WOONSOCKET — The Northern Rhode Island Council of the Arts is well under way with Mardi Gras and has announced five contestants for queen of the festivities. They are Diane Bessette, Kayla Guilbeault, Sheylon Lawson, Jo-Ann Maurice and Sandy Paul.
The queen will preside over Mardi Gras on Saturday, Feb. 2, from 5:30 to 11 p.m. and unmask her cohort, King Jace XIX.
As in tradition, King Jace XIX is a secret. Dave Richards of radio station WOON will be releasing the clues shortly and the public is invited to guess who is portraying the king this year.
The title of queen and two princesses will go to the contestants who sell the most raffle tickets. Tickets are $1 each; people who purchase these tickets will be entered into a drawing for four prizes on the night of the Mardi Gras Ball. First prize is $300; second prize is three shows at the Stadium Theatre (two tickets each show); third prize is a $200 gift certificate for any Marriott Hotel; and fourth prize is a $50 gift certificate to Uncle Ronnie's Red Tavern, in Burrillville. Proceeds from the ticket sales help offset expenses associated with the Mardi Gras celebration.
The queen will receive a package of gifts donated by area merchants as well as many gift certificates. The princesses and other contestants will also receive gift packages. The queen and her court will be crowned in a special pre-Mardi Gras event from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 27 at The Cakery, 91 Main St., Woonsocket.
First held in 1954, the celebration had been discontinued when NRICA brought it back to life in 1995 and has remained ever since.
Mardi Gras dinner and balls will be held at two locations this year:
• St. Ann Arts & Cultural Center, 84 Cumberland St. Rhode Island-based Slippery Sneakers band playing Zydeco, Cajun, blues and soul music. Dinner will be catered by Chef Gary McLaughlin, who will provide a menu that features Creole pulled pork and Cajun roasted chicken with his famous Bourbon Street pudding.
• The Elks Club, 380 Social St. Jeff Gamache and his orchestra will be playing swing, disco, blues, country and rock and roll. Dinner will be catered by Russell Morin Fine Catering, featuring New Orleans-style dishes.
A Children's Mardi Gras event will also be held on Feb. 2 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The CYO Center’s Search Room. Sponsored by Catholic Financial Life, Chapter 2, St. Jean Baptiste, this party is open to children from kindergarten to Grade 4. Admission is free.
Mardi Bras Ball tickets are $25 in advance and can be purchased by calling Lorraine Cloutier at (401) 762-9072. For more information, call (401) 658-0716 or please visit our web-site at www.nrica.org .
The following are capsules of each contestant:
SHEYLON LAWSON is a resident of Providence. She works for Navigant Credit Union at the Park Square branch in Woonsocket. She also owns a Web-based novelty business by the name of K&G Favors specializing in favors for weddings, birthdays, baptism, etc. She is the mother of four children, Drew Ellis, age 14; Symone, age 12; Elliott, age 11; and Kenadie Grace, age 2. She is a very active member of the Shekinah Family Worship Center in Providence with Sandra V. and Dr. Phillip Miller as her pastors. She is also an administrative assistant for their Pastor Aide Committee Board and plays an active role as their community outreach coordinator that helps youth and the elderly in their community. Sheylon would like to become Mardi Gras Queen because of her passion to help the community in an eventful way and look beyond the beads.
JO-ANN MAURICE resides in Woonsocket and is a TSP operator in the receiving department at WDC and employed by CVS for 31 years. She is also secretary and a member of Club Lafayette in Woonsocket. Her first job was delivering newspapers for The Woonsocket Call and later became a park supervisor at Bernon Park. Jo-Ann enjoys camping, cooking and spending time with her granddaughters, Samantha and Tenleigh. Being a candidate for Mardi Gras Queen has given her an opportunity to help the Northern Rhode Island Council of the Arts raise funds to continue this event in our community. She is the daughter of the late Albert C. and Helen Menoche and mother of two children, Jennifer and Joseph.
KAYLA GUILBEAULT graduated from Woonsocket High School in 2004 and attended CCRI graduating in 2009 with an associate’s degree in general studies. Kayla is employed at Landmark Medical Center as an administrative assistant in Case Management. She is a recent newlywed, having married Nicholas Guilbeault in Aruba last December. They reside in Woonsocket. She wants to be involved in community events and finds this contest new and exciting. One of her favorite pastimes is working out at the gym and spending time with her family and four-year-old son, Braylon. She is the daughter of Cheryl Brien and Paul Plante Jr.
SANDY PAUL resides in North Smithfield and works as a banker for Citizens Financial Group. She is a regular donor at the R.I. Blood Center and is a volunteer coach for North Smithfield Adult Athletics, coed soccer, volleyball and softball and can play in all sports except bowling. She also loves dancing. Sandy would love to be Mardi Gras Queen and be more involved in the community to make her son, Tyler David Lahousse, and her mother, Sandra Hartnett, proud.
DIANE BESSETTE is a resident of Lincoln and is presently employed by The Woonsocket Call and The Pawtucket Times newspapers. She is a member of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce and is an avid volunteer at Autumnfest. Among her hobbies are cooking, baking, watching football and going to the beach.
She has never attended Mardi Gras but enjoys community events and activities. She was encouraged by her coworker, Sue MacKenzie, to run in the Mardi Gras Queen Contest to assist the arts and culture in the community. Diane is the mother of three sons, Michael, Ronald and Joseph. She is the daughter of Barbara Honko and also has one sister, Catherine Rose.