2023 WVSF King Avery Starkey lights the festival flame as Queen Emma Riffe looks on. (Monica Zalaznik / My Buckhannon)

Strawberry Festival celebrates Opening Ceremonies on Saturday this year

BUCKHANNON – The 81st annual West Virginia Strawberry Festival commenced with the lighting of the festival flame on Saturday, May 13. The festival opted to move the Opening Ceremonies from its traditional Wednesday spot to Saturday this year to celebrate the full week of events.

Steady rain showers could not keep a crowd away from the Upshur County Courthouse steps to help usher in this year’s Strawberry Festival, dubbed “Strawberry Freedom.”

Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner greeted the crowd and reflected on his many years attending the festival.

“On behalf of city council, our staff, administration and the 6,000 residents that call this wonderful community home, welcome to Buckhannon, West Virginia,” Skinner said. “It is an honor and privilege to serve this community, my hometown, as your mayor. I love this time of year because our festival, much like this community, is near and dear to my heart, and I know all of yours as well. As a kid, I would look forward to the middle of May every year, and at 33 years young, I’ve not missed one, and I don’t intend to.”

Skinner said the entire community comes together to express their excitement about this time of the year.

“You can see the dedication and pride taken by our homeowners, as you see the wooden strawberries out in full bloom, you can feel the excitement as the bands march down the street during the Grand Feature Parade, and you can feel the pride as our fire department drives their beautiful equipment down the street, all dressed in uniform,” Skinner said. “This is what small-town America should be, and this community is everything that it is and should be across the entire nation.”

He asked festival attendees to visit Buckhannon’s local businesses and find their favorite strawberry treat.

“I hope you have some time this week to visit all our stores that have done such a great job decorating for this event, and I hope you also have some time to eat all the strawberries you could possibly eat because I can tell you, our board has worked very hard to work with restaurants all over this community to put together a great strawberry menu,” Skinner said. “Thank you, Jessica Williams, for putting that together; we have a lot of sweet treats for you this week.”

Skinner also recognized the Strawberry Festival board members for their dedication to the event every year.

“I want to thank Shane Jenkins, our president, as well as all the board of directors of this festival,” Skinner said. ‘This is an all-volunteer effort — not one single person gets paid — and I want to thank the Board of Directors for welcoming me as a member as well. For 80 years strong, 81 years strong now, this is West Virginia’s largest festival, this is West Virginia’s best festival, and we can’t thank you enough for being a part of it.”

Upshur County Commission president Kristie Tenney welcomed the crowd to the festival and acknowledged all the work that has gone into this year’s festival.

“Thank you for taking the time to be part of the 81st Strawberry Festival; we wish you a blessed week full of strawberry fun and a time to make lasting memories,” Tenney said.  “We would also like to take a moment to applaud the West Virginia Strawberry Festival Board of Directors and all of the past and current volunteers that have worked countless hours to prepare for this long-standing tradition. It takes all of you to make this special week enjoyable for us all.”

Tenney thanked the city and county employees, as well as the first responders, for their dedication to their work during the festival.

“I would like to extend a special thank you to our mayor, the council, all the city employees and the county employees for their ongoing effort to ensure the beauty of Buckhannon is magnified during strawberry week,” Tenney said. “We appreciate all our first responders who ensure our safety throughout the year and during this special event. What a great time, as we begin our 81st Strawberry Festival and its freedom theme, to take a moment to honor those who have served in our armed forces, because without the dedication, commitment and sacrifice of you and your families, events like this would never be possible.”

Tenney also encouraged those from out of town to visit local shops and support small businesses.

“We hope you enjoy the event during the upcoming week, whether you are a resident of Upshur County, or a first-time visitor enjoying the beautiful decor in the yards of our residents and businesses. We encourage you to stop by some of our local shops as well,” Tenney said. “Our unique shops and array of eateries are sure to please you all. Once again, we thank you for joining us and celebrating our 81st Strawberry Festival, where freedom never tasted so sweet.”

Strawberry Festival Board First Vice President Lacy Ramsey thanked Lori Meadows for proposing the winning theme this year, “Strawberry Freedom,” and presented this year’s Spirit Award winner.

“Every year, the West Virginia Strawberry Festival Board of Directors chooses a Spirit Award winner,” Ramsey said. “The Spirit Award is presented to an individual who exemplifies dedication and volunteerism throughout the Strawberry Festival and community, changing lives and creating memories, and this year’s Spirit Award winner is no exception. He was born in Buckhannon, and although he tried to run off, country roads brought him back home, where he is a loving husband and father and considered a best friend to the Board of Directors. He has shown professionalism and dedication to oil and gas, printing, and logistics, and for the past 18 years has been dedicated to the mining industry.”

Ramsey said the winner has dedicated his time to numerous aspects of the festival.

“He has helped with countless events through the years, including royalty, pageants, poker run, parades and much more, and I can guarantee that none of this was at the request of his wife. All jokes aside, I don’t know where we would be without him,” Ramsey said. “He never fails to put a smile on the faces of a stressed and overwhelmed directors; he knows no stranger and immediately lightens tension and stress with his presence alone. I’m sure he doesn’t even know how much of a difference he makes, which confirms his worthiness to receive this award — Mark Spencer.”

A full schedule, pictures and stories about the 81st Strawberry Festival can be found on My Buckhannon.

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