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Lake Wales
Wednesday, June 12, 2024

What Started as a Funeral Parade Evolved into the Largest Mardi Gras Celebration in Central Florida 40 Years Later

Date:

by James Coulter

Vinton Davis loved all things New Orleans. He loved the music. He loved the culture. And he especially loved the food. He loved it so much that he owned and operated his own Cajun restaurant in Downtown Lake Wales.

In fact, so infatuated he was with the culture that he requested that his family host a New Orleans-style funeral procession once he passed away. When he died in 1984, his family was unable to host such a procession, but they did the next best thing and hosted a parade in his honor.

That parade evolved into the Lake Wales Mardi Gras celebration, which has been hosted in Lake Wales for more than 40 years. Within the first year, thousands of people attended. Even to this day, the event remains one of the largest Mardi Gras celebrations in Central Florida.

His daughter, Nancy Bernhardt Estes, was the founder of Lake Wales Mardi Gras, as well as the krewes the Krewe of Aphrodite and The Wham Bams. She also started the charitable gift-giving arm, which donates the money left over each year from the event and krewes back to the Lake Wales community.

The estimated amount of the annual donations from the Mardi Gras charitable arm has been more than a quarter of a million dollars. Proceeds have gone toward local charities, including the Lake Wales Hospital, which was able to purchase its first mammogram machines due to the generous donations, Nancy claimed.

Nancy remembers her father as an eccentric character. When he was young, he ran away from his overtly strict mother to join the circus. Eventually, he became a cook and gained enough culinary experience to start his restaurant, first in New York, and then in Lake Wales, FL where he started his family.

“My father was very eccentric,” she said. “He loved anything and everything about New Orleans…[When he was working for the circus], they came to New Orleans, and he decided to run away from the circus and stay in New Orleans washing dishes, bussing tables, and from then on, as he grew older, he learned a lot from the chefs from the kitchens, and that is pretty much how he learned to love food and jazz and all that.”

Lake Wales Mardi Gras will be hosted Fri. Feb. 9 and Sat. Feb. 10 in Lake Wailes Park in Lake Wales. The parade will be hosted in Downtown Lake Wales on Saturday at 3 PM. For more information, visit their website at: lakewalesmardigras.com

Nancy recently sat down with us for an interview on the Chattin on the Ridge podcast. Listen to her tell her wild tales of her father in our latest episode on Spotify: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/chattinontheridge/episodes/Ep–21-Lake-Wales-Mardi-Gras-wNancy-Bernhardt-Estes-e2fd8c9

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