But the productions were expensive, and some felt the krewe had gotten away from its primary mission to raise much-needed funds for the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. After that year's ball, the krewe separated from the cancer center and became its own entity, with a mission to raise money for cancer care and services. Gerry Lane Enterprises stepped in as the ball's title sponsor.
"We love that this krewe is all about giving back to help others and find a cure for cancer. It's a krewe full of warm and loving folks working together," says Saundra Lane, Gerry Lane's daughter who reigned as queen in 2007. Her mother, Faye Lane, was queen in 1995, brother Eric Lane was king in 2012 and Eric Lane's wife, Lisa Lane, is this year's queen. Her king is Julio Melara. Together they'll reign over the 30th anniversary ball and indoor parade, "30 Years & Still Having a Ball," Feb. 3 at the Raising Cane's River Center.
"It was the best thing we ever did," says Lipsey of the separation. "The king and queen weren't the stars of the show. … We got back to where we started."
Krewe of Southdowns
"The center of the universe" is how Dr. Will Gladney refers to the Southdowns neighborhood where he grew up. "I've probably lived in five houses here," says the founder of the Krewe of Southdowns. "When I was a kid, there were no Mardi Gras parades in Baton Rouge."
He vowed to change that after moving back home upon completion of his medical studies at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he was introduced to the Krewe of Tucks, founded in 1969 by two Loyola University students who decided to form the irreverent krewe after unsuccessfully trying to become white flambeaux carriers. Gladney served as one of those torch bearers for several years and fell in love with the nighttime parade.
"When I came back, Spanish Town (Mardi Gras parade) had just started, and the only other parade was Krewe Mystique, which was pretty awful," says Gladney. "Some friends and I talked about getting together a float for Spanish Town, but then we decided to have a night parade instead."
So, they stuffed their neighbors' mailboxes with fliers about the Southdowns Flambeaux Parade and, when the big night finally arrived, organizers took Gladney's sports car, tied balloons on it and sat the queen atop the back seat. Powerful speakers were hooked up to a friend's truck radio, but were quickly blown out.
"I never thought we'd finish the parade," confesses Gladney at the memory. "My orders to everyone were to wind our way through the neighborhood, attempt to cross Perkins Road and end up at The Caterie. If the authorities showed up, everybody was to flee."
Now 30 years later, Gladney is busy editing a video from that first "guerrilla parade," which not only made it to The Caterie but had a large entourage of neighbors that had joined in the fun. For a few years, there was just a parade and its after-party. Then krewe members decided they needed to have a king and queen so the krewe could get a write-up in the newspaper like the older, more traditional Mardi Gras krewes.
"We wrote up a mock description like we had a ball and submitted it along with a photo," says Gladney, who is known as the krewe's "empirical field marshal." "Now, we really do have a ball with a king and queen."
This year's parade, which rolls at 7 p.m. Feb. 24, has a "Magical Mystery Tour" theme. In keeping with tradition, Gladney and his fellow flambeaux carriers will lead the parade "embodying the fiery heart and soul of Southdowns."
"All the floats are homemade, but they're night floats," says Gladney. "We have artists that work with us. The Dancing Girls have been with us since the beginning; they're another component to the parade.
"We never promoted the parade. For years, you had to know where to go to find us; it was all word of mouth. Still, we have over 30,000 in the neighborhood. It's really a magical night with a wonderful crowd."
Krewe of Lyonnesse
Like Southdowns, the idea for a children's krewe was borrowed from another community.
The Krewe of Lyonnese was founded by Lori Mann with help from Margaret Tyler and Loula Wilson.
Through a friend, Mann for many years served as the costume designer for Lafayette's children's krewe, the Krewe of Oberon. It didn't take long for her to want to start something similar in Baton Rouge. She took inspiration from the mythological story of the island nation of Lyonnesse, which flourished during the reign of King Arthur but sank beneath the waves of the Atlantic Ocean upon his death.
It took Mann an entire year to get all the "legalness" taken care of, draw up the krewe's mission (to celebrate family while enjoying the southern Louisiana tradition of Mardi Gras), determine how it would operate and design its logo.
"I didn't want it to be political," says Mann. "It was important to me that each kid felt special, that it not be about the parents. I wanted to introduce the kids to the formality — the pomp and circumstance — the etiquette of a (Mardi Gras ball). That was the basis of the whole thing, along with community outreach."
Since the first full-fledged ball, the krewe has gone to Williamsburg Senior Living Center and treated its residents to a parade.
"It teaches them (the youngsters) to be kind and it's fun," adds Mann.
The first year there was no ball, just a party.
"That's when we named the king and queen for the following year," says Mann, who designed and made the capes for the royalty, which are still being used 20 years later. Reigning over that first ball Feb. 8, 1998, were Mann's son, James Mann, and Nancy Wilson (now Star). Lori Mann's daughter, Aryan Mann, was a page and reigned as queen in 2001.
Reigning over this year's ball, held Jan. 28 at the Capital Atrium, were King Daniel Shapiro Jr. and Queen Abby Blaize.
To grow the krewe, the members invited two or three families to join until they reached the maximum number of 54. Today, there are 33 families.
"It fluctuates from year to year," says krewe President Molly Kimble. "We have members who are just friends of the krewe, sustainer families and 'placeholder' status, which allows families to take a year's leave without losing their seniority."
Lori Mann is "flabbergasted" that the krewe is still going strong. It requires a commitment from the parents.
"Those that can sew make costumes for those who can't," says Kimble, who, like many parents, tracks her children's participating in the royal court by attaching their participation pins to a sash worn at krewe functions.
"It's great because everyone is all in the trenches together," concludes Lori Mann.