Revelry & Mayhem; 2023 MARDI GRAS GUIDEFebruary 2023
The Season of Love: Valentine’s DayFebruary 2023
Public Information Officer, City of Lake Charles by Angie Kay Dilmore
Growing up in Lake Charles, Katie Harrington loved to read, play outside with her dogs, and spend time with her family, often at baseball fields where her brother played and her dad coached. During Mardi Gras seasons, she recalls attending parades, but her most vivid memories are of her parents getting dressed to go to their krewe’s costume balls. “I remember thinking it was pretty neat that they got to dress up and it wasn’t even Halloween!” Katie says. She couldn’t have known then that decades later, she’d have an integral, behind-the-scenes role in making the Mardi Gras magic happen for the Southwest Louisiana community. As Lake Charles’ Public Information Officer, Katie helps to coordinate the intricate details of parade routes and other Mardi Gras events.
Over the years, Katie has received numerous awards and recognitions for her efforts. She’s won a 2013 CVB Partner in Tourism Award as a member of the American Idol (Josh Ledet) Super Committee and a 2015 CVB Partner in Tourism Award for Mardi Gras of Southwest Louisiana. She was chosen as a 2016 Thrive magazine Thriving 30 Something. She holds a Travel Marketing Professional certification from the Southeast Tourism Society. And in 2019, she was named Mardi Gras of Southwest Louisiana Duchess of Misrule.
Meanwhile, Katie is a fitness enthusiast and works out six days a week. She’s always learning, living life one day at a time. And she’s Mom to daughters Ariel (21) and Kadence (17), and Toby, their six-year-old basset hound. Thrive magazine caught up with Katie, and she shared details of her career, motherhood, and recently being crowned the 2023 Queen of the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu and City of Lake Charles Twelfth Night Royal Court.
You’ve worked in public relations for 20 years. Describe your career path.
I majored in Mass Communication at McNeese State University and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2004. I worked as an intern at O’Carroll Group in 2003 and stayed on there after graduation. After a stint in medical practice marketing, I served as the public relations manager at Lake Charles/SWLA Convention & Visitors Bureau, now known as Visit Lake Charles. From there, I moved to Healthy Image Marketing. In addition to other job responsibilities there, I spent several years as the assistant editor of Thrive magazine! In 2015, I was hired by the City of Lake Charles as a Project Specialist, overseeing the City’s website and digital media. Three years later, I transitioned to the role of Public Information Officer (PIO).
As PIO, you wear a lot of hats. Give us a glimpse into a typical day.
I respond to media inquiries and distribute information on City services to the public. I serve in countless other roles that pop up throughout the day. I help coordinate the City’s Emergency Response Plan, manage the website and social media, oversee our Printing Services Division, and coordinate the Mayor’s Youth Partnership initiative for the City. I write press releases, design graphics, attend meetings and media events, often with camera in hand, shooting and editing video and photos. Every day is something new. That’s what keeps this career fun and challenging for me.
Mardi Gras season is especially hectic for you. Give us a behind-the-scenes peek.
My first foray into Mardi Gras was while with the CVB. I worked with travel writers and bloggers on producing positive media stories about SWLA. Mardi Gras was a prime opportunity to showcase our area, especially as a family-friendly destination. To better facilitate the activities of these writers while they were in town, I joined the Mardi Gras of Southwest Louisiana Board of Directors, serving from 2007 through 2022, most of those years on the Executive Board. I’ve basically worked behind the scenes at every Mardi Gras of SWLA event, including parades, Children’s Day, Queen’s Pageant, Twelfth Night, the Royal Gala, and I chaired the Gumbo Cook-Off for ten years.
When I joined the City of Lake Charles in 2015, in addition to my volunteer role on the board, I also became a liaison between the board and City staff to assist with coordinating Mardi Gras. I still do this, but not only with Mardi Gras. I have become a guru on special events and it is really one of my favorite parts of my job.
In my role as the City’s PIO, I’m a small part of an integral group that includes the City Police, Public Works, the Marshal and Sheriff’s offices, and others. We work nearly year-around to coordinate a myriad of details such as security for all Mardi Gras parades. We look at Mardi Gras season in its entirety, from January 6 through midnight on Mardi Gras Day, and work with all organizers to ensure their events take place in a safe and fun environment, and that we can efficiently restore the City to its pre-parade state following each event. Many may not know, but there are thousands of barricades placed on parade routes, all by either a city employee or member of law enforcement. Every barricade must be accounted for and picked back up. The task of assigning officers to every intersection is huge and then the clean-up efforts afterwards are another logistical work of art. When the parades start rolling, you might spot me on a parade route with LCPD, monitoring the parade’s progress, looking for areas of possible improvement, such as additional barricades, and capturing photos of the smiling faces of parade-goers and our personnel working the events.
What sets SWLA Mardi Gras apart from other Louisiana celebrations?
Traditionally considered the second-largest Mardi Gras in the state, over the past five to ten years, the size and scope of SWLA’s Mardi Gras has grown. It is a celebration for everyone, and the diversity and number of events held each year illustrate the commitment of the people of our region to that idea. Each year we see new event organizers come forward, new krewes form, and larger crowds than the year before. I believe our family-friendly Mardi Gras sets us apart. People want to enjoy the cultural celebration, but they want to do so in an environment that is not quite as large or raucous as a New Orleans-style celebration.
The City of Lake Charles Twelfth Night Royal Court is something new.
Yes, this Court was formed by Anne Monlezun and the Mardi Gras Museum’s Board of Directors in 2021 as a way to keep the essence of Mardi Gras alive during the period of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and long-term hurricane recovery efforts. Its goal is to recognize members of the community who have made significant contributions to promoting and preserving the spirit of Mardi Gras in Southwest Louisiana. I’m still not certain that I’m worthy of the recognition, however, I’m honored.
What are your thoughts on parenthood as you near the “empty nest” stage?
It’s bittersweet to realize they have grown up so quickly, but I often say that every part of raising my girls has been the best part. I have found joy through each stage, even in the midst of chaos. No matter how successful I become, my most important title will always be Mom. As my actions speak louder than words, I pray they have witnessed my hard work put in over the years and understand it’s all been for them. I’m proud of the genuinely kind, strong, independent women they’ve become. I’m excited for the future and cannot wait to be their biggest cheerleader through their next chapters.
Dare I ask . . . spare time?
Not much. I do try to make the best of what I have. I love to travel and get away for long weekend trips when time allows. A nice getaway for me is somewhere quiet and walkable, allowing time to just slow down and enjoy the moment. A good meal along the way never hurts. In the last couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to attend my first NBA and NFL games, which I really enjoyed and hope to do again.
What’s next for Katie Harrington?
Life has a way of taking us in directions we never dream of. I believe that if we trust in the bigger picture, we end up where we’re supposed to be and surrounded by the people we’re meant to be with. My dad encouraged me to put my faith in God. His will, His plan, His timing. There are days I need to repeat that to myself, but I’ve never been let down. Even if doesn’t work out exactly how I wanted or planned, it always works out for the best.