By Danny Garrett
Welsh native Anne Monlezun moved to Lake Charles with her husband, Dr. Lee J. Monlezun, in the ‘70s. She first taught dance at the Anne Gillett School, which she did for many years – teaching her family and friends dance in the process. Dance is a passion for Monlezun, and she brought joy to many in the Lake Area through her instruction.
But, as anyone who knows Monlezun knows, her passion for fun, organization and family-oriented activity didn’t stop at the Anne Gillett School of Dance. Early on, Monlezun also had a passion for Mardi Gras. Much of her family is from New Orleans; Mardi Gras is in her DNA. It was this initial spark that catapulted Monlezun to help create the Carnival season we see today in Lake Charles.
Lake Charles has the second-largest Mardi Gras celebration in the state. Given its immense size, one would assume that Mardi Gras has existed here since the city’s founding in 1861. Yet this is not the case.
Monlezun was one of those passionate few in the late 1970s who brought Mardi Gras, as we recognize it today, to Lake Charles. She started Krewe La Famille in 1979 for married couples. They began organizing food booths and decorating windows with Mardi Gras fare in downtown Lake Charles, with Muller’s being one of those stores.
New Orleans couldn’t be the only city in Louisiana that had all the Mardi Gras fun — a belief that Monlezun held deeply. Monlezun needed help to ensure that Lake Charles had a grand Carnival tradition. It was not a one-person job. Not even close. She brought Paul Savoie, mayor of Lake Charles from 1981-85, into the picture for assistance. With his help, they were able to bring in people from all walks of life in SWLA to create the Mardi Gras Association in Lake Charles and begin the Krewe of Krewes parade. The krewe was organized by Monlezun as early as 1979.
Next on the list was national advertising. The 1984 World’s Fair took place in New Orleans, so national media attention
was abuzz in our state that year. Seeing opportunity, Monlezun ensured that the Today Show spotlighted the meteoric growth of Lake Charles Mardi Gras and the growing city itself.
It was around this time that Monlezun began her business, Appliques with Glitz, which featured Mardi Gras elements. Glitz specialized in shiny trims and more for decorative costumes. It was one more space where Monlezun’s creativity and indefatigable spirit was able to shine. She traveled to Hong Kong to learn about business during her early tenure in the business world. Nationally, she expanded her commercial reach into cities like New York, Denver and Tampa.
Early in the next decade, Monlezun began the Twelfth Night Revelers. Twelfth Night begins on Jan. 6, and it’s the official date, at least in Louisiana, that marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Carnival season. Monlezun’s internal clock is unique; it’s two-fold. It ticks to the beat of both the Mardi Gras lunar calendar and our everyday Gregorian calendar. Since its founding in ’91, the Twelfth Night Revelers never missed a beat on the Jan. 6 date. The day is the time to devour king cake and begin the party. The Revelers have their own parade in the Civic Center, and their
authentic floats are led into the coliseum by Gumbo Gator to officially open Carnival season.
If this wasn’t enough Mardi Gras energy, Monlezun opened the Mardi Gras Museum in 1997, which still stands to this day at the Central School. Monlezun loathed that so many of Mardi Gras’ “hidden treasures” were being buried in SWLA residents’ closets. In addition, Lake Charles Mardi Gras was closing in on its 20th year in existence; someone had to properly record and store the memories in a safe place. One of Monlezun’s key sayings is that if a culture’s history is not recorded and preserved, it becomes lost.
With the help of designers David O’Quinn and Ethan Miller, Monlezun made the Mardi Gras Museum a reality. For years, the museum has been stocked full with ball costumes, masks, beads, art and pendants. This year, it will undergo renovation to further brighten the Carnival spectacle. They’ll host a golf tournament to raise funds for the museum update.
Lake Charles Mardi Gras has greatly evolved since the ‘70s and ‘80s. The celebration now has countless balls, floats, krewes, parades and cook-offs. Its success is also told in the economic impact it brings to the city, which has been calculated to be over $16 million in revenue.
Monlezun has been immensely influential in turning Lake Charles Mardi Gras into what it is today. When asked how she does it, she’ll tell you that her main philosophy has been to “keep the peace,” and have a willing attitude to help others and find solutions. Her goal has consistently been to create a “safe, clean, family style” Mardi Gras for Lake Charles that’s open to everyone. Her dream comes to fruition every year in February.