BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE
PUNGO – Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Frank Davis started participating in the Pungo Strawberry Festival, including overseeing parking, back in 2002 – about a year after the retired Navy master chief joined the sheriff’s office, initially as an auxiliary deputy.
“I’ve never had a Memorial Day Weekend off since then,” he said.
Davis, who oversees the inmate community workforce, said last year was to be his last helping with parking so he could spend more time with his family, including his daughter Lexi, 4. Then he got a call from a representative of the Pungo Strawberry Festival. He assumed he was being asked to help again with parking, but the festival’s board had something else in mind.
They wanted to honor the efforts of the sheriff’s office to support the annual festival, now in its 34th year. So would Davis serve as grand marshal for the parade with state Del. Rocky Holcomb, R-85th District, also a captain in the sheriff’s office?
“I was floored,” Davis said on Thursday, May 11, shortly after this year’s honorary dignitaries for the festival were introduced at the Culpepper Barn.
In addition to Holcomb and Davis, the grand marshalls, the festival board announced Thomas Martin, who served in the U.S. Coast Guard and retired from the Virginia Beach Fire Department, will serve as the mayor of Pungo, and Nancy Martin, retired from the Virginia Beach city schools, will serve as both the first lady and the “Witch of Pungo.” The Martins were selected as people from the Pungo area with a history of community service and support for the festival. A grand marshal can be from outside the community, but they’ve supported the festival in the past.
Todd Jones, the chairperson of the strawberry festival board, in remarks said this year’s festival demonstrates a commitment to the community — the festival has raised more than $1 million over the years for charities and scholarships — as well as an effort to recognize the sacrifices of those who have served their country. That connection is seen in the festival held over Memorial Day Weekend through support of the Combat Wounded Coalition.
“By supporting the festival,” Jones said, “you help us support these causes.”
He also had a message of thanks for Pungo residents, noting that they endure road closures and the sort of traffic generated by as many as 120,000 people coming to the village.
“I can’t say enough how much we appreciate the landowners, the business owners and the residents in the Pungo area,” he said.
And he noted that the festival is alcohol-free, as it has been and will remain. “We want people of all ages to come and support the festival,” Jones said.
Due to rainy weather, the annual press conference was moved to the barn, and the limousine delivering the dignitaries backed up and slightly into the the venue for introductions.
The festival’s honorary mayor, Thomas Martin, was born and raised on Pleasant Ridge Road, and, though his family moved to Shadowlawn when he was a teenager, he moved his own family to Back Bay.
He is active at Charity United Methodist Church, was the Creeds Ruritan Club’s man of the year in 1993, and restores old bikes for children in need, according to his biography provided by the festival.
Nancy Chevalier Martin grew up in the Birchwood and Thalia area. She worked with the state, raised a family and stayed active with leadership positions in parent teacher associations at Creeds Elementary School, Princess Anne Middle School and Kellam High School.
She worked as a kindergarten teacher assistant and as a school secretary in the city schools, earning recognition as teacher assistant of the year for Virginia Beach in 1994 and the Superintendent’s Spotlight Award in 2011.
She, too, is active at Charity United Methodist Church, where she serves as vice chairperson of the church council, among other accomplishments.
Holcomb, who joined the Virginia General Assembly this year, command’s the sheriff’s office criminal intelligence unit and classification division.
He served in the U.S. Marine Corps before joining the sheriff’s office in 1991, and, among his volunteer efforts is service for the strawberry festival. In the General Assembly, he sits on the house finance committee and the counties, cities and town committee.
This year’s poster, selected from a number of student entries, shows a strawberry plant with berries, a butterfly and this year’s theme – “the sweet taste of Pungo.” It was designed by Eric Villa, 17, a Tallwood High School student from Kempsville.
“As you can tell,” he said, “the strawberry plant is the main focal point of the design. … I chose the butterfly because it’s Virginia’s insect.”
The parade will be held on Saturday, May 27, and its dignitaries will ride along Princess Anne Road in the village. Davis joked that he doesn’t yet know what kind of car he’ll ride, but he’ll be waving from one rather than parking them. And, like so many others, he’ll have his family with him.
The Pungo Strawberry Festival is held over Memorial Day Weekend. Visit pungostrawberryfestival.info for details.
© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC