The Krewe of Gemini Celebrates 33 Years of Mardi Gras in NWLA
The Krewe of Gemini is the oldest parading Mardi Gras krewe in northwest Louisiana and their annual parade rolls this Saturday, February 26, 2022, at 3 pm.
It's hard to believe looking at our community now that just over 30 years ago, we really didn't celebrate Mardi Gras in our area. Now, you can't escape the purple, green, and gold! Since 1989, when the Krewe of Gemini was born, a multitude of krewes catering to different interests and specialties have come and gone, but one thing remains true, our love of the tradition, the revelry, the pageantry, and FUN that are so quintessentially Mardi Gras in Louisiana.
Several years ago when Gemini was celebrating their 30th year, I reached out to Linda Frost, the publicity chair of the Krewe of Gemini as well as Captain XXX Mary Ann Edens and charter member and former Captain XXV Russ Friedrich for anecdotes, pictures, and lore about the founding and early years of the krewe and boy, did they deliver! Following, you'll find first-hand accounts from early members about their memories of Gemini. I thoroughly enjoyed compiling these and I truly hope you enjoy their remembrances as well!
From Debbie Friedley:
When I think back on the memories of Gemini ----- I will never forget Preston coming home one day from work and telling me that we were going to a “Mardi Gras” meeting the next night. He continued to explain that he had met with several people in our community, and they thought we should bring Mardi Gras to north Louisiana. I told him this would never work in Shreveport/Bossier and that Mardi Gras was just for New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
Our first meeting was held at the Le Bossier Hotel. Going into this meeting, I remember looking around the room and thinking this was a crazy idea. I did not know hardly anyone there except for the “movers and shakers” of the city. It was announced that a Krewe was forming, that we would be called “Krewe of Gemini” and that the dues would be $300 per couple. I remember Preston talking to the group, with me sitting there just shaking my head thinking what a dumb idea this was. When we got home I told Preston, “If you want to throw away THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS go ahead, this will NEVER work in Shreveport/Bossier.”
Preston was in the group that traveled to Monroe to pick up the floats for our first parade. I kept thinking to myself, “What are we doing????” Our float was the Independence Bowl float. We needed someone to volunteer to be the “eagle” mascot. Somehow, I volunteered?!?!? Really, I volunteered??
Our first Grande Ball was crazy, at best. My eagle costume was huge, and I wore chicken feet that were about 3 feet long. The only way I could walk was to shuffle my feet. When our float was announced and all of us “Independence Bowl” people came from behind the curtain, my 6-foot eagle head got caught on the drapes and spun me around. I could not see anything and I fell down ---- with gasps from the crowd! I was in tears until someone picked me up, took my eagle hand, and led me around the room. Well, needless to say, I was NOT happy with all of this.
Then came the parade. That’s when it happened. That day, on that float, with this Krewe --- I fell in love with Gemini. It hit me like a ton of bricks. From that day on, I lived and breathed Gemini. It was like Mardi Gras caught fire in our beloved towns and in our hearts!! I think it wasn’t long after that, the dues increased to $300 per person. I told Preston –“pay it”!!!!
Not many people know this but when the Krewe purchased our own floats, Patti Pernici and I built our float. If you look today, under one of those floats on the metal frame, Patti and I spray-painted our names!!!! I have had the honor of being float lieutenant (for many years), ball chairman (a couple of times!), board member, and your Duchess of Arkansas in 1995. We all became family. I have eaten my words many times about Mardi Gras in north Louisiana. Look at us now.
From Mary Fleniken:
Like other residents of the Bossier Shreveport communities, Roy & I answered the call to be a part of an organizational meeting to explore forming a Mardi Gras Krewe in the Ark La Tex. This meeting was spearheaded by Cary Petty, who had been tasked by the Bossier Chamber of Commerce to come up with an event to raise interest in our communities between Christmas/New Year and Easter. Cary and a number of members of that organizational meeting had either grown up in South Louisiana or been involved in Mardi Gras & its Krewes while living & working there.
Needless to say, the meeting was a success. A name was chosen, leaders were selected & The Krewe of Gemini was born that night. The name Gemini and the crest were chosen to represent the twin cities of Bossier Shreveport along the Red River. Each person there was challenged to go out and recruit more members for our fledgling Krewe. Cary & his committee, as well as the Bossier Chamber, worked hard to get the Krewe of Gemini off the ground & ready to parade that first year. Everything possible was done by Krewe members using the local economy. There were no Mardi Gras decorations, king cakes, or Blaine Kern. Costumes were done locally by seamstresses unaccustomed to Mardi Gras & the fabrics & trims used to make them. We were an innovative group with determined leaders.
Floats were borrowed from the Krewe of Janis in Monroe and what floats they were. Anyone who rode that first year knows exactly what I'm talking about. It was a challenge just to get them here. I remember our float had to be shored up from side to side and front to back with 2x4s because the sides bowed out from the top & were not safe to lean on.
Each float had to design and paint its float according to the theme chosen for it. Ours was "Rollin Out The Red" in honor of the new flag chosen by the City of Bossier as the city's flag. The week before parade day was very cold & very wet. The den at that time was not in very good shape & not much protection from the wind or rainwater blowing thru our stall. We nearly froze. We did most of our work late in the afternoon and at night because the men & some women worked all day. Linda Turner's mother is an artist & she drew out the design on our float & we more or less painted by number. It was truly a labor of love????
Parade Day made all that hard, cold, wet work worth it. We lined up on Dee Street, not knowing what to expect when we pulled out on Shreveport Barksdale Hwy. Lo & behold as we made that left turn there were throngs of people waiting on us, shouting "Throw me something, Mister". And the rest, as they say, is history. What a wonderful ride it has been for a great Krewe!!!!
From former Captain Don Pierson:
I want to begin by thanking all the current Krewe members for their contributions to the Krewe! Your membership today and the time you invest make the continuation of this magnificent Mardi Gras celebration possible!
As I reflect upon the past I think about my contribution to Gemini. As a Board member and Captain, my efforts were focused largely on helping with the Krewe’s finances. Krewe members love to feel the exhilaration of throwing beads to smiling children from their lofty perch aboard dazzling floats! They love being pulled by trucks and hearing dynamic music powered by generators! What a show as the floats travel across Shreveport-Bossier! It’s truly one amazing party and celebration! The Mardi Gras spirit is bold and each year the Krewe offers its “free gift to the people” of the Ark-La-Tex. There is, however, one not so small problem. And every Krewe member knows it. It’s not free. The price tag on this celebration is a whopper!
In the “early days” our Krewe was extraordinary, popular, and way undercapitalized. (We had way too much fun, and way too little funding!) We borrowed floats (thank you Janus) until we had the resources to build our own. We borrowed storage space (Downtown Shreveport Airport), borrowed money (thanks to Citizen’s National Bank), and somehow made it all work. As finance chairman, I organized our efforts to recruit corporate sponsors. Our collective leadership was focused on using our income stream wisely (from member dues and corporate sponsors) so that we were able to make a great return on investment over time. Gemini was able to buy the former lumber yard (thanks Donnie Logan and Coy Cooper) and has long since retired the mortgage note. With the help of a $200,000 grant from the Shreveport-Bossier Tourist and Visitors Bureau, Gemini built the Ark-La-Tex Mardi Gras Museum (Thanks Clay Brock and a host of others for the countless hours, dedication, and efforts invested to make this a reality!) I am proud to have been a part of the team that allowed Gemini to put down roots, make a home and prosper.
In 2005 I left Shreveport-Bossier to serve in State government and so my home for more than 8 years has been in Baton Rouge. I think of the Gemini friendships and revelry often with a bit of pride that I played a part in what rolls on today.
There are too many to thank and acknowledge for their efforts and gifts, but there is a legion of folks that deserve our thanks. For those that served, and continue to serve, THANK YOU!
From Ray and Patsy Braniff:
Ray and I were at the Criswell’s house for a Mud Bug Wrap-Up Party, when Wray Post brought up the subject of Mardi Gras. Wray informed us that a small group had gotten together and they wanted to start a Mardi Gras Celebration in the Ark-La-Tex, however, they were going to need some others to show interest in this project to help get it started. Well, Ray and I were already in four or five other volunteer organizations, so why not join another one. This sounded like it would be a lot of fun. With Ray having been born in New Orleans, having cousins in Krewes down there, and knowing that his grandfather had built floats years ago, he felt he should carry on the tradition. It wasn’t long after that, at least 100 people showed interest in the Mardi Gras Celebration and then it started.
In the first parade, the Krewe rented some floats and the Krewe had a couple of their own they had built, so that was the start of the Mardi Gras Parade in the Ark-La-Tex. Ray and I did not ride this first year, but as the floats started to roll, we looked at each other, a little on the sad side I must say, and said, “This won’t happen again, from now on, we will be riding”. From then on, we rode.
In 1991, at our first time to ride in the parade, we will never forget the chills and excitement that went through our bodies as we heard the sirens sounding to start the parade rolling. Then we saw the crowds of children and adults all screaming, “Throw Me Something, Mister”. Words can’t describe how we felt. It was a very exciting and emotional time for us. When we saw the smiles on the faces of the crowds, both young and old, especially the children, we knew then that it was all worth it.
We not only rode in the parades, but we became very involved in the building and decorating of the floats. This camaraderie and involvement weren't only just fun, it enabled us to meet so many new members in the Krewe. It was not just riding the float that meant so much to us, but it was the fact that we have gained numerous friends because of our involvement. This alone is so rewarding.
Ray and I are so proud to be charter members of the Krewe of Gemini and proud to be a part of the history of getting Mardi Gras started. We not only know that we began something good that has grown so much over the years, but we have made a tremendous economic impact in the Ark-La-Tex. Before 1990, there was no Purple, Green, or Gold in the vicinity, and look at us now. We feel that what we have accomplished will make our family proud and we are again so honored to be a part of the Krewe of Gemini.
From Cary Petty Captain Gemini I and II:
WOW! It brings me back to the spring and summer of 1989. A lot of background work had gone on, mostly at the Bossier Chamber, with Doyle Blassingame, Don Pierson, Ray, Freda Urban, and many, many more. The concept was starting to come together. Everyone was casting their vision for the future of what would become the Krewe of Gemini. After a trip to Monroe to visit with the Krewe of Janas, we knew we had to move quickly if we were going to have a Mardi Gras in 1990.
And the word went out. We asked everyone working with us to contact 20 people. So in late August 1989 at the old Jodie’s Comedy Shop in Bossier, we walked into a meeting where we didn’t know what to expect. Surprisingly, I only knew about one-third of the people there. It was a whole group of new people coming together to form this Krewe. There was something special in the air that night. The room was packed and curious; and at the end of the night, we had about 100 people step forward and decide there would be a Mardi Gras in the Ark-La-Tex.
So the rest is history. On one special night, the Krewe of Gemini was born. You’ve always been the leader and the best.
As you can tell, over three decades, more memories than can be counted have been made by the members of the Krewe of Gemini... and this Mardi Gras lover prays they'll be creating many more for years to come! Let the good times roll and have a great ride this Saturday Gemini!