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In a Pinch, reunion's onetime queen to take over

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Though they both probably feared meeting Pearl Rogers in the hereafter, George Daugherty and Libby Squire had decided the 111th Pinch Reunion this weekend would be the last.

"I'm 80," said Daugherty, an entertainer also known as the Earl of Elkview. He had assisted Pearl Rogers for 25 years in her role of president of the reunion. Then Squire, Rogers' daughter, took over as president for 34 years.

But Squire was hospitalized recently for a hip replacement. The open-air auditorium on the reunion grounds had been vandalized and then damaged by this summer's storms.

Daugherty and Squire reluctantly realized that unless someone stepped forward, they couldn't organize a 2013 gathering. The Pinch Reunion would no longer be the oldest continuous reunion in the country.

"It broke our heart," Daugherty said.

But before they could get the word out, someone stepped forward.

Melissa Starcher called Squire to see if she needed help with the reunion. Squire invited her to a committee meeting, but added that it would be the last such meeting.

"No, it's not," thought Starcher.

She grew up in the Big Chimney area. Her husband, Kenn, lived in Pinch. They went on dates in junior and senior high school to the Pinch Reunion. She was crowned queen one summer.

She had been looking forward to taking their 3-year-old daughter and 15-month-old son to the reunion.

"I was flabbergasted," Starcher said, after she hung up from talking to Squire.

She headed straight for her husband's office to report the news (both are assistant prosecutors in the Kanawha County prosecuting attorney's office).

Kenn Starcher was very sympathetic. He told his wife, "I will support you no matter what you have to do to continue it."

The first Pinch Reunion was held in 1902 and organized by W.W. Wertz, who would later serve as mayor of Charleston. It opened with the singing of "The West Virginia Hills," and closed with the hymn "God Be With You Till We Meet Again," songs that are still a reunion tradition.

Wertz was president of the reunion for 50 years, and was when Daugherty first went as a child.

"I was about 5 years old. My Aunt Flo gave me a quarter. I bought and ate five hot dogs -- and threw up," he recalled.

Then Pearl Rogers took over for the next quarter of a century. One year, Rogers said, "Libby and George Albert, you are in charge now."

"She was a schoolteacher, and you did what she said," Daugherty said.

The 2012 Pinch Reunion is dedicated to Libby Squire, and a Good Samaritan award "for a lifetime of lifting the spirits of their fellow man" will go to Dick Harris and Betty Comer.

Saturday's events will include a horseshoe throwing competition and a new cornhole contest. The pie-baking contest is also new. Music will be provided by Scott Straight and the bands Needful Things and Double Dragons beginning at 6 p.m. at the auditorium known as the Wigwam.

There'll also be music after the 10 a.m. Sunday service, with Hillbreed, Poor House and the James Harrison family bands performing. The program Sunday will be held at the Elk River Center.

In an age when many groups are struggling to attract more and younger volunteers, Daugherty is delighted that Starcher and other new committee members with enthusiasm and energy are taking over the reins of the Pinch Reunion.

"It was a sheer act of providence," said Daugherty, referring to Starcher's phone call.

The Pinch Reunion begins with a parade at noon Saturday at Pinch Elementary School. Find an event schedule at www.facebook.com/PinchReunionWV.

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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