GIRARD — It’s Cajun Fest, quite possibly the largest Cajun Fest in Kansas.
On Saturday, approximately 400 people purchased tickets for an evening of jambalaya, Southern BBQ, crawfish, Mardi Gras wings and Zydeco music and other Cajun beats.
At the festival, the smell of authentic Cajun food permeated the air as people walked around with their plates piled high with food.
People tapped their feet to the sound of the fiddle.
Waylon Thibodeaux, “Louisiana’s Rockin’ Fiddler,” Cajun Blues Guitarist Josh Garrett and the Shane Duling Band were the entertainers of the evening.
The musicians strummed their guitars and bowed their fiddles for six hours.
All of this was a “family friendly” evening to raise money for the Girard School District’s Educational Foundation Scholarship Fund.
“We’re very grateful and appreciative of the community stepping up and raising scholarships for the kids,” Girard Superintendent of Schools Blaise Bauer said. “Special thanks to John Lehman at … [First National Bank of Girard] ... and Dr. Adam Paoni, they've put a lot of time into it.”
Bauer said between eight and 10 students receive the scholarship a year.
The event was started by a handful of people in 2014: John Lehman, Dr. Adam Paoni, John Kovacic and Lehman’s cousin, Jay Parson.
It was such a success, Lehman said, they decided to continue. Now it’s five years later and several thousand dollars have been raised for USD 248 high schoolers who are seeking higher education.
Students have to apply to receive the scholarship and the students write down their goals for the future, the activities they participated in during their high school career and the students’ experience with community service on the form.
Jaylynn Blight, Cooper Brown and Kyler Siebert graduated from Girard High School this past spring and each graduate received the USD 248 Educational Foundation Scholarship. All three GHS students are studying at Pittsburg State University and thanks to the scholarship some of their fees have been taken care of.
Brown is studying chemistry with an emphasis in pre-pharmacy at PSU. His mother passed away from cancer, which inspired him to go into medicine, Brown said.
“I thought it would be a really cool field and I would be able to help people out and save peoples’ lives,” he said.
Brown took 19 credit hours this semester, which means he had many books to buy.
“I feel very honored to be a recipient of that scholarship,” Brown said. “That truly has helped me a lot to purchase all of those books, with all of the hours.”
Cajun Fest is an “unique” event where everyone can visit with their family and friends, Brown said.
“It’s cool how they bring southern experience to southeast Kansas,” he said. “It’s just a night full of fun.”
Seibert agreed with Brown.
“It’s [the event] very interesting,” Seibert said. “It’s something we don’t have around here except for that event.
“It’s very unique.”
The event is a special time for Seibert, his family and his friends, he said.
“It means a lot to me bring a bunch of local people together, see friends and family and have a good time,” he said.
Seibert said he is already enjoying his first semester at PSU. Like Brown, he’s also going into chemistry and pre-pharmacy.
“I’ve really enjoyed my teachers,” Seibert said. “It’s really tough, but I’m really excited about it.”
Inspired after a lesson on genetics at GHS, Blight is studying biology with plans to study medical genetics, which she said is a developing field.
Blight said she’s thankful for the community support of students at GHS.
“It shows how loving Girard is and how a small community can give support,” she said. “It shows Girard’s community really cares about you.”
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.