For Wendy Lipsey and Matt Saurage, Karnival Krewe de Louisiane’s Mardi Gras ball Feb. 15 is definitely a nostalgia-filled stroll down memory lane.
The couple first teamed up 29 years ago at the fundraiser for Mary Bird Perkins — Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center. Then, they were a lord and lady. This year, they will reign as king and queen.
The first Karnival Krewe de Louisiane ball was the idea of Wendy Lipsey’s mom, Susan Lipsey. She also came up with the idea of presenting lords and ladies. Matt Saurage's mom, Donna Saurage, was on the cancer center's board of directors at the time and helped with that debut ball.
So naturally, their children became a part of the inaugural court.
“I didn’t know Matt. … We’d never really crossed paths before,” recalled Lipsey, who was 20 at the time and had recently transferred to Loyola University in New Orleans. “I remember thinking it was funny that they paired us up (for the promenade) because I was the shortest lady and he was the tallest lord.
“He’s still really tall and I’m still short,” she added, laughing. “There was lots of excitement — parties and teas, leading up the ball.”
Saurage, who was 19 at the time, said he'd never been part of a Mardi Gras krewe before.
“I think maybe it was even the first time I’d rented a tux,” said Saurage, who was a student at Louisiana Tech at the time. “It was a brand-new experience for me. … I remember being incredibly nervous.”
Adding to that nervousness was having to explain to his girlfriend that he was going home for “a kind of blind date” to a ball. “That was Catherine, my wife,” he added with a smile.
This go around, Catherine will be Saurage’s date even though he and Lipsey will make several promenades around the ballroom in the night’s formal tableau.
“It’s quite literally a walk down memory lane,” said Lipsey, who will have to suffer the embarrassment of having shown a photo of that first ball, with her 1990s style. “I’d pay extra to not have that photo shown.”
“I’m thrilled to be king with Queen Wendy,” Saurage said. “The time has just flown by since last spring when I was asked to be king. … It’s been an exciting time.
“I’ve loved engaging with our royal court, creating new friendships that didn’t exist before,” he added.
Saurage also has loved getting to know the Lipsey family better, extending the relationship that’s existed between their mothers to the next generation.
“I think they’re having as much fun as Wendy and I are,” Saurage said of the family gatherings.
The two families also have deep connections to the cancer center.
In the late 1960s, Lipsey’s grandmother, Anna B. Lipsey, led the effort to create the center along with the late Dr. M.J. Rathbone Jr.
And there's that "royalty" legacy. Both of their mothers have served as queen of the ball, as did Wendy Lipsey's sister, Laurie Aronson.
“It was fun to watch my mom as queen,” Saurage said. “This was my first introduction to Mary Bird Perkins, and years later, I realized the importance of the center, not just to Baton Rouge but the entire region.”
While proceeds from the ball no longer go solely to the cancer center, to date, the krewe has raised more than $3 million for the center and other organizations fighting cancer.
“I hope we raise the most money ever,” said Lipsey, who also hopes the Swarovski-encrusted tennis shoes she’ll be sporting under her gown keep her from tripping up the steps to the stage. “Matt and I have a few extra things up our sleeves to make sure that that happens.”