Wellsburg Applefest offers lots of food, fun

WELLSBURG – Visitors to the Wellsburg Applefest Saturday had an opportunity to sample an assortment of food and view a variety of entertainment, and the festivities are far from over.

The festival continues today with music by the National Pike Pickers at noon, Hit Play at 2 p.m. and Playing Mantis at 4 p.m. as well as the Apple Anything Contest at 1 p.m.

This year, fairgoers can serve as judges for the baking contest by casting votes for $1 each for their favorite apple pie, cake or other desert featuring the fruit.

The contest is a fitting element of the festival, which was begun 35 years ago to celebrate the discovery of the Grimes Golden apple in 1802 at a farm owned by Thomas Grimes near what is now state Route 27.

The variety of apple was used to develop the better known Golden Delicious apple. Author Anna Egan Smucker, a Weirton native, was on hand at the Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center to read her book, “Golden Delicious: A Cinderella Story,” about the discovery of that variety in Clay County, West Virginia.

Another Applefest guest with a connection to the Grimes Golden apple was Red McWilliams, a Washington state man who is a descendant of Grimes. An internationally known entertainer, McWilliams performed a mix of Celtic and folk music for Applefest visitors Saturday morning.

In addition to a mix of performers, other festivities included the crowning of the Wellsburg Applefest Queen and other royalty, a pumpkin-carving contest, a pet show and pony and amusement rides for children.

Michael O’Brien, who co-chairs the festival with Ernie Jack, said the Applefest’s success is due in large part to the quality of the many vendors who participate. He said the committee works hard to ensure they feel welcome and their needs are met.

As a result, they return year after year and many have become like family or close friends.

The committee took time Saturday to recognize Frank and Mary Virginia Gaudio of Follansbee, who have sold toys and sand art to young Applefest attendees for more than 25 years.

O’Brien noted the pair has operated a booth at the festival even when health problems caused Frank to use a wheelchair. Mary Virginia said their daughter, Kathy Starr, now runs the stand.

But the two looked back on their participation in the fair with fond memories.

“It’s a nice festival. You get a lot of good people here,” Frank said.

In addition to many professional vendors, the festival has benefited a large number of civic groups, churches and charities.

Among them is the Wellsburg Kiwanis Club, who again was selling the small apple pies popular with many Applefest visitors.

Frank Haas, chairman of the fundraiser for many years, said the club has participated in the Applefest from the beginning. Initially they sold barbecue chicken dinners, grilling the chicken at the Betty Carr Recreation Site and hauling them to their booth on Charles Street.

Later they moved that endeavor to another date and decided to sell apple pies, purchasing them from various area bakeries over the years.

“The first year we ordered 400 pies and were scared we wouldn’t sell them all. We sold out,” Haas said.

Janice Smith, the club’s secretary, said Saturday afternoon the group had sold about 800 of the 2,000 small apple and pecan pies they ordered and are likely to sell out before the event ends.

She noted proceeds go to various community projects and scholarships awarded to outstanding members of the Brooke High School Key Club, many of which assist at the booth each year.

Brenda Williams and Alana Jarrell were among members of Christian Life Apostolic Church of Beech Bottom who brought more than 200 standard size apple pies as well as peanut brittle, brownies and other treats to sell.

The church also sends a musical group comprised of members of all ages to entertain and is known by many for their spirited renderings of gospel songs.

The St. John Catholic Church youth group and its leaders were selling home-made biscotti, pizzelles, pasta and soups to raise money for a Christmas dinner provided to people served by the Holy Family Catholic Mission food pantry.

“This our fifth year (at the Applefest). We usually make a lot of money,” said Kristin Newton, the group’s leader.

O’Brien, who has served on the Applefest committee from its first year and served as co-chair for more than 25 years, said he’s been blessed to have many hard-working volunteers behind the scenes over the years.

He also applauded city crews who help beforehand by cleaning and blocking the streets and setting up bleachers and picnic tables; as well as the city’s police department, county health department and ambulance service.

Co-chairman Ernie Jack credited the festival’s many years to positive feedback from the community.

“The loyalty and attendance of the people of Brooke County. Their positive comments keep us going,” he said.

Shirlie Rogers said as coordinator of the Applefest Pageant for at least 30 years, she has seen three generations of families participate in the contest. She also has been part of the entertainment, as instructor and member of a group of senior dancers who have impressed many with their fancy footwork.

This year the group includes representatives of both the Brooke County and Greater Weirton senior centers.

Rogers said of the Applefest, “It’s a special community event that brings people back to Wellsburg.”