TENNERTON - Charleston native Nichole Greene first yearned for a taste of what it would be like to serve as Strawberry Queen in 2013, when she traveled to Buckhannon for the town's annual berry extravaganza.
Greene, who then made the trip as the West Virginia Fairs and Festivals Queen, said she knew then that she'd be back.
And Saturday evening, at the West Virginia Strawberry Festival Teen/Queen Pageant at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, she returned to take the title as 2014 queen-elect.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Katie Kuba
2014 West Virginia Strawberry Festival King Steve Butler and queen-elect Nichole Natasha Greene greet each other following Greene’s win Saturday night at the Strawberry Festival Teen/Queen Pageant at Buckhannon-Upshur High School.
A senior majoring in elementary education at Marshall University, Greene will officially be crowned queen at the festival's annual coronation, which takes place during Festival Week, this year slated for May 10-18.
Serving alongside Greene will be 14-year-old Buckhannon native Courtney Trader, who was crowned WVSF Teen Queen Saturday.
Greene competed in a field of 11 contestants, and Trader emerged victorious from a field of 15 at the end of Saturday's event, which was organized by pageant director Deborah Shapiro and emceed by Emily Lopez and Mike Donato.
"I feel so amazing, I can't even express how I feel right now," Greene said following her win. "You kind of imagine what you'd feel like, but you can't even put it to words. Since last year, I knew I really wanted to compete in this pageant. I was the (West Virginia) Fairs and Festivals Queen last year, so I was invited to come to the pageant and I was invited to come to the festival, and I just fell in love. I knew that I wanted to come back here and try to be the queen and thankfully it happened, and I'm really excited for this year."
When her name was announced, Greene said she wasn't sure what to think.
"It's just that moment where you question, 'was that right? Was it really me?'" she said. "It was, and I'm so thankful."
In the Queen division, Tori Rohr, 21, of Buckhannon, was selected as first runner-up; Gabrielle Ash, 24, of Morgantown earned second runner-up laurels; third runner-up went to Chelsy Nicol Nazelrodt, 23, of Philippi; and Tosha Saltis, 22, of Buckhannon won fourth runner-up honors.
Trader, a freshman at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, was simply "shocked" to learn she had taken the title in the Teen Queen division.
"I was the youngest one that made top five," she gushed after her win. "Those other girls were like 18, and I was like, 'OK, I'm only 14, I'm just grateful that I'm making top five.'
"Then they called me as (one of the) top two, and I was like 'is this really happening?' and then they called (Maggie Bonar) as first runner-up and I was like so shocked.
"It was a wave of emotions, relief and I was so excited," Trader continued. "I just wanted to cry, but I'm really hungry so I really want some food."
Trader said the pageant contestants had been prepping and rehearsing for Saturday's event since 8 a.m.
But that hard work was all worth it for Trader, who said she's long aspired to be Strawberry Teen or Strawberry Queen.
"I've always wanted to be Strawberry Teen or Queen ever since I was little," she said. "I've been watching the parade, and I was like 'Mom, that's what I want to do. I want to be there.' And now I get to!"
Other winners in the Teen Queen division are first runner-up Maggie Bonar, 17, of Moundsville; second runner-up Dominique Collins, 18, of West Normantown; third runner-up Hannah Amelia Prince, 18, of Fairmont; and fourth runner-up Emily Wigal, 16, of Evans.
Steve Butler will once again reign over the festival as Strawberry King in 2014, and was on hand Saturday to offer congratulations to the new queen and teen queen. To be named Strawberry Festival king, one must be "actively engaged in the growing of strawberries," Butler said. He hopes more youth will become involved in that endeavor in future years.
"It's an honor to be the king, to serve the community in that way," Butler said following Saturday's pageant. "It's a great festival. We're trying to get youth involved in growing strawberries through projects, and that's how I got involved when my oldest son was king for two years. There just hasn't been any youth for the past couple years, but we'll get someone one eventually."
The Weston-based brother-sister duo, Bowyer Drive, provided live entertainment for the evening. For more information about the Strawberry Festival or to see a schedule, visit www.wvstrawberryfestival.com.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at IMT_Kuba.