Kurt Dempster is a Mardi Gras enthusiast with 20 years experience riding in parades, and after constructing his own float he has been a regular presence along parade routes for the past 16 years.
Even though his rig had to undergo an overhaul after being involved in a auto accident the morning before a parade a few years back, he has continued to keep up his passion for the Mardi Gras tradition year after year, mainly as part of the Krewe of Elks of Jeffersonian.
Dempster, 55, who is a Des Allemands native and branch manager at Foti Financial in Boutte, has been attending parades since he was a child and began taking part in them as a rider two decades ago.
“That’s always the dream when you are little, you say, ‘I want to ride one day,’” he said.
After riding with friends for four years, the Des Allemands resident decided it was time to get serious and build his own rig. With his father and a local welder, Ken Frickey, he set about putting together the metal substructure of the trailer. The group then attached pieces of plywood to the sides to create the infrastructure of the float. Now 16 years later, he is still driving the same rig, but each year he takes on a different theme and puts a lot of work and preparation into decorating the float.
In addition to designing creating their own trailer, Dempster and his wife Lydia are responsible for all aspects of the spectacle their float becomes each year.
“She is the brain, the designer. She does all of the design and I do all of the manufacture behind this. She has really good vision she can put some stuff together. I depend on her for that,” he said.
Demspter’s three children and two grandchildren, along with a few dozen other relatives and friends, ride with them on Mardi Gras Day each year. But the work leading up to that begins nearly a year prior in May when the Dempsters submit a blueprint to the Krewe of Elks of Jeffersonian on what their theme will be.
Around December the real work begins.
“I usually start three months before Mardi Gras doing props and costumes. Then I have a relative who sews the costumes and then my wife and I put all of the sequins,” Dempster said.
He said the clothing as well as the props they use on the float are so well done that many people believe they buy them or have professionals make them.
“Everything is handmade. People don’t believe us, but it is all handmade. We do take a lot of pride in it,” Dempster said.
It was two years ago, after laboriously planning and going through all the work to produce their float, at 5:30 a.m. on Mardi Gras Day when Demspter’s float was seriously damaged after being struck by another vehicle.
“To tell you the truth the float probably saved my life,” he said.
Despite being injured in the accident and the damage to the float, Dempster did not allow the incident to halt his day at the parade.
“We were still able to ride. It just tore up all of the wood inside in the back,” he said. “We looked like hell that year but we made it just in time to get there with 35 riders on the truck.”
Only a year later, and after extensive fixes to the trailer, the Demspter clan came in second place in the best float competition out of a field of nearly 80 floats.
“We are in competition for the overall grand champion, best truck, best costumes, best headpiece – certain type of hats, best animation – moving parts things that move,” he said. “Right now we are grand champion runner up from last year.”
This year Dempster said he is shooting for the grand champion slot and he has a special trick up his sleeve, although he is hesitant to mention it before the parade rolls.
“I have something this year that no one has ever seen. It is going to blow their minds,” he said. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”
Despite the competition, parading is more about the overall feeling Dempster and his family get from participating in Mardi Gras, which he likens to the passion others feel for extremely consuming hobbies.
“It is just the love for Mardi Gras. I look at it like a sport, as if someone who hunts or fishes. I like the artwork, it is just a hobby for me really,” he said.