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They Love a Parade

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After four decades, Krewe of Olympus keeps on rolling.
By Nancy Ford
Photos by Dalton DeHart

Lordy, lordy—look who’s 40!

“We are celebrating our 40th year in existence this year, a pretty remarkable feat for a small 501(c)(3) GLBT organization,” says Krewe of Olympus’ Annie Couch.

Krewe
At the Krewe of Olympus’ Tableau Ball, members strut down the runway in beaded, feathered, fabulous regalia.

The Houston Krewe, with its 60-or-so members, is one of the largest predominately gay Krewes in the United States. It exists as a perpetuation of the Crescent City’s fabled Mardi Gras. Officially, the group exists “to present theatrical and educational events that perpetuate and continue Mardi Gras traditions and to raise money for community charities,”
according to its mission statement.

“Our main focus is to perpetuate the idea of Mardi Gras here in Houston, but to also help out community organizations,” Couch continues. “We want to celebrate that with everybody!”

The Krewe of Olympus isn’t Houston-born, but has carved out a considerable niche for itself in the Bayou City—and beyond since its conception in 1970 in New Orleans. Longtime Krewe members, Ben Jones and Bill Walters, were responsible for moving the Krewe from Louisiana to Houston in the early 1990s. The Krewe’s first Mardi Gras ball was held in Houston in 1991.

KrewePlane
Krewe of Olympus vice president Annie Couch paid homage to Amelia Earhart.

Couch is the vice president of the Krewe, and is celebrating her own 10-year anniversary with the group. She is proud of the face of diversity the Krewe membership has developed over the years. “When the Krewe was in New Orleans, it was an all-male organization, and so I think that’s pretty significant. We’re about 10-to-15 percent female now.”

Krewe of Olympus does not restrict its activities, or its membership, to Houston. “We have members in Dallas and we have members in Austin that are part of the Houston Krewe,” Couch says. “We even have a member in California.

“This year we went to San Antonio to participate in their gay pride festival. We also always go to Austin and Dallas and participate in their gay pride parades,” she continues. “We have a great time.”

Major Krewe events coming up in 2010 include a Kicked-Up Brunch on November 8, a 40th-anniversary cocktail reception on November 22, and the Twelfth Night Party on January 9. All the ancillary events throughout the year lead up to the group’s main event, the Tableau Ball.

Prominently featured at all Krewe events are a “king and queen” who are appointed at the ball each year, based on their overall contribution throughout their years of service with the Krewe. This year’s Krewe ambassadors are “King” Ray Kroulik and “Queen” Billy Bailey.

“They represent the Krewe throughout the year at various functions, whether it’s coronation for the court systems, or it’s participating in the Colt 45’s or holiday charities, or somebody’s shows to raise money,” Couch explains. “The king and queen are basically the public face of the Krewe for that particular year.”

In 2010, the Krewe plans to blow out all the stops with Ball XL, scheduled February 6 at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

The Krewe’s Tableau Balls are built to reflect imaginative themes, like “Olympus Goes to Hollywood” (2004) and “Everything’s Bigger in Texas” (2005).  Members construct mini floats, some motorized, some manual, which they feel represent the spirit of that year’s theme. For the Krewe’s 2007 ball, dubbed “Time Travelers,” Couch fashioned herself into a tribute to famed aviatrix, Amelia Earhart, walking the ball’s long runway with a mini Spirit of St. Louis aircraft around her, complete with spinning propellers.

“I didn’t know I was creative until I started doing this!” Couch says, laughing.

The theme of the 40th-anniversary ball is “Ports of Call.”

“We will visit the world in costume!” Couch says with anticipatory enthusiasm. “Everyone pitches in to do the floats.”

After all the glitter is gone and the beads are swept off the ball’s runway, the Krewe’s main goal is to raise money for local charities. Couch estimates that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised by the Krewe in the last four decades.

AssistHers, Colt 45’s AIDS Trouble Fund, and PFLAG/HATCH Scholarship Fund are the beneficiaries for the year.

“We are so pleased that in recent history, it’s been anywhere from $15, 000 to $20,000 each year. We’re so proud of what all we can do for the community and what we’ve been able to do.”

An outlet for creative expression and raising money for the community are not the only aspects of the Krewe that draws members, Couch says.

“It’s a ‘family thing,’” Couch reveals thoughtfully. “So many of us are not from Houston and don’t have family close. It becomes a family.

“It absolutely becomes a family,” she reiterates. “It offers an opportunity to help the community, and just make a whole bunch of friends. It’s a whole group of people you would do just about anything for, I think.”

Like any strong family, the Krewe of Olympus, Couch expects, will grow even larger and stronger in the next 40 years. “Our balls are probably going to start being wheelchair balls,” she laughs. “Whatever works!”

But then Couch grows more serious as she considers the future needs of the community the Krewe serves.

“There are going to be more people coming up who need help,” she says. “It’s really important to have the community out there behind us, because we certainly couldn’t do it without them. It’s a big undertaking, that’s for sure.”
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Let the bueno times roll! The Krewe of Olympus goes Latin with a Kicked-Up Brunch offering south-of-the-border cuisine, plus prime rib, waffles, an omelet station, and an open bar. Nov. 8, 2–4 p.m. $30. Benefits Krewe of Olympus. Sycamore Heights Bed & Breakfast, 245 W. 18th St. • mardigrastexas.com.

And many happy returns. Mix and mingle with members of the Krewe of Olympus as they gather for cocktails to toast the group’s 40th anniversary of throwing beads and raising funds. Nov. 22, 3–5 p.m. JR’s Bar & Grill, 808 Pacific St. • mardigrastexas.com.

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