By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

St. Catherine Catholic Church's Mardi Gras German-style Saturday added a Valentine's Day flair as the Unrein Building at the Ellis County Fairgrounds was decorated in red, white and black rather than the traditional purple, green and gold.

The silver half masks, mirrors, roses and candles decorating the tables added sparkle, and party-goers sported strings of red hearts and silver beads.

"Normally it's Mardi Gras, and our beads represent what happens down in New Orleans. This year, it's on Valentine's Day, so they're red and silver to reflect that," said Greg Schmidt, a Catharine native and one of the event volunteers.

His wife, Pam, designs the party's decorations, and the couple help with setting up the tables and decorating the hall.

"When you have good help, it goes quick," Pam Schmidt said.

"We have a good group at Catharine that work together to get this organized," said Doris Schmidt, one of the organizers. "Everybody has a little area that they undertake and carry it out. It's a parish function."

It was the 12th year for the event, which includes a social hour, dinner and dance.

Bumpy Knuckles the clown also entertained the youngsters with his balloon artistry, and the young and young-at-heart waited in line for Miss Rebecca's face painting.

Doris Schmidt was among the first to get her face painted with glittery pink hearts.

"I like getting into the theme of things. Usually I wear a Mardi Gras costume, and I always have my face painted every year," she said.

The dinner is catered, but the parish women bring the desserts.

"At first, we made the dinner ourselves. But we found out it was too much for us to handle for the size of our parish," Doris Schmidt said.

There were hugs, handshakes and back slapping as friends and family greeted one another.

Justin Walters, who lives in the Kansas City area, came with his wife, Jacklynn, daughter Hanna 4, and son Tommy, 2.

"I came to the first one. I'm originally from Catharine, and you get to see a lot of people you don't get to see (often). It's kind of like a family reunion with the old neighbors," Justin Walters said.

Judy Windholz, Salina, also grew up in the Catharine area.

"We never miss a one," she said. "We come back to see people we haven't seen for a long time. It's a lot of fun. In Salina, you don't get to see your German heritage. Here, you can come and talk German, get some of your German back."

She brought her aunt, Bernetha Leiker. It was Leiker's first time attending but probably not her last.

"We pretty much have the same people come back every year," Greg Schmidt said. "This year, there are several events going on, but our regulars are here."

The money raised is used "for projects in the parish for the church, cemetery or grounds," Doris Schmidt said. "We always put it back to some kind of need that our parish has, and I think that's why we have such a wonderful support system with it."