PUNGO — The dignitaries for the 35th annual Pungo Strawberry Festival, which begins this weekend, were announced during the annual festival press conference and lunch this month at the Culpepper Barn in Pungo.
They are the celebrities of an annual community event that this year has the theme “The Berry Heart of Virginia Beach.” The festival takes place over Memorial Day weekend, May 25-27, in the heart of the village near the intersection of Indian River and Princess Anne roads.
This year’s grand marshals are Kevin and Heather Newton. The mayor and first lady, respectively, are Glenn and Vicky Atwood. And the honorary Witch of Pungo is Sandy Dawson.
The Newtons have been involved with the Virginia Beach 4-H Livestock Club for more than two decades, including holding leadership positions, among many accomplishments.
“A nice surprise, and not expected,” said Kevin Newton, a retired arson investigator with the city fire department. He also works part time at Land of Promise Farms, and the family has a small cattle herd.
“We’ve been working with the festival a long time,” said Dr. Heather Newton, an educational psychologist who serves as the director for graduate medical education at Eastern Virginia Medical School. She also is faculty with Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.
“I look forward to it,” she added. “I block it off every year.”
It wouldn’t seem like Memorial Day without the festival, she noted.
“It’s great to be part of community,” he said.
“I’m proud to be first lady,” said Vicky Atwood, who previously served as the honorary Witch of Pungo – and who said she was honored to serve again as a dignitary.
“It’s a great honor,” said Glenn Atwood, the honorary mayor of Pungo. “It’s something I never thought I’d be named.
The Atwoods have been involved every year with the festival, and they have deep roots in the community. Glenn Atwood worked at a number of local farms as a youth before his service in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He went to work with the city, retiring after 45 years as a mechanical engineer supervisor in public works.
Vicky Atwood worked at Tidewater Community College and at Horn Point Hunting Club. The couple volunteers at church, in the library and in the schools, and they have four decades of involvement with 4-H. Vicky Atwood was the honorary Witch of Pungo in 2015.
This year, that honor goes to Dawson, a longtime art teacher who retired from Creeds Elementary and helped with the annual student art show. She still volunteers at Creeds, and she serves as a festival board member in addition to her involvement with the student art show.
“I’m here to be the witch,” she said, smiling. “Really, it’s a privilege. I’m so proud to be part of this community.”
Diane Horsley, chairperson of the Virginia Beach Agriculture Advisory Commission, said the dignitaries were deserving representatives of the community.
“They volunteer in the southern end of the city,” she said.
Guests during the event included Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Bettina Ring. In an interview, Ring said she came to show her support for the agriculture community and Virginia Beach and, of course, for the festival.
“It’s an honor for me,” she said, noting that her visit to the city included discussing priorities for the industry here, such as keeping land farmed for years to come.
“We’re looking at how we can provide support to these farmers as they transition through generations,” Ring said.
Shayla McCartney, a 17-year-old Landstown High School student who also studies at the Advanced Technology Center, won the annual poster contest for the festival.
“I wanted my poster to represent the warmth and love people can feel in Pungo,” she said.
The digitally painted work shows berries in warm colors. McCartney said she’s never been to the festival before. “But I’m excited to attend this year,” she said.
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