BUCKHANNON – Now donning their crowns, the royalty of the 76th annual West Virginia Strawberry Festival are ready to make some memories — “Mountain Memories,” that is.
2017 WVSF queen Lexi Webb, of Clarksburg, and king Joseph Robinson, of Mannington, each received their crowns Wednesday evening at the festival’s traditional coronation, which got underway at 6:30 p.m. in Wesley Chapel on the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Buckhannon mayor David McCauley kicked off coronation by welcoming Webb and Robinson and presenting them with the keys to the city.
“On behalf of our entire city council, our 85 city employees, and our nearly 6,000 residents, welcome to the
76th Strawberry Festival,” McCauley said. “It’s our great honor and privilege as a city government to work together and partner with the Strawberry Festival to make all these things come together, and I think you ought to give a nice round of applause to all of the members of the Strawberry Festival Association, who just do an amazing job.”
“This is my 35th festival,” McCauley continued. “I came to Buckhannon in May of 1983, and I’ve never missed a single event in all those years. I’m looking forward to this one more than any before, so I hope you all are too.”
Upshur County Commission president Terry Cutright administered the oath of office to Webb and Robinson, while 2016 Strawberry Queen Dominique Collins presented the mantels of office.
W.Va. Strawberry Festival President Debra Hupp delivered the royal scepters before the main event — the crowning of the new royalty. State agriculture commissioner Kent Leonhardt crowned Robinson, and secretary of state Mac Warner crowned Webb.
And after pastor Jerry Murrell blessed the strawberries, Webb took the traditional first bite.
Outside the chapel following the ceremony, Robinson and Webb said they’re excited to celebrate all things strawberry with the people of Buckhannon.
Robinson, who has a patch of 625 strawberry plants in Marion County, said he’s most looking forward to meeting with people and promoting new strawberry-growing practices in the state.
“I used to just shoot in the shooting competition,” Robinson said of his prior experiences at the Strawberry Festival. “When you get together like that, you’re making memories, which is fitting with the theme of ‘Mountain Memories.’”
Webb was interested in campaigning to be queen when 2016 Strawberry Queen Dominique Collins relayed her experience reigning over last year’s festival.
“She said it was one of the most historical and prestigious festivals in West Virginia, so I wanted to strive for it as one of my first festival pageants,” Webb said. “I’m just really looking forward to meeting everyone and having a good time with them.”
Secretary of state Mac Warner has been to the Strawberry Festival before, but he’s never been in it, he said.
“I’ve been to Buckhannon several times in the last couple weeks as I’ve been touring the state, cleaning up the relationships with the county clerks,” Warner said. “I’ve just always enjoyed the town of Buckhannon. It’s fun to have such a magical setting for a wonderful event.”
State agriculture commissioner Kent Leonhardt said he’s ready to enjoy the Strawberry Festival, adding that it’s a great time to be a farmer of the featured fruit.
“With hydroponics and high tunnels and high quality genetics, it’s a great time to be a farmer in West Virginia,” Leonhardt said. “We are no longer topography-challenged. We are located a one day’s drive from 60 percent of the U.S. population.”
Leonhardt said the growing agriculture industry can play a role in reviving West Virginia’s economy.
“It won’t be the solution to all our economic problems, but it can be part of the solution,” Leonhardt said. “We can save on health care costs by eating healthy.”
Warner and Leonhardt plan to ride in Saturday’s Grand Feature Parade, which will proceed down Strawberry Lane at 1 p.m.
The 2017 WVSF wraps up Sunday, May 21. For a full schedule of events, visit www.wvstrawberryfestival.com.