The Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben Foundation
In 1895, Omaha was the home of the Nebraska State Fair. But the State Fair Board, angry because Omaha businessmen failed to provide suitable evening entertainment for families attending the fair, laid down an ultimatum: "Provide entertainment other than saloons, gambling houses and honkeytonks for the 1895 fair or lose it to a competitively alert Lincoln."
First, financial needs were met by Omaha businessmen to provide the needed improvements for the city and the State Fairgrounds.
Then, on the evening of March 28, 1895, a meeting was called with 60 of the most prominent businessmen of Omaha in attendance. At this meeting, the 12 men who formed the Executive Committee of the Omaha Business Men's Association (an organization still in existence) and who had taken charge of the festivities of Fair Week presented an ambitious plan for securing all floats which had appeared in February's New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade for the Omaha fair.
These 12 men became the original members of the Board of Governors of the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben. Their journey to New Orleans to obtain the Mardi Gras floats brought them into contact with the Rex, Proteus and Comus Society of the Crescent City (the civic group which organized the Mardi Gras festivities). The Omahans were convinced that a permanent organization such as the Rex, Proteus and Comus Society was just what Omaha needed to add zest to its progressive outlook.
On the train ride back from New Orleans, the Omahans named their new organization. "Why not reverse the name of our beloved state, since everything seems to be going backwards these days?" Dudley Smith suggested. Another member suggested that since this group had saved the fair for the city, the organization should be called the "Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben." Thus, Ak-Sar-Ben was born.
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