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Billy Drysdale and Gretchen Lee of Billy D & The Gretchen Lee Band are scheduled to give a performance Aug. 15 at the Pinch Reunion Grounds. The concert will be livestreamed for viewers. Courtesy photo

The threats of the COVID-19 pandemic have truncated or eliminated many time-honored traditions this year, including the annual Pinch Reunion, which has been scuttled for its 119th occurrence in its usual form.

As detailed in a June 24 Metro East article, the yearly, in-person activities of the Pinch Reunion have been canceled outright or transformed into virtual events for health and safety concerns. A July 13 edict by Gov. Jim Justice, canceling all state fairs, festivals and similar events for the immediate and foreseeable future, made rescheduling in-person events for the reunion impractical, if not impossible.

So, some virtual measures are being taken to keep the nation’s long-running community reunion’s history and streak intact.

For instance, through Saturday, Aug. 1, a Pinch Reunion 5K Run/Walk, Community Queen Pageant and Car Show are being conducted through virtual means.

Virtual 5K Run/Walk entrants can register for the event and participate through the remainder of July. After registering online, participants can run or walk at their chosen times and locations, at their desired pace this month and report their results by Aug. 1.

Virtual Car Show entries can also be made online this month.

Virtual Community Queen Pageant candidates can complete an application form, answer a series of essay questions and submit a photograph online through the month. A panel of judges will choose the Pinch Reunion Community Queen. The queen and her court will be honored and coronated at a program scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15, at the Pinch Reunion Grounds, social distance guidelines permitting.

Also on Aug. 15, the Huntington-based Billy D & The Gretchen Lee Band will perform in concert at the Pinch Reunion Grounds. Their performance will be livestreamed for viewers’ enjoyment and safety; no live audience will be allowed on the Reunion Grounds.

A 2020 Pinch Reunion Virtual Church Service from Heritage Baptist Church will be streamed online from 11 a.m. to noon on Sunday, Aug. 16 as well.

“While we as a committee understand why many events are canceled this year, we simply don’t have that same ability if we are to retain the historic streak the Pinch Reunion enjoys,” Pinch Reunion Committee President Angela Brown said. “Holding a live concert on the grounds will ensure that the event continues to be recognized as the longest community reunion in the United States.

“We realize this is an unconventional approach,” Brown added, “but we owe it to those who made sure the reunion took place during other difficult times in our nation’s history to continue that legacy, and we will.”

Application form links, updates of activities and their statuses, and further information about the Reunion are posted on Facebook at the “Pinch Reunion WV” page.

Judge William W. Wertz and other Elk River residents established the inaugural Pinch Reunion in 1902. “The West Virginia Encyclopedia” said the first reunion was organized as a Fourth of July Sunday school picnic for students who had attended the old Pinch School. Earlier incarnations featured civic debates along with the traditional music and community-oriented festivities. The yearly gathering has later been observed in August at the Pinch Reunion Grounds and surrounding areas of the town.