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Thousands enjoy Strawberry, Ethnic festivals

By Gail Marsh

(May 27) Overcast morning skies failed to keep hundreds of people from coming out to enjoy a parade or visit a festival in North Central West Virginia Saturday afternoon.

When the rain stopped in Buckhannon around 11 a.m., festival-goers armed with folding chairs of all colors and sizes came out to secure a spot to watch the 57th Annual West Virginia Strawberry Festival parade.

Many people sat three deep along "Strawberry Lane," children in strollers accompanied by parents and grandparents who were busy taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the day. Nearly 100,000 people come to the Upshur County county seat for the five-day celebration.

The pungent smell of sizzling Italian sausage and Greek gyros wafted from two of the many food booths set up on one block of Main Street, and people lined up to sample cheese steak hoagies, onion blossoms and other festival fare.

Beckley resident Kathy Royster was busy enjoying a bowl of strawberry shortcake topped with real whipped cream, while her friend, Edie Davis, munched on a funnel cake covered with chocolate syrup and powdered sugar.

"We come every year because our kids perform with the Karenettes Dance and Drill Team. They get to dance and we get to eat desserts," Royster said.

Kris Clayton made cotton candy in blueberry, grape and, of course, strawberry flavors at her street-side booth. Along with her son, Richard, and friend, Stacy Ashcraft, they were busy selling cotton candy and helium balloons.

Clayton poured the blue granules of flosssugar into the metal bowl of her bubble-top, cotton-candy machine, turned on the fan, and stirred while the air created the long strands that became the sticky, mouth-watering confection.

"This is our second year here, I wouldn't miss it for the world," the former Vermont resident said. "The festival staff here are so friendly and helpful, and we really enjoy coming down," she said.

By now the parade was in full swing, and the crowd applauded for the hometown band from Buckhannon-Upshur High School. Interspersed between the numerous bands were local dignitaries riding convertibles and other solo acts like the popular clown on stilts.

Sandy Kesling of Jane Lew said she's been coming to the parade since she was a little girl. She was accompanied by Petunia, Piglet and Nugget, all majestic-looking Chinese Pugs, who sat on one corner barking along with the bands.

"They like to go places, and I just didn't want to leave them at home," she said.

Farther north in the Clarksburg area, the day warmed up as drivers registered for the first car "cruise in" at the Glen Elk Ethnic Festival held in Glen Elk during the weekend.

"Your mama don't dance and your daddy don't rock'n'roll" blared from a sound stage while a small crowd visited game booths, played bingo or ate hot sausage or fish sandwiches.

Rebecca Wilson of Clarksburg stood with her two-year-old daughter, Mariah, watching her son, Stacy, 4, and husband, Stacy, try the pony rides.

"My husband's from the city and just moved here a few years ago. This is his first horse ride," she said smiling as she watched him ride around the small ring.

Her husband was a little unsteady as he dismounted the horse, but managed to come away with his pride intact.

"For my first time, it was pretty nice," the Detroit native said.

Local artist Robert Cotter had a booth displaying some watercolor paintings of the Glen Elk of the 1940s and 1950s. Cotter said his mother was the playground director there in the late 1930s and 1940s and he often accompanied her to work.

"Many older people have stopped to look and reminisce about what Glen Elk was like in those years. One old Italian man actually came up and hugged me," Cotter said.

Both festivals finish up today. The Strawberry Festival will have a gospel sing at 2 p.m. at Christian Fellowship Church on Norvel Drive, and the Glen Elk Festival will feature the Orlando Columbo Orchestra at 1 p.m. and a Veteran's Memorial Service at 5 p.m.