This month -Brainstorming around a drugstore table 48 years ago, seven Waveland women changed local history.
2015 Nereid's Court - photo by Matt Molinary
There were the seven: Elaine Colson, Claire Bourgeois, Dot Markel, Gerry Blanchard, Louise Lynch, Kitty Mollere, Nancy Gex. Some have passed on now, but 48 years ago, this powerhouse group created a legacy that generations in the future will delight in: the Nereid’s Parade.
According to Nancy Gex, the beginnings were deceptively simple, no one ever guessing that nearly five decades later, the annual Nereid’s ball would be taking place in the Coast Coliseum with over 3000 attendees. Or that the parade would include more than 100 floats, attracting thousands of families each year from across the region.
It all began with a casual comment.
“Claire, Elaine, Louise and I were standing outside the Waveland Drugstore in 1966 watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade,” recalls Nancy Gex. “Elaine said ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have something bigger than this, something for the ladies…’ She’d evidently been thinking about this for a long time."
The mission would be to create a fun family event while stimulating local business. The women began meeting around a table in the drugstore at night, after it closed (owned by the Lynchs). Later a plaque was installed on the table, “Nereid’s was born here.”
Gex’s assignment was to find a name for the organization. After a lot of research, she came up with Nereids. In Greek mythology, they were the 50 sea nymph daughters of Nereus and Doris. The Nereids were believed to help sailors during storms at sea.
Since the women decided that the organization would be based on the classical Mardi Gras groups across the coast, membership would be secret and all participants masked. Since there were 50 original Nereids, the women decided to shoot for fifty charter members. Just to make sure they had enough members, they sent out a hundred invitations, expecting that about half would decline.
“We got 96 responses out of a hundred,” says Gex. “We knew then it was really going to be something.”
The first ball and parade were held in 1967. With less than a year of preparation time, the women marshaled forces. Garages and warehouses all over town became workshops to build floats. Many people made their own costumes as well. Nereids fever took over the town.
The first ball and supper dances were held in the St. Joseph’s gym and invitations became worth their weight in gold as people vied to get one. The identities of the king and queen were closely held secrets, with all sorts of shenanigans occurring to ferret out the names.
Nancy remembered one particular incident where King Hack Doyle was entering the gym for a rehearsal. He spotted several women hiding in the bushes and asked what they were up to. They confessed they had heard that the king would be coming for rehearsal that evening and they hoped to find out who he was. Doyle said he’d been curious too and asked if he could hide and wait with them. Of course, the king never showed and Doyle sadly explained he couldn’t wait any longer, they expected him inside to help out.
The secrecy even extended to the founders. Nancy’s husband Lucien was chosen as the 10th anniversary king and she was kept in the dark. Nereid’s captain Elaine Coleson arranged to leave information for Lucien in “a drop” - the trash can at the post office. She’d leave information for Lucien in the can and he’d go by and discretely fish the envelope out. Nancy was mystified when someone reported that her husband was frequently seen digging through the trash at the post office.
“It was all a lot of fun,” says Nancy.
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photo by Ellis Anderson
Eventually they raised money for a den to build and store the floats, In fact, Nancy and Dot signed a loan with the bank to buy the property - without telling their husbands. The two women borrowed $10,000 (“That was a lot of money in those days!”) and the bankers never revealed the information. Fortunately the note was paid off and floats began to be built in the den instead of any spare space the members could find.
There have other been major changes through the years. Elaine and Claire were co-captains the first two years (Elaine organized the ball and Claire the parade). When they consolidated the captain’s position, Elaine was elected and she held the position until she passed in 2004. The group outgrew the gym eventually and began holding their ball at the Coast Coliseum. The anonymity part has relaxed through the years too (something Nancy admits she misses). However, the identity of “Queen Doris” is always a secret and the current captain asked that her name not be revealed.
“I don’t participate any more, but I’m a member,” says Nancy. “It’s been great to see it grow. Never did we dream that it would be like it is.”
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