Our beautiful Gulf Coast is known for many things. Year after year, there are wonderful events and activities available to all that compliment each season. As spectators, we look forward with great anticipation to all the exciting and fun things that fill the Gulf Coast calendar. Locals and tourists alike make it a point to be there, front and center, so not to miss a moment! In order to plan and execute all these events, it takes a tremendous group of very special people working together for the good of the community. However, there is one man who ‘s hard work, imagination and creativity stands alone. Rusty David is responsible for creating so many of the unique attractions that we enjoy. He has been the driving force behind the scenes for years.
Rusty David loves everything about South Mississippi. He was born and raised here, and there is nothing he would rather do than be out on the water, or on the beach. “I could never get the salty air out of my nose, and there is nothing I like better than sand between my toes,” he said with a chuckle. As a young man in the seventies, he discovered that volunteer work really suited him and it became a very important part of his life. “I wanted to give back to a community that gave me so much and was so good to me. The best thing about it is, you will find that people that volunteer really give from the heart. It’s not about what you can get out of it, it’s about what you can put into it – seeing the smiles and the joy that come from helping others…it’s wonderful,” Rusty said.
In 1975, Rusty David founded the Old Biloxi Marching Club, it is now in it’s 36th year. It began a lovely tradition of men giving out flowers during Mardi Gras parades. They will make appearances in eight parades this year. “Carnations for Kisses” is a special treat for the female spectators. Seniors, little girls, and those with physical limitations are sought out first, but all the ladies on the side lines have a chance to receive a kiss and a fresh picked flower from the handsome men in the tall hats. “This is a very personal thing we do – it is not like throwing beads at random, this is very special because the guys choose you out of the crowd and the women love it,” Rusty said. Fifty southern gentlemen take part in the Old Biloxi Marching Club, and some have been members for over 30 years.
A proud member of the Biloxi Elks Lodge, Rusty began the Elk’s Crawfish Festival in 1980. It ran successfully through 1994 and was the largest event on the Coast during that time period. Over 30,000 people would attend the Point Cadet Plaza weekend event each year and every cent of the monies generated over the 14 years went to charitable causes. The event made an astounding $600,000 plus for the Elks Club. “We had such great volunteers, and I am very proud of what we accomplished,” Rusty said. The Elks Club is a benevolent association that helps people in need and goes about their charitable work very quietly, without any fanfare.
It is Carnival time again, and who doesn’t love the color and the pageantry of the parades that roll through the Coast? It is Rusty David who started it all in the early 80’s. The first night parade rolled in Biloxi all decked out in lights, thrilling the spectators who had never seen anything like it. Rusty continued his involvement until 1998, and became the Captain of the Gulf Coast Carnival Association. He served as Captain in 1997 through 98 where he presided over the parades and the Coronation Ball. “I was like the C.E.O of Carnival,” he said.
In 1981, Rusty David became a member of the “Boom Boom” committee. This is a group of people that raise money for the firework display for the city of Biloxi each year. The funds garnered for the 2010 show came to over $50,000. It was the second largest fireworks show in the entire south. Nothing came close to the spectacle over the Gulf that was put on by the Boom Boom organization. “All the sponsors that bought sponsorships are what made this thing so great,” Rusty said. The incredible fireworks have been purchased through Pyrotecnico in Mandeville, Louisiana since 1986.
When the casinos came, free entertainment did not draw the big crowds that it used to, so Rusty David went back to the drawing board. He and close friend, Bill Holmes came up with a brand new idea that was another huge success. They put together the Mississippi Gulf Coast Boaters Rendezvous at Ship Island which ran from 1991 through the year 2000. The event was enjoyed by thousands of people. All proceeds went to the Parks Service to purchase important safety equipment and specialty items for Ship Island.
With all the events that Rusty has brought to the Coast, he has his favorites. Christmas on the Water boat parade and The Children’s parade came to be in 1986. Prior to Katrina, he and his committee built all the decorations that filled the Biloxi Town Green. Each year this highly anticipated event is also a favorite among families. Children delight as they visit with Santa Claus and are treated to hot chocolate and cookies on Friday night in conjunction with a parade of 500 to 600 youngsters. On Saturday night, boat owners gather together and decorate their vessels from top to bottom with Christmas lights and ornaments. They glide down the coastline under the stars for all to see. It is a wonderful way to kick of the holiday season.
In 2000, Rusty came up with yet another incredible event to showcase this area. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic was off and running. It is a two day event and has become one of the biggest billfish tournaments in the Gulf. It is not uncommon for 100 boats or more to be registered and participants come from all over the country. Rusty is the site coordinator for entertainment, weigh ins and all logistics. He said, “There is something going on all the time, and if I don’t stay busy…I get into trouble! I enjoy every minute of these things.”
The current project on tap for Rusty is Smokin the Sound and Smokin the Lake in Gulfport with Woody Bailey. In May the Seafood Museum will take center stage, where he and his wife, who is the Director of the Seafood Museum, will co-chair the Mississippi Gulf Coast Wooden Boat Show. Rusty David is a visionary who constantly gives of himself in order to bring happiness and joy to others. He has no intention of slowing down and is eager to raise the bar. “It means so much to me to work with people, see the excitement of a project coming together, and having that feeling of self worth when it is finished. I want to continue to better the Coast and keep improving the quality of life here…that’s what I am all about,” he said.