Beach Bites

by Lucy Huber
April 2009

garden splendor

62nd annual North Carolina Azalea Festival will be in bloom April 1-5

As the air warms, the days lengthen and the Port City comes alive with vibrant pinks, whites and purples, Wilmington residents know one thing for certain: Itís time for the Azalea Festival.

This year, from April 1-5, Wilmington will hold its 62nd annual North Carolina Azalea Festival. Since 1948, the festival has been the Port Cityís most anticipated, attended and beloved event. "Itís both a family event and a tradition," says Erica Mearns, Azalea Festival president elect. "Itís not uncommon to have families from generation to generation working for and attending the festival." More than 1,000 volunteers and 125 events make the North Carolina Azalea Festival a delightful display of nature, food, fun and Southern hospitality at its best, showcasing our beautiful city at the peak of its splendor.

Queenís Coronation April 1

The crowning of the Azalea Festival Queen is the official kick-off to the festival. On April 1, Amrapali Ambegaokar, the silver winner in the solo competition on Superstars of Dance, will be crowned the 62nd Azalea Festival Queen by former festival president Walker Taylor at Riverfront Park. The current president, Sherman Lee Criner, will act as emcee to the coronation and will be joined by his daughter, Meredith, who will sing the national anthem. While itís never a bad idea to cross your fingers for good weather, the stars seem to always align for the Azalea Festival. "Iíve been working on the coronation for 30 years, and it hasnít rained once," says Gloria Ezzell, chairperson of the Queenís Coronation Committee.

Garden Tours April 3-5

Every year, a handful of Wilmington families with particularly beautiful gardens are gracious enough to publicly display them on the Garden Tour. The 2009 tour begins with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 3 at the home of Rick and Myrna Willetts, in the Forest Hills area. This yearís theme is "Something Old, Something New."

"I had the idea when I heard that three of the twelve gardens on the tour had hosted weddings," says tour chairman Brenda Moore. While some gardens on the tour have been the start of something new, others are the home of old favorites. The Willettsí garden, for instance, boasts some of the oldest magnolia trees and azalea bushes in town. "Itís a wonderful way to see all the gardens in Wilmington," says Moore. "And so many people do their own gardening. With the economy the way it is, itís nice to know that you can still have a breathtaking garden on a lower budget."

Street Fair April 3-5 and Parade April 4

The Azalea Festival Street Fair will be bigger than ever this year, featuring more artists, more performers and, of course, more food. "The street fair is the best time to get food thatís not so great for you," says president Sherman Lee Criner, laughing. This year, the street fair is staging the extreme: A skateboard ramp will be set up in the parking lot on Market Street and 2nd Street, and semi-professional skateboarders will have exhibitions on Saturday and Sunday.

As for the Azalea Festival Parade, "Close to 100,000 people attend every year," says Criner. "Itís always a big event." This yearís Grand Marshal, General Hugh Shelton, a North Carolina native, served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1997-2001.

Concerts ó April 1,2

Not one, but two American Idols will be performing at the Azalea Festival this year. David Cook, the reigning American Idol, will perform in Trask Coliseum at UNCW on Thursday, April 2, and Kellie Pickler, 2005 American Idol finalist, will perform at Trask on April 1. Rock fans will love jamming to Cookís alternative style, while country music lovers will enjoy Picklerís down-home feel. Tickets are on sale now for both shows (be forewarned, they sell out fast).

Giving Back

The Azalea Festival is not all fun and games. Well, it is mostly fun and games, but itís also about serving the community. In addition to a visit to a senior center and womenís and childrenís clinics, the Azalea Queenís Court and some of the festivalís guest celebrities will make a very special visit to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, where they will spend time with patients. "We are very proud that this is part of the festival and we hope it will continue as a tradition," says Criner.

make a difference: give your time to help find a cure

Relay for Life

If you think one person canít make a difference, think again. In May 1985, Dr. Gordy Klatt, a colorectal surgeon from Tacoma, Washington, spent 24 hours running and walking around a local track to raise money for patients fighting cancer. A year later, Dr. Klatt was joined by 19 teams of people for what became his annual 24-hour relay. From this simple act of support, the American Cancer Societyís Relay for Life was born. Now, more than 3.5 million people around the country run in the Relay for Life, which raises almost half of the American Cancer Societyís funds every year.

The New Hanover County Relay for Life will begin on Friday, April 24, at 6:30 p.m., at the Ashley High School track. The race starts with the traditional, and emotional, Cancer Survivor Lap. Last year, the event raised more than $627,000. "Although our economy is in a recession, the passion and commitment of those who participate in Relay make reaching this goal obtainable," says Wanda Bass, event co-chair. Come show your support and donít let your pets or kids feel left out ó there are separate races for children and for canine companions. To register, volunteer or for more information, visit

Cheers for a Cure

The fourth annual Cheers for a Cure event will be held on April 17 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at King Neptune Restaurant in Wrightsville Beach. The event, which takes place the night before the annual ALS walk at UNCW, raises funds for the ALS Association to help find a cure for Lou Gehrigís disease. There will be wine and coffee tastings, a silent auction and raffles for all guests who attend. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. For more information, contact Pam or Quinn at the King Neptune Restaurant at (910) 256-2525.

attention boaters

boating classes offered in April

The four-session U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary boating class will be offered at Cape Fear Community College on April 13-23, Mondays and Thursdays, from 7-10 p.m. This popular class will cover the basic skills needed to stay safe while on the water, including boat handling, equipping your watercraft, navigational aids and more. The cost is $35, and attendance could qualify boat owners for a marine insurance discount. A free safety check of your vessel by the Coast Guard is also available. For more information, call Lois at (910) 686-4479 or Barry at (910) 458-4685.

15 minutes of Fame

Third Annual Reel Teal Film Festival

Know a good movie when you see one? If so, then the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) Flicker Film Society invites you to decide the winners at their third annual Reel Teal Film Festival on Friday, April 3, at 7 p.m., at UNCWís Lumina Theater. At the Reel Teal, the audience gets to pick a winner by voting for the amateur film they liked the best. First through third place films are chosen by the audience, and a special "Flicker Pick" is chosen by the Film Society. All levels of amateur filmmakers were invited to submit, and any genre of film was accepted, but all the films were required to be less than 15 minutes. "Reel Teal is a great tool for student filmmakers," says Alan Neal, a UNCW student and former first place Reel Teal winner. "It helps students get their films out there, and itís a lot of fun to see everyoneís work." For more information, call the Association for Campus Entertainment at (910) 962-3842.

egg-sighting news

Battleship Easter Egg Hunt

A new tradition hopped into Wilmington last year, and itís time to do it all over again. The second annual Battleship Easter Egg Hunt will take place on Friday, April 10. Donít worry about little ones who may not have their sea legs yet; the hunt happens on land in Battleship Park (right next to the battleship). Easter egg hunters get the chance to do arts and crafts, play games and, of course, search for eggs. "We had two hundred kids last year," says programs director Danielle Wallace. "Itís going to be a lot of fun." There are three hunts to choose from: 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Each hunt is divided into two groups ó an "easier" search for younger hunters (ages 2-5) and a "harder" search for the more seasoned egg-hunting pros (ages 6-9). The cost is $5 per child and reservations are required. For more information, or reservations, call (910) 251-5797 ext. 3024



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