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  • Doug Smith

Mardi Gras memories

In college I was elected by my peers to serve on the international board of Circle K, the world’s largest collegiate service organization. That meant that I was assigned to several territories to help guide the organization and develop service projects for college students.

I travel a lot that year. I kept up with my studies between weekend trips to Alberta, Canada, New York City, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Indianapolis and St. Louis. In mid-February, I went to visit the leaders of the Louisiana territory in New Orleans. This happened to be the same time is as Mardi Gras.

I drove 13 hours to New Orleans two days before Mardi Gras to meet with the district governor for Circle K. We discussed several topics relating to service projects, including a large-scale service project we were planning for the following summer in St. Louis. We ended up meeting up with some other Circle K members and walking down the streets of New Orleans watching the Mardi Gras parades.

That night, we walk down Bourbon Street until midnight, when the New Orleans mounted police rode down Bourbon Street in a barricade-like row telling people it was time to go home. Apparently, at midnight on Mardi Gras every year, the street shuts down and all the visitors are asked to leave so Ash Wednesday can remain solemn.

The following morning, I attended a Kiwanis club meeting in New Orleans. There I met Richard Simmons’s brother, who was a devout member of the New Orleans Kiwanis club. The club members taught me about king cake and some of the history of New Orleans.

As a 20-something-year-old I was fascinated by this town and by the people with whom I shared coffee. They didn't serve food at that meeting because they wanted to respect the Ash Wednesday customs. Otherwise they would've had a smorgasbord of breakfast options.

Every year when Mardi Gras approaches, I remember my road trip to New Orleans and the neat things I was able to experience. We accomplished many positive things that year, and developed many service projects. I like to think we (Circle K) helped a lot of people that year, and that Circle K members (and Kiwanis members) are still doing good works in communities throughout the world.

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