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By Kimberly McMillian

Correspondent

DAYTON, Tenn. -- Saturday's Strawberry Chase, the kickoff event of the annual Tennessee Strawberry Festival, is a tribute to avid runner Ed Gentry, who helped develop the original event into a marathon.

Race events are held at the Rhea Family YMCA Fourth Avenue.

Mr. Gentry, who died of lung cancer in 2001, "would be honored to know the Strawberry Chase became memorialized with his name," said his widow, Amanda Gentry.

The theme of the 63rd annual Tennessee Strawberry Festival is "Strawberry Masquerade." Organizers said they will have "new events to bring in new people and offer something for all ages."

The other festival activity scheduled for Saturday, the Strawberry Pageant, will begin at 10 a.m. at Rhea Central High School in Evensville.

In the beginning, the Strawberry Chase race was a nonpromoted event that began at the local airport and didn't have sufficient rest stations for the runners, Mrs. Gentry said.

"Ed was health-conscious and ran for many years prior to (his involvement with) the Strawberry Chase," Ms. Gentry said.

IF YOU GO

What: Strawberry Chase 5K, 10K and 1-mile family fun run

When: Saturday. Registration starts at 7 a.m.; 5K and 10K start at 8; fun run at 9.

Admission; $30 adults, $25 for students

Information: Visit www.tnstrawberryfestival.com/schedule and click on Ed Gentry Memorial Run.

After her husband got involved, the face moved closer to the downtown area, she said. The race took a brief hiatus in 2002 and resumed in 2003 with a 5K run. That began its promotion as a memorial run to Mr. Gentry, Mrs. Gentry said. Sponsorship shifted from the Chamber of Commerce to the Rhea Family YMCA.

This year, Bryan College coach, Rodney Stoker and the track team will serve as corner sitters and water station attendants to assist runners, said Jennifer Van Meter, a YMCA representative.

"Ed would be proud" to see the developments over the years with the community involvement and rest stations for the runners, Ms. Gentry said.

Kimberly McMillian is based in Rhea County. Contact her at kdj424@bellsouth.net.

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