International groups join in WVSF Grand Feature Parade, Band Fest
BUCKHANNON — Strawberry and country roads brought The Diplomats Drum and Bugle Corps of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, to Buckhannon to march in their very first parade in the United States.
The corps provides opportunities for youth ages 8 to 22, has won numerous awards and performed in Michigan but their steps down Strawberry Lane for the Grand Feature Parade were months in the making and for some members of the band it was their first parade ever.
Director Bob Thwaites said, “This is an amazing trip for these kids. We started in 2012. We think we have a really solid program. We have four kids today that this was their first parade. Welcome to drum corp.”
Thwaites said the organization is 100 percent volunteer and held three fundraisers in just the last three months to help make the trip — the most recent a garage sale that netted $2,500.
Whereas the Elite Rivals drill team director spoke of keeping his kids off the street, Thwaites said, “Our job is to keep the kids on the street. We raise money to keep them on the street, to keep them learning.”
Lee Winter, who coordinates many of the bands and special units for the festival and was honored with this year’s Strawberry Spirit Award, described a different community spirit when he asked for help in bringing The Diplomats to Buckhannon.
They found affordable housing at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School’s gym, the American Red Cross stepped in with cots — a new term for the Canadian band members — and local businesses provided food.
“These guys have come so far,” he said. “This is their first time ever performing in a parade in the United States and they chose Buckhannon to come to.”
A second international group, Muleketu from Paris, France, returned to Buckhannon after eight years and wowed the crowd in both the Fireman’s Parade, Grand Feature Parade, Band Fest and street performances.
Festival president Sandra Bennett said the international groups add something special to the West Virginia Strawberry Festival.
“The kids from Canada want to come back,” she said. “They said they had a really good time.”
Muleketu also wants to return to Buckhannon.
“I think they were very pleased with the crowd, the attendance, the applause they got,” Bennett said. “I think the people around town are really appreciative when we have people from outside our 50 states. They always show them respect and try to put their best foot forward.”
Bennett said overall festival week went very well.
“There was a lot of activity especially on Thursday night and Saturday,” she said. “Friday got rained out.”
Even a snafu prior to the Grand Feature Parade that could have caused problems with the larger floats was handled quickly.
“Usually they come down from Aleris on Camden Avenue and there was a powerline down, so we just changed the plan and went down one street and up to park them on Marion Street so that worked out all right,” she said.
King Joseph Robinson, who reigned over the festival with Queen Cassidy Myers and Teen Queen Gracie Marsh, brought Honeoye berries grown in a high tunnel for the coronation Wednesday.
Robinson said he had a gallon or so ready on Wednesday and expected to keep picking berries into June.
Something that the third-year king has been working on is coordinating the strawberry growers and getting them more active in selling strawberries at the festival.
“I worked with the festival board to get them spots to set up canopies to sell and let them know they were welcome to sell,” he said. “Most of them came to the auction but they didn’t know they could set up and sell.”
The CVB had one area outside its office to sell West Virginia berries.
Bennett said, “I think they were having three or four farmers that were bringing in their berries.
“They were fresh picked every day. People know that if they are fresh picked, they are going to take them. There’s nothing like strawberries grown in West Virginia soil. They are so much different tasting than the others.
“When they did the auction on Friday, some of the kids had huge berries,” she said. “I’ve never seen such nice berries. The sweetest berry contest winner came from Clendenin so that tells you that the soil in West Virginia is good for growing berries.”
The festival board will hold a meeting to put a cap on the 78th festival while planting seeds for the future.
“The festival planning is a year-long event and in some ways we are looking forward to the 80th,” she said. “That’s only two years away and we have to start thinking about what we want to do special for that one. It takes lots and lots of man hours. Only two or three of us on the board do not have full-time jobs. We do it because we want people to come and have a good time and have something to do while they are here.
“Without all the sponsors, all the community support, law enforcement and the City of Buckhannon, this would never be able to be pulled off,” she said. “I want everyone to know how much we appreciate all their help.”