“I ended up bringing my own gift to the ball,” she recalled, believing she was choosing it for someone else. “Being queen is quite an honor. It’s exciting and a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

For the last 50 years, the Knights of Columbus hall on East Avenue, Lewiston, has been transformed into a wonderland for the Knights’ Wallace Assembly Fourth Degree May Ball, as it will be again May 1.

Perhaps no one has more experience in creating that wonderland than Roland Gosselin of Lewiston, who began working on the decorating committee nearly a dozen years before he took over the planning for the ball.

For many years, Gosselin also designed the prom setting for St. Dominic Regional High School, and he’s worked for more than 30 years on sets for Community Little Theatre.

“To me, it was always the challenge,” he said recently. “I did ‘Camelot’ at the KC. I did an ‘Oriental Splendor’ night, a ‘South Sea’ theme. In 1976, I put together a patriotic theme with a big Statue of Liberty.” That one had tables with flags and latticework throughout the room. Gosselin says he couldn’t have done it alone. There were several faithful people who helped him pull it all together.

“I loved working in the KC hall,” he said. “It’s a nice square room, and even with the low ceiling, it’s ideal to work in. I had people to help decorate. And a friend of mine worked at Bates College, and I would use the library there to research the next year’s theme.”

One of his grandest nights had a Spanish theme.

“I found some wallpaper that was perfect, and we made black and gold fans with it and added flowers. I bought Spanish hats and the walls had hand-painted scenes of Spanish life,” he said. “I had a bullring set up on the stage, complete with matador. We had 35 tropical trees and a fountain. Oh, we used to go all out.”

After a while, it was time for others to take over the task, he said. In recent years, themes have varied from “Tropical Paradise” to “New York City Lights,” now under the direction of another member of the KC Fourth Degree, Leo Baillargeon of Lewiston, whose wife, Gail, was the 2002 queen.

Baillargeon says the decorating committee works under very tight time constraints. They can’t begin transforming the hall until after 10 p.m. Friday evening. “We have to wait for beano to finish. We have to remove all the tables from the hall, except for those we need, and then we start decorating,” he said. “The entire place has to be completed by noon the following day so everyone has a chance to go home and relax before we have to turn around and be there for 6 o’clock.”

Although Baillargeon is keeping this year’s theme under wraps, those who attend can rest assured it will revolve around the 50-year anniversary. There’s bound to be lots of black and gold, he said.

Perhaps a parade, also

Although the queen reigns for a year, no real duties are involved, other than perhaps an appearance at the annual Festival de Joie or riding in the parade, said Pelletier, who’s attended 10 balls. “The year I was queen, Don and I were in the Franco-American parade that summer, but that was the only thing.” It’s not quite like being Miss America who has to make many public appearances, but it’s a special honor, nonetheless.”

“In the distant past, the queens were selected by whoever attended the ball,” Baillargeon noted. “The names were all put in a drawing, but we later decided to start selecting the queen (and, by default, her husband or partner as king) through a committee, based on how involved they were with volunteering for KC activities.” Since then, another change has taken place, he added. “We’re now looking at them as a couple and their involvement in all aspects of the KC.”

Currently, Fourth Degree officers and Fourth Degree Wives’ officers cast secret ballots to select the couple.

The ball always is a beautiful, dress-up affair.

“Everyone always has a good time with the dancing, the food. It’s an elegant evening,” Pelletier said, “so you have to be on your best behavior.”

Carmen Martin, the 1994 queen, agrees. “It’s a wonderful evening; we’re served at the table, the hall is beautifully decorated, and all the themes are wonderful.”

She recalls being dressed in a white gown the night she and her husband, Larry, were honored. “I was surprised. I didn’t expect it.” she added. “My husband didn’t want to get up, but he did. It was our first May Ball, and we really enjoyed it.”

Gosselin’s ‘Camelot’ theme proved special to Dolores Roy of Lewiston, who with her husband, Roy, took on the role of reigning royalty.

“These events are always so spectacular,” she said. “They (the committee members) go through so much to make it special. They start planning right after Christmas.” For many years, she worked on the decorating committee so she knows firsthand about the effort that goes into making the annual May Ball a night to remember.

“Everything is so elegant and formal. We wear long gowns, although now they allow tea-length dresses; but in the earlier days, it was all long dresses.”

However, one thing hasn’t changed, she said. “All the men still wear tuxedos.”

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