North Carolina Azalea Festival Presented by Belk Announces Queen Azalea Anna Kooiman and Other Festival Invited Guests

WILMINGTON, N.C., March 17, 2016— The North Carolina Azalea Festival is proud to announce UNC Wilmington graduate Anna Kooiman will be the Festival’s 69th Queen Azalea. Anna currently serves as anchor and co-host on Fox and Friends Weekend and general assignment news reporter for FOX News Channel based in New York City. “I couldn’t be more thrilled to bring Anna back to the port city. It’s great that her career started right here in Wilmington, and over the last few years has made it to the highest level of journalism. I’m proud to be able to give the honor of Queen Azalea to someone with ties to our city, and know she will represent the Festival and Wilmington well,” said President Robby Collins.

The Azalea Festival is pleased to also announce a variety of Invited Guests who will be joining in various Festival activities. The 69th annual Azalea Festival will host retired four-star general Dan McNeill, actress from “Good Times” Bern Nadette Stanis, child actress from “Bella and the Bulldogs” Brec Bassinger, authors Tony Tata and Kristy Woodson Harvey, furniture and lifestyle brand owner and designer Roxy Te, American Idol Season 14 runner up Clark Beckham, Miss North Carolina Kate Peacock, and 2016 Festival artist Mary Ellen Golden. Azalea Festival Princess Lilly Kays will also be in attendance.

Queen Azalea Anna Kooiman

Twitter: @annakooiman Instagram: @annakooiman

Anna Kooiman serves as anchor and co-host on Fox & Friends Weekend and general assignment news reporter for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in New York City.

She previously served as a co-host for FNC’s morning program, Fox & Friends First. Presented weekdays at 5 AM/ET, the program is an hour-long expansion of FOX & Friends and is anchored by a pair of rotating hosts.

Kooiman recently contributed to FNC’s 2015 New Year’s Eve special, All-American New Year live from Times Square in New York City alongside The Five co-hosts Kimberly Guilfoyle, Bob Beckel and other FNC personalities.

Before joining FNC, Kooiman hosted Fox News Rising, a four-hour news and entertainment morning show on WCCB-TV (FOX) in Charlotte, NC. While at WCCB-TV, she reported on local news stories, entertainment, weather and traffic. Prior to her work at WCCB-TV, Kooiman was a morning news anchor at WNWO-TV (NBC) in Toledo, OH. Her investigative reporting led to the capture of over one hundred fugitives.

Kooiman got her start in television at WWAY-TV (ABC) in Wilmington, NC in 2005 where she began as an intern and later became a reporter and anchor. She also served as a sideline reporter for the University of North Carolina-Wilmington’s basketball team throughout college.

A graduate of UNC-Wilmington with an honors degree in Communications Studies, she is the recipient of two North Carolina Associated Press Awards for Best Investigative Piece and Best Series.

Retired four-star general Dan McNeill

Twitter: @DanMcNeill1

Dan McNeil is a retired four-star general of the United States Army. He began his military career by joining the Reserve Officer Training Corps at North Carolina State in 1964. Once graduating from this program, Dan went on to serve in the Vietnam War, Italy, Panama, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. His last assignment before retirement was as a commanding officer of the 40-nation International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Dan held this position for over one year and was the highest ranking U.S. General in the country as well as one of eleven four-star generals still in the U.S. Army at the time. General Dan McNeil was recognized for his service by President George W. Bush in 2008 and now enjoys his retirement with his family in the state he grew up in, North Carolina.

Retired General Dan McNeill will be present at all Wednesday and Thursday Festival events.

“Good Times” Actress and Alzheimer’s Spokesperson Bern Nadette Stanis

Twitter: @TheRealThelma22 Instagram: @thelmaofgoodtimes

Bern Nadette Stanis is best known as the quick witted, savvy, original “It” girl, Thelma Evans, from the groundbreaking sitcom, “Good Times.” Bern Nadette remains the personification of the ‘gem’ that young girls want to be.

Bern Nadette’s place in television history was solidified by her undeniable contributions to redefining the role of the young black girl from ghettos across America in the minds of the overwhelming masses prone to stereotypic beliefs. The character, Thelma, showed that a ‘ghetto girl’ from Chicago’s inner city projects lived a life full of hopes and dreams, and possessed intelligence, self-respect, dignity and grace. For Bern Nadette Stanis these characteristics weren’t learned in acting class. Bern Nadette’s trademark has always been her unique combination of beauty, form and style extraordinaire.

Today, Bern Nadette Stanis travels the world as the author of 3 books. Her most recent work, The Last Night: A Caregiver’s Journey, profiles the walk of a loving daughter with a beloved Mother diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She has participated as a Celebrity Champion in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and has been broadcast on the Tom Joiner Morning Show as an advocate for Alzheimer’s awareness. She participated in the 2010 Rose Bowl, appearing on the float called The Boomer Express, as the Alzheimer’s Association Celebrity Champion. She continues to be a motivational speaker.

Bern Nadette will be participating in Wednesday and Thursday morning Festival events.

Nickelodeon Child Actress Brec Bassinger

Twitter: @Brecbassinger Instagram: @brecbassinger

Brec Bassinger stars as Bella, the popular head cheerleader whose life takes an unexpected twist when she becomes the quarterback of her middle school football team.

Bassinger was born and raised in Saginaw, Texas, with her parents and her two older brothers. Brec began her career in entertainment after winning the Little Miss World pageant in 2009. Bassinger took acting classes for years in the Dallas area. Upon moving to Hollywood at the age of 13, she quickly booked a guest starring role in the pilot of The Goldbergs, followed by a recurring role in The Haunted Hathaways. She just finished filming her first movie in Canada!

Prior to starring television, she was the VP of her school’s National Junior Honor Society and was a competitive cheerleader. She also played volleyball, basketball and track & field. She enjoys hiking, shopping and hanging out with her friends!

Brec will be riding in the Festival Parade and will be appearing at a free meet and greet Saturday, April 9th from 1- 3pm at the Festival Street Fair Presented by Wells Fargo.

Former North Carolina Secretary of Transportation and Author Tony Tata

Twitter:@ajtata Instagram: @ajtata81

Tony “AJ” Tata is the author of five novels, including the March 2015 National Bestseller, “Foreign and Domestic.” His publisher, Kensington Books, will release “Three Minutes to Midnight,” in 2016, “Besieged” in February 2017, and an untitled Jake Mahegan #4 in September 2017. Tony chooses North Carolina locations for his popular Chayton “Jake” Mahegan series, with “Besieged” set in our very own New Hanover and Brunswick Counties. A West Point and Catholic University graduate and Harvard JFK School of Government National Security Fellow, Tony served 28 years in the Army, retiring as a Brigadier General. Most recently, he served as the North Carolina Secretary of Transportation from 2013-2015 and previously as the Wake County Superintendent of Schools from 2011-2012. Tony’s last combat tour was as the Deputy Commanding General of the Joint Task Force in Afghanistan from 2006-2007 where he was awarded the combat action badge and bronze star medal. With extensive service at Fort Bragg, Tony is a master parachutist and is Ranger qualified. Presently he serves as the Chairman of the Board of Advisors of the North Carolina Heroes Fund, a veterans nonprofit. An avid surfer, you will often find Tony near Crystal Pier “researching” his next thriller.

Tony will be appearing at most Festival events throughout Festival week.

Distinguished North Carolina Author Kristy Woodson Harvey

Twitter: @kristywharvey Instagram: @kristywharvey

Kristy Woodson Harvey is the author of “Dear Carolina” and “Lies and Other Acts of Love.” She blogs at Design Chic about how creating a beautiful home can be the catalyst for creating a beautiful life and loves connecting with readers at She is a Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s school of journalism and holds a Master’s in English from East Carolina University. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications and websites, including Southern Living, Domino magazine, Our State, Houzz, and the Salisbury Post. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and four-year-old son where she is working on her next novel.

Kristy will be appearing at most Festival events throughout Festival week.

Lifestyle brand Society Social owner and designer Roxy Te

Twitter: @SocietySocial Instagram: @societysocial

Roxy Te is the owner and designer behind furniture company and lifestyle brand, Society Social. Deemed “The Swanky Online Interior Shop of your Dreams” by Town & Country Magazine, listed on Elle Decor’s “The Best Sites for Buying Furniture,” and House Beautiful’s “The Best,” the line has quickly become known for its playful spirit, colorful furniture designs, and its belief that life is a party so your home should be well equipped to celebrate it!

In the 4 years of owning and growing her business, Roxy has gratefully earned the respect of the industry and has made appearances alongside editor-in-chiefs and tv stars, has filmed with AOL and House Beautiful, and posed for Southern Living Magazine’s “Designing Women.” Her New York City apartment has been published in HGTV Magazine and her design studio in Better Homes & Gardens Magazine.

Roxy splits her time between the North Carolina factory and Society Social’s Soho showroom. She lives in Manhattan with her sweet husband and equally sweet puppy, Oscar.

Roxy will be appearing at most Festival events throughout Festival week.

American Idol Season 14 Runner Up Clark Beckham

Twitter: @ClarkBeckham Instagram: @clarkbeckham

Clark Beckham first started singing in a gospel trio with his mother and father when he was 8 years old. He started playing instruments around the same age. Today, he is as much of a profound instrumentalist as he is a vocalist. In 2015, his soulful, bluesy vocals and along with his incredible talent on the piano and guitar took America by storm and Beckham finished as American Idol’s Season 14 runner up. Since then he has performed with the Nashville Symphony, written with Brian McKnight and been nominated for a Teen Choice award as Music’s Next Big Thing.

Before Idol, Beckham made his money playing and singing on the street, coffee shops, churches and college events. Whether practicing scales, learning songs, or just listening, he considers music the most major part of his life. In regards to music, Beckham states, “I think it, I speak it, I live in and around it, I make it and I do it.” He continues “I feel like music is as much a part of me as my own heart.”

Clark will be joining Festival events beginning on Thursday and have a performance on the Street Fair Presented by Wells Fargo Music Stage on Saturday, April 9th at 6:00 pm.

Miss North Carolina Kate Peacock

Twitter: @MissAmericaNC Instagram: @missamericanc

Miss North Carolina 2015 is Kate Peacock. She is thrilled to have this opportunity to serve the Tar Heel State as the 78th Miss North Carolina. She has been involved in the Miss North Carolina organization for many years and has earned over $14,000 in scholarship money from competing. She was also the recipient of the overall talent award in the Miss NC pageant. Kate energetically promotes her platform, Peeper Keepers, as she raises funds and awareness for children with pediatric eye diseases. She is also an advocate for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. She will be a Junior at Meredith College when she returns from her year of service as Miss NC, majoring in psychology and obtaining an elementary teaching license. She is a tap dancer and can’t wait to share her talents with the state. Kate is very excited to vie for the Miss America title in September.

Kate will be appearing at most Festival events throughout Festival week.

2016 Festival Artist Mary Ellen Golden

Twitter: @maryellengolden

Mary Ellen began painting in oils and worked in acrylics before discovering the excitement of watercolor medium. She opened a studio gallery in 1977 in the Cotton Exchange, and teaches classes in water technique. She also has co-authored an instructional video entitled, “Watercolor Can Be Easy.”
Mary Ellen is a member of the Wilmington Art Association, the Watercolor Society of North Carolina, and an associate of the American Watercolor Society. Her works appear in many corporate collections such as: General Electric, Bank of America, IBM, BB&T, Corning, First Citizens Bank, and in many private collections throughout the world.
She finds that “the beauty in the natural world around us is my favorite subject. We experience all sorts of beauty in flowers: color, shape, fragrance, the associations and memories which come crowding in. This seeing and feeling experience is the most important part of being an artist.”
The official artwork of the 2016 Azalea Festival by Mary Ellen Golden is titled” Springtime on the Cape Fear.”

Mary Ellen will be appearing at most Festival events throughout Festival week.

Azalea Festival Princess Lilly Kays

Lilly Kays, a Junior from John T. Hoggard High School, was crowned the 2016 North Carolina Azalea Festival Princess during the 68th Annual North Carolina Azalea Festival Scholarship Pageant on Saturday, March 12th. Lilly is the daughter of Dr. Charles and Carol Kays. She and her court were selected from among 23 contestants representing 8 area high schools. The court members include the following: 1st Runner-Up from John T. Hoggard, Leah Avant, 2nd Runner-Up, from Cape Fear Academy, Wilker Ballantine, 3rdRunner-Up, from E.A. Laney High School, Micaela Cortner, and 4th Runner-Up, from South Brunswick High School, Grayson Dodd Burnett.

Lilly is on the A Honor Roll and is ranked 19th in her class of 430 students. She is the recipient of numerous awards in Cross Country and swimming. She is Captain of the Cross Country team and has lettered in that sport for three years. Lilly is President and Student Founder of Girls Learn International, a member of the Beta Club, and a National Student Leadership Conference Attendee. She is active in her church and community, serving on the Azalea Festival Youth Committee for 3 years. She enjoys spinning along with running cross country and track. She also loves to travel domestically and internationally. Lilly would like to attend the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University to major in International Relations or Studies.

About the North Carolina Azalea Festival

Since its inception in 1948, the North Carolina Azalea Festival has blossomed into an extended weekend celebration that attracts more than 300,000 people and generates more than $51 million for the local economy. The Festival showcases our community’s rich array of artwork, gardens, history and culture through recreational, educational and family-oriented events.

About Presenting and Main Stage Sponsor, Belk, Inc.

Belk, Inc., a private department store company based in Charlotte, N.C., is the home of Modern. Southern. Style. with 293 Belk stores located in 16 Southern states and a growing digital presence. Belk is a portfolio company of Sycamore Partners, a private equity firm based in New York. Belk and offer a wide assortment of national brands and private label fashion apparel, shoes and accessories for the entire family along with top name cosmetics, a wedding registry and a large selection of quality merchandise for the home.

Belk offers many ways to connect via digital and social media, including Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Google Plus, and provides exclusive offers, fashion updates, sales notifications and coupons via email or mobile phone text messages. Customers can also download the latest Belk mobile apps for the iPad, iPhone or Android.

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