BUCKHANNON — The West Virginia Strawberry Queen-elect’s reaction to being selected queen gave the impression that she was not expecting the top honor.
Lexi Webb stood hand in hand with eventual first runner-up Shelbey Groves as Groves’ name was called. That meant that Webb was the 2017 West Virginia Strawberry Festival Queen-elect after being selected from nine ladies vying for the title.
There were tears, hugs from Groves and 2016 queen Dominique Collins, a moment where Webb almost went to her knees and then the awarding of a plaque and sash — the crown will not come until coronation during Strawberry Festival week.
“I was completely shocked,” Webb said afterwards. “This is only my second queen pageant and I was just amazed. I came here expecting to work my hardest and get as close to the top as I could and I ended up winning.”
Webb is an 18-year-old senior at Notre Dame High School and lives in Bridgeport.
“I am planning on going to Wheeling Jesuit University and studying biology,” she said.
But before college, Webb will cap off her senior year by reigning over the 76th edition of the West Virginia Strawberry Festival May 13-21 with the theme Mountain Memories.
“I’m most looking forward to meeting all of the people in Buckhannon and just enjoying my time at a historic festival,” she said.
Webb’s teen queen is Sydni Smith, 16, of Huntington, who won her division of six teen queen hopefuls.
Smith’s first reaction to hearing her name called as teen queen?
“Honestly, I was just so thankful,” she said. “I looked out at all my friends and family who came to support me and just thanked them in my head. It’s a great experience; it’s unbelievable.”
Smith is finishing up her sophomore year at Huntington High School and plays volleyball on a travel team.
She will experience her first Strawberry Festival this May.
“I cannot wait to try all the strawberry foods,” she said. “I also love painting so I’m going to be at the strawberry craft show and especially the parades. I have my own float and I’m super excited for that.”
King-elect Joseph Robinson, of Mannington, received his King’s Loving Cup from 2016 King Levi Gay. He will be crowned during the coronation with Webb in May.
Robinson earned a civil engineering degree from West Virginia University and is a professional engineer in five states and a project manager for oil and gas in West Virginia for CEC.
He is building a farm on 114 acres near Mannington that will include an orchard, vineyard, berry patches and Christmas trees.
Robinson has grown 300-plus Honeye strawberries in raised beds with straw mulch for the last three years.
The king-elect said he enjoys carrying on the traditions of farming passed to him by his grandfathers James Robinson and John Surick.
He also has memories of picking strawberries with his dad that made him interested in the sweet berry and in applying to be Strawberry king.
Robinson said there are many changes to growing strawberries including upkeep.
“One is after the first year, keeping up with them and making sure they are weeded,” he said. “Another is making sure you pick a strawberry that is disease resistant for our area.”
As Strawberry king, Robinson said he will promote the strawberry, what the traditions are locally and how people can grow strawberries.
The pageant evening, hosted by emcee Tosha Saltis, also included the introduction of hostess princesses Shayna Holley, 19, of French Creek, and Madison Lough, 21, of Buckhannon.
Holley is the daughter of Jonathan and Sherry Holley and a 2016 graduate of Buckhannon-Upshur High School. She is double majoring in secondary education history and psychology at Alderson Broaddus University.
Lough, the daughter of Philip and Vicky Lough, is also a graduate of Buckhannon-Upshur High School. She is studying exercise science at Fairmont State University where she is also on the women’s soccer team.
The West Virginia Strawberry Festival Association named the Buckhannon Police Department, Upshur County Sheriff’s Department and West Virginia State Police as its Spirit Award winners for 2017.
Law enforcement was chosen because of the 24-hour a day, seven days a week support they provide not only during festival week but all year long to keep the community safe.
A special award was presented to Jimmy and Pam Cuppari for their support over the years of the festival.
The night was also dedicated to the late Jessie Marsh, whose involvement with the festival spanned over four decades. Marsh chaperoned the queen and her court during festival week for many years, was the official seamstress and later began making official sashes for the queen and teen pageant that led to her creating sashes for fairs and festivals throughout the state. In 2015, Marsh received the West Virginia Festival Spirit Award and rode in the Grand Feature Parade.