Although it was wet and chilly, and many folks wore boots to muck through areas of mud, the 49th Immaculate Conception Catholic Church Festival went on as scheduled this past weekend. When the festival “came to life” on the church grounds, children wore smiles as they bit into candy apples, played games like Flippin’ Chicken and rode the Ferris wheel.
No matter the weather or attendance at the festival, longtime participant Michelle Holmes is smiling. She knows it’s a success alone just to get the community together for fun and fellowship.
This year’s festival, held Oct. 25-27, was dedicated to Holmes’ mother, the late Mickie Todd. Todd was with the event since its beginning and served many times as the festival committee chairwoman and in other capacities. She put all her faith and energy into it every year.
“My mom was with the fair since the beginning. This was her parish. This was her community,” Holmes said.
In 1969, the first festival was a much smaller affair organized as a barbecue cookout. It expanded to 2½ days the next year and grew from there.
The festival activities soon included a parade, baby beauty contest, a talent show, midway rides, clowns and a Saturday night disco dance. In 1974, the big raffle ticket cash prize increased — standing today at $10,000.
The festival has advanced from homemade wooden booths and hand-painted game boards to metal and tarp booths, state fair-level amusement rides, a money-grab machine and concerts by Chris LeBlanc among other entertainers.
“This is the Cadillac of fairs in comparison,” Holmes said. “We organize this every year as a fundraising activity for the church. At the first festival, we were trying to build a church. Today, we’re raising money for maintenance, repairs and improvements.”
Holmes said she was raised a “fair brat.” “My kids were, too. My dad would get 2X4s and build booths, and the kids would paint them in the beginning,” she said. Kids worked the booths, and her dad would stay overnight for security.
“God-country-family is our tradition. It’s how we were raised and raise our children now,” Holmes said.
With more than 4,000 families in the church parish, the fundraiser is part of ICC traditions. “We bring people together, and that’s the real goal — not money,” said Sherry Leger, church literacy assistant.
Jennifer Baio, of Denham Springs, who joined the church just before the 2016 flood, agreed. “The fair helps the church out. It’s a good way to meet other people in the community, too,” she said. Church member Charles Alleman joined the chorus. “It’s so important to pass this fair on to the children,” he said. “It’s generational.”