John Swift and Rick Chappuis of Greater Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association with Jan Swift taping Discover Lafayette at AOC Community Media
The anticipation of Mardi Gras and the festivities associated with the annual carnival is a tradition that defines South Louisiana, home to the greatest free party on Earth. “Throw me something, Mister!” is a phrase we all learn at an early age as we share this annual celebration preceding the more solemn period of Lent.
How does this “free” party happen each and every year in Lafayette? Have you ever wondered who is responsible for organizing the parades, the history behind Lafayette’s Mardi Gras, and the many volunteers who have lovingly ensured that our community enjoys an annual family-friendly Mardi Gras parade tradition that began back in 1897 with the first King and Queen, parade and ball?
Discover Lafayette’s host, Jan Swift, interviewed officers of the Greater Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association (GSLMGA) to unearth the rich history of our Mardi Gras tradition. Rick Chappuis, immediate Past President of GSLMGA, and John Swift, 2017 Parade Chair, share the story of how Mardi Gras parades have been made possible all these years. The podcast may be listened to here.
Of special interest in the podcast is the obvious love of Lafayette and Mardi Gras that both Rick and John share. The Chappuis family has been immersed in Mardi Gras for generations, starting with Rick’s grandmother, Bella Nickerson, who served as the fourth Queen Evangeline in 1937; Rick served as a Royal Page as a ten-year-old in 1982; his grandfather (Richard Chappuis, Sr.) and father (Richard Chappuis III) served as King Gabriel in 1972 and 2000, respectively; his aunt, Cherie Kraft (Bella Elizabeth Chappuis), served as Queen Evangeline in 1966, and his sister, Mary Elise Chappuis Danner, served as Queen in 1988; various other family members have also served as royalty and have served as President of GSLMGA. John Swift grew up in Lake Charles where he was immersed in Mardi Gras and watched his mother, Betty Swift, lovingly design Mardi Gras ball gowns for the Krewe of Mystique for years; upon moving to Lafayette, he was thrilled to experience Mardi Gras on a larger scale and has enjoyed being a member of the Krewes of Gabriel and Bonaparte, and serving on the board of GSLMGA, as Parade Chair, and this year, as Captain of the City Ball.
Not familiar with the Greater Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association? Established in 1934 to enable planning for an annual city-wide Mardi Gras celebration, GSLMGA is not a Krewe, but is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors consisting of thirty men and women representing various civic organizations and a number of service-minded individuals from the community who have a common interest— Mardi Gras! Visit gomardigras.com for more information.
GSLMGA also produces and coordinates Le Festival de Mardi Gras à Lafayette at Cajun Field with carnival rides and games, a wide variety of live music, and great Cajun food. The parades come right through the festival site so everyone can enjoy all Mardi Gras has to offer at one convenient location. This event serves as a major fundraiser for GSLMGA and the funds raised are used to underwrite the costs of the parades, the City Ball held Mardi Gras night, and other Mardi Gras activities.
Greater Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association serves as a liaison between agencies of the Lafayette Consolidated Government, the Lafayette Sheriff’s Department, and other public bodies and all Krewes that are under its umbrella in coordinating their needs. Safety of Krewe members and parade-goers are of utmost priority of the association and local government.
And of course, the actual costs of producing the parades— the biggest free party in Lafayette— are borne by the Krewes and their members, and the Greater Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association. So even though big expenditures are made, and tax dollars are generated, you can still attend for free and “pass a good time!”
For a listing of all of 2018’s Mardi Gras parades and festivities in our area, please visit Lafayette Travel’s site at https://www.lafayettetravel.com/events/festivals/mardi-gras.
We look forward to an exciting Mardi Gras on February 13, 2018, as well as all the festivities leading up to this big day! Thanks to all the volunteers who make Mardi Gras possible for our community.