Rubonia celebrates Mardi Gras

The tiny community expects some 15,000 visitors for its annual celebration

mclear@bradenton.comFebruary 27, 2014 

It started back in 1980, when a private birthday party spilled out into the streets and revelers marched through the neighborhood joyously celebrating with music from boom boxes.

Now the Rubonia Mardi Gras is one of the most popular annual events in Manatee County, bringing maybe 15,000 people to the tiny community for an all-day party. It has attracted such major sponsors as Anheuser-Busch and that company's famous Clydesdales were part of the parade one year.

But, Charles Miller said, the Rubonia Mardi Gras still retains that do-it-yourself feel from its origins as a creative, impromptu parade.

"We're definitely a one-of-a-kind event," said Miller, the president of the Rubonia Mardi Gras. "This isn't the Rose Parade. It starts with a color guard playing the National Anthem, but after that you might see a tractor pulling some chickens in cages."

This years' Rubonia Mardi Gras is 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. The center of the festivities is the area around the Rubonia Community Center, 1309 72nd St. E.

Miller has been involved with Rubonia's Mardi Gras almost since the beginning. He was a kid when he marched with other revelers in one of the first years of the event.

Now, he's helping other kids from the community take part in the tradition.

"I'm building the float that the kids of this community will be on," he said. "They're helping me build it, even though I had to bribe them with pizza. The theme for our float is 'Saving Our Community Center.'"

The Mardi Gras raises money through parade entry fees and money from vendors, and organizers also ask for donations from the thousands of people who pour into the tiny community for the event.

The money has always been used to support the community center, which has long been a focal point of Rubonia. Right now the center is closed, and community leaders are trying to raise money to re-open it.

"Our community center is closed," Miller said. "The kids who live here don't have anywhere to go."

The parade is set to get going at 2 p.m. It starts at 79th Avenue and heads south on Bayshore Road to the McMullen Street Bridge.

The parade is the centerpiece of the Rubonia Mardi Gras, but it's only a small part of the day. Live music, all kinds of food, beer and general revelry fill the rest.

"The parade might last 30 or 40 minutes," Miller said. "Other than that, it just an excuse for all kinds of people from all over to get together. It's own kind of event. You'll probably find yourself saying 'I don't believe what I'm seeing. Is this really happening?' "

Details: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. March 2, around the Rubonia Community Center, 1309 72nd St. E. Tickets: Free, but donations are requested. Information: www.ruboniamardigrasinc.org, (941) 565-9824.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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