Mardi Gras is the topic of the moment with the creation of house floats, 91 in the Old Gretna Krewe, “Yaaasss, Kween” to celebrate Carnival.
Gretna’s original krewe, the Krewe of Grela is right out there with good memories of what Mardi Gras was really like back in the day.
Grela means Gretna, LA and it has a history. The oldest Mardi Gras organization in Jefferson Parish was founded in 1947 as a men’s club called Gretna Carnival Club. In February 1948, the GGC sponsored Gretna’s first daytime carnival parade as the Krewe of Grela on mule-drawn floats. Royals were King Leycester “Ces” Trauth and Queen Katherine “Kate” Spahr Ward.
Grela belongs to the city, as does historical homes and old landmarks. The word Grela is steeped in the tradition of Gretna, as is City Hall, the Crockett Fire Company and St. Joseph Church.
Also woven in Gretna’s history are the memories of one of Gretna’s favorite sons, Police Chief Arthur Lawson Jr. who was a Page, a young attendant to his dad, Arthur S. Lawson Sr. who reigned as King of Grela in 1959. But the Chief’s Carnival story didn’t end there. Far from it!
Friends from childhood, young Arthur Lawson and present Mayor Belinda Cambre Constant shared the spotlight as Papooses when Arthur Sr. reigned as King of Choctaw in 1965.
Chief Arthur Jr. became the King of Grela, the youngest Grela king ever at just 17 years-old in 1972 when the expected king unexpectedly died. He reigned with Queen Erin Murphy Esteve.
Mayor Constant remained a part of the pageantry of Mardi Gras since her debut as a Papoose. She was a maid in Krewe of Grela in 1973 and her daughter, Cambre Constant Chauvin reigned as Queen of Grela in 2009.
Resident’s reactions remembering Grela parades and balls are different, but all fondly nostalgic, as was shared by Linda Lee Ehret Laborde. She said, “It was the experience of my life in 1959 at 16, to be a maid in Grela. Cindy Blanchard Falterman and several other friends were also maids in the 11th annual ball which was held at the then Municipal Auditorium.”
“The king that year was Mr. Lawson, our police chief’s dad. One of the things I remember about the ball was that a real good-looking guy named Herbie Fink was there. He was an actor and all the girls in the court were going gaga over him. He was really handsome,” Laborde said.
A year later, in 1960 the Grela Krewe threw its first dubloon which was made of wood. The ‘wooden nickel’ as it was called was designed by Gretna-native brothers T. F. Gegenheimer and Bernard Gegenheimer.
The dubloon featured a Native American on one side, as on a U.S. nickel coin, thus the name ‘wooden nickel,’ and the words Krewe of Grela 1960 on the other side.
In 1984, Grela changed its traditional Saturday parade day at the request of the City and began parading on Mardi Gras. Grela was the first Westbank parade to have a celebrity guest, Milton Berle in 1997.
Years passed and Grela rolled on, but into the first decade of the millennium, changes were on the horizon in the Westbank Carnival world. The Krewe of Grela, like other Westbank krewes had financial struggles as memberships dwindled. Truck floats on the east bank became more attractive to families and several Westbank carnival organizations moved to New Orleans to parade on the world-famous St. Charles Avenue parade route.
In 2011, co-captains John Kass and John Neal led their krewe in the only Westbank parade rolling on Fat Tuesday, continuing its 63-year tradition on the streets of Gretna. King Chad Usea and Queen Paulette Labit Rogers reigned.
Trying to compete with the popular truck-float’s and still offer the tradition and pageantry of Grela, the men elected a more family-oriented club, accepting women and children into the organization.
After a hiatus since 2011, the Krewe of Grela 2013 under the leadership of Captain Russell Lloyd attempted a return to tradition with a Mardi Gras parade down Huey P. Long Avenue. They rejuvenated the “wooden nickels” like their very first doubloons in 1960. The theme was “Grela’s Gretna Centennial-100 Years Young” fitting right in with centennial celebrations planned throughout that year.
King Jeff Badeaux Sr. and Queen Callie Tillis reigned in 2013. The krewe honored Gretna businessman Sal DiVincenti by naming him Grand Marshall of the parade. He had just celebrated his 100th birthday and Gretna was celebrating its 100th year as an incorporated city.
Mardi Gras in 2014 turned out not so nice weather-wise, but the krewe didn’t let freezing temperatures and rain stop it from parading through the streets of Gretna as it had been doing since 1948. Members were prepared, all wearing multi-layers of warm clothing under costumes with clear rainproof ponchos at the ready. Being one of those riders, I can say to you that it was awfully cold and uncomfortable, but miraculously, a lot of fun anyway!
Jeffrey Badeaux Jr. reigned as King Grela LXVII following in the footsteps of his father, Jeffrey Badeaux Sr., King the year before. Rachel Lazaro Bourgeois was Queen while her young seven-year-old daughter, Hailey was a Princess and four-year-old Craig Jr. was a Page on the Queen’s float.
“I am honored to reign as Grela’s 2014 Queen. Living and working in this part of New Orleans we call the Westbank, there is a unique sense of pride, community and family that is all our own. We know one another. We know each other’s parents, grandparents, children, cousins, aunts and uncles. That’s what Gretna is about and that is why I am humbled by the opportunity to be Queen,” Bourgeois said that day.
Crowds that lines the streets wore rain gear and held umbrellas, but were pumped when they heard drum rolls and brass instruments blaring. Mayor Belinda Constant, with a special hail to each float as the parade passed, said she appreciated the riders and marchers who stuck it out through the miserable weather to bring Mardi Gras to Gretna and the Westbank.
Once Captain Lloyd got down from his float, he stood in the rain under an umbrella on Huey P. Long Avenue and watched the rest of the floats pass, smiling at his soaked and bedraggled krewe.
Sunshine reigned over the Krewe of Grela on Mardi Gras 2015 and the krewe took to the streets for what would become, although unknown at the time, its final roll!
Captain Russell Lloyd announced that Grela royalty for 2015 was a mirror image of royalty of 2014. King Jeffrey Badeaux Jr. and Queen Rachel Lazaro Bourgeois would reign again because of the horrendously bad weather conditions on Mardi Gras the year before.
An excited Bourgeois said, “I’m grateful to the Krewe of Grela for allowing me the opportunity to reign again. My hope for my ride this year is that parade-goers will see my beautiful costume instead of a coat of gray skies and a shower of rain and hopefully while not standing together in puddles of water.”
Realizing that it was time to say goodbye, the beloved Krewe of Grela with its countless memories stopped its roll after Mardi Gras 2015.
Captain Russell Lloyd said, “I believe Mardi Gras on the Westbank would have survived if the other krewes wouldn’t have left for New Orleans. Some of the krewes have benefitted, but I don’t believed that they all have. I enjoyed my time as Captain of Grela, but it was a little too late for a parade to survive on the Westbank.”
Well, maybe things will change as things seem to do over time. Seeing how popular the house floats are makes me think. Maybe it’s just a fantasy, but just suppose that a Gretna parade could happen again, not on Mardi Gras or any other big parade day in competition with other areas, but on its own day and the Krewe of Grela could roll again. I’m just saying……..
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