October 17, 2014

Apple Harvest Festival kicks off with annual Royal Gala | Martinsburg Journal

CHARLES TOWN - The Mountain State Harvest Festival kicked off another year of celebrating the Eastern Panhandle's agricultural history during the 35th annual Royal Gala on Thursday evening.

Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races hosted the event and welcomed guests in surrounding communities together for a night of fellowship and commemoration.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., stopped by the gala to share some words about the significance of the MSAHF.

"Anytime we have these types of festivals in West Virginia, it brings out the best in West Virginia. It shows the culture of our area, of the Eastern Panhandle. A lot of people, even a lot of people in different parts of West Virginia, don't know that we have a tremendous apple harvest," Manchin said.

With the backdrop of New York City scenery and the constant flash of camera lights, it was no surprise that "The Big Apple" was this year's gala theme.

Yet, the gala remained true to the Mountain State, as guests toasted their glasses above apple-stuffed bouquets.

In fact, tradition was alive and well with long-standing participants eager to share the importance of the Royal Gala and its role within the annual MSAHF.

Lauren McKenzie Linton, last year's Queen Pomona XXXIV, said she was humbled to carry on the tradition with her court.

"I loved being able to promote the apple industry," Linton said.

"I've learned that it's not just one person's job, it's everyone's job," she said.

Linton said one girl even referred to her as the "Apple Lady" during the promotion of the agricultural history throughout area schools.

But it wasn't just about being crowned Queen Pomona for Linton.

Linton said she learned much about herself within the past year.

"When you wear a crown, you have to remember that everyone is watching and counting on you. You become a role model," Linton said.

Linton passed the crown on to this year's new Queen Pomona XXXV, Madison Paige Smallwood, during the annual celebration.

No stranger to knowing the responsibilities that come along with being Queen Pomona, Smallwood said she has had her eye on the crown since the sixth grade when she was a maid on the court.

"Since then it has been my goal. ... This is such a great honor and I'm so humbled," Smallwood said.

In the race for the crown, Smallwood studied the history of the local agriculture and its importance within the Eastern Panhandle.

However, Smallwood was the not the only member of her family to participate in the annual MSAHF.

Smallwood's mother, Christal, said the yearly festival has been a family tradition for years.

"My grandmother was involved in making the first quilt," Christal said.

Since then, Christal said her family has worked hard to become participants in the annual festival.

Events for the MSAHF will continue throughout the weekend. More information about the festival, including a schedule of events, is available at www.msahf.com.


By:  Chelsea DeMello