April 12-16, 2023



70th North Carolina Azalea Festival Queen Azalea & Invited Guest Line-Up

WILMINGTON, N.C. -The 2017 North Carolina Azalea Festival welcomes a wide array of Invited Guests to its 70th anniversary celebration.  Headlining as the official hostest as Queen Azalea, is 2015 Miss America Kira Kazantsev.

Kira Kazantsev – Queen Azalea
Facebook/Instagram/Twitter: @kirakazantsev

Kira Kazantsev is a tireless advocate on women’s issues, keynote speaker, host, and podcaster. She served as Miss America 2015.

Kira has contributed writing pieces to the Huffington Post, USA Today, and has appeared on HuffPost Live, The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, Live with Kelly and Michael, Jimmy Kimmel, Access Hollywood, Extra, Inside Edition, and countless news outlets throughout the US and Canada. She has been a presenter at numerous award shows including the American Music Awards, Academy of Country Music, American Country Countdown, and the Billboard Music Awards.

During her year as Miss America, Kira served as the National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, advocated on behalf of her personal platform: Love Shouldn’t Hurt: Protecting Women Against Domestic Violence, and was the first Miss America since 1971 to visit troops overseas with the USO.

As an advocate against Domestic Violence, Kira has been a long-time partner with Safe Horizon, the largest provider of Domestic Violence services in the country. She recently received their “Voice of Empowerment” award and serves on their Leaders on the Horizon board. She worked with Safe Horizon to create the #PutTheNailInIt campaign, which has

reached over 20 million people, encouraging them to show their support against Domestic Violence.

Kira has been a keynote speaker at numerous conferences, fundraising events, and universities including Clemson University, San Diego State University, and the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. She has also traveled all across the country visiting schools grades K-12 and youth summits to promote STEM initiatives, nontraditional gender roles, anti-bullying, internet etiquette/safety, mutual respect and healthy relationships.

An accomplished singer, Kira has sung at the NBA All Star Game, MLB games, and entertained thousands of troops during her USO tour. From an early age, she has also been a standout golfer and played in the 2015 and 2016 BMW Celebrity Pro Am Tournaments, 2015 Gary Player Invitational, 2016 Powershares QQQ Pro Am, and 2016 Tiger Jam for the Tiger Woods foundation among many others. In 2017, Golf.com named Kira one of the Most Beautiful Women in Golf in the annual editorial.

Kira studied Political Science, Global Studies, and Geography at Hofstra University Honors College and graduated in 2013. She is currently based in Los Angeles and is the Director of Community Engagement for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. She also continues to work in freelance television hosting and entertainment and is trilingual speaking Russian, Spanish, and English.

Joining Kira is Miss North Carolina, McKenzie Faggart.  McKenzie will be a returning Festival guest this year – in 2016 McKenzie was a member of the Azalea Festival Queen’s Court.

McKenzie Faggart – Miss North Carolina
Facebook: @missAmericaNC  Instagram: @Mkenzieejadee  Twitter: @MissAmericaNC
McKenzie Jade Faggart, Miss North Carolina 2016, is a native of Concord. She has been involved with the Miss America Organization since the age of 16 and was North Carolina’s Outstanding Teen in 2011. McKenzie also finished in the Top 12 at Miss America’s Outstanding Teen and was named the People’s Choice.

During her senior year of high school, McKenzie was severely bullied. She created “The SAFE Project” to share her story and help others. Her SAFE campaign against bullying, is an acronym in which she encourages everyone to Support one another, Accept differences and individuality, Forgive wrong doings or ask for forgiveness, and Evolve into a better self, stronger than before. McKenzie developed “Masterclasses with McKenzie,” and travels to dance studios statewide to share her platform.

The North Carolina Azalea Festival is extremely honored and proud to introduce two military guests who will be joining us this year.  Lieutenant General Robert Ruark, military deputy to the Under Secretary of Defence for Personnel and Readiness will be at Friday and Saturday events at the Festival, and serving as Grand Marshal of the Parade.  Chaplain Major General Dondie E. Costin, Chief of Chaplains for the United States Air Force is a Wilmington native and has served on multiple overseas assignments.
Lieutenant General Robert Ruark – Invited Military Guest
Lieutenant General Ruark was born in Baltimore, Maryland and raised in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio. He was commissioned in 1981 through the NROTC program at Miami (Ohio) University.  He has commanded at the company, detachment, battalion, regiment, and group levels.  He has served on 6 Marine Expeditionary Unit deployments, in Operation DESERT STORM, the Adriatic Sea, Rwanda, in East Timor, and commanded the 1st Marine Logistics Group in OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM.  He has been the Director for Logistics at the US Marine Corps, US Central Command, and the Joint Staff.




Chaplain Major General Dondi E. Costin – Invited Military Guest

Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Dondi E. Costin is the Chief of Chaplains, Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.  As a member of the special staff of the Chief of Staff, he establishes guidance and provides advice on all matters pertaining to the religious and moral welfare of Air Force personnel.  As Chief of Chaplains, he is the senior pastor for more than 664,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve, and civilian forces serving in the U.S. and overseas.  He leads an Air Force Chaplain Corps of approximately 2,000 chaplains and chaplain assistants from the active duty and Air Reserve components.  As a member of the Armed Forces Chaplain Board, he and his colleagues advise the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on religious, ethical and quality-of-life concerns.

Adding her sense of style and fashion advice is Invited Guest Emily Loftiss.  A former Radio City Rockette, Emily has appeared on many celebrity television shows.



Emily Loftiss – Invited Guest
Facebook/Instagram/Twitter: @EmilyLoftiss
Georgia born Emily Loftiss is the “Queen of Everyday Glam!” A former pageant queen and Radio City Rockette, with a love for fake eyelashes and rhinestones. Emily’s stand out, charming southern personality mixed with her love of fashion has sent her on a wild ride from fashion weeks to national television. As a Style and Beauty expert, Emily has appeared on “The Steve Harvey Show,” “The Doctors,” “The Insider”, “The Real”, “Hollywood Today Live,” regular contributor on “Good Day LA,” Boris and Nicole, MTV’s “Made” and part of OK!TV’s and Celebrity Page Style Team. With an international readership from over 170 countries of her popular blog “Loftiss Says”,  Emily has been a featured contributor on Huffington Post, AOLBeauty, Chic.tv, Brides, and Red Carpet 101. You can watch Emily weekly on her Facebook Live show “Everyday Glam with Emily Loftiss.”

She was named “the IT girl” by Rivera Magazine and Henri Bendel, and “One to Watch” by Southern Living Magazine, spokesperson with brands as Macys, Trina Turk, Old Navy, RoC Skincare, Birchbox and Instyler. Emily’s passion though, is helping real women on a budget feel just as glamorous as the celebrities she styles for Hollywood’s Red Carpets. She’s passionate about helping women of all sizes navigate trends, find a good tailor and play up their best assets! Emily recently moved from Orange County, CA to Boston, MA with her handsome husband and feline child Lady June Dion.

Tumbling into the Azalea Festival is one of Team USA Women’s Gynmastics 2012 Olympic gold medalists “Fierce 5,” Jordyn Wieber.  Jordyn will be at Wednesday and Thursday Festival events.

Jordyn Wieber – Invited Guest
Facebook: @jordywieber  Instagram/Twitter: @Jordyn_Wieber
American gymnast Jordyn Wieber was born on July 12, 1995 in DeWitt, Michigan. This teenage gymnastics phenom caught the world’s attention by becoming the 2011 American Cup Champion, beating out the reigning world all-around champion at the time. She went on to become the best gymnast in the world when she won the all-around at the 2011 World Championships and was undefeated in six major gymnastics competitions in 2011 and 2012. A key member of the “Fierce Five”, Jordyn helped the U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Team capture the team gold medal at the London Olympic Games in 2012.  Jordyn is currently a full-time student and remains involved in gymnastics through her various partnerships with youth camps each year, and her participation in the 2016 Kellogg’s Post-Olympic Tour. An iconic figure to young women worldwide, Jordyn is still one of the top names in gymnastics with an incredibly passionate social media following.

Joining the 70th North Carolina Azalea Festival is Disney celebrity Paris Berelc.  Paris plays Skylar on Disney’s XD’s Lab Rats: Elite Force.  Paris will be riding in the Azalea Festival Parade, and will be signing autographs at a free meet and greet on Saturday, April 8th at the Street Fair Presented by Wells Fargo from 1-3 pm in a Meet and Greet tent at the corner of Princess and Water Street.

Paris Berelc – Invited Guest
Facebook: @ParisMayJoeBerelc  Instagram:@theparisberelc  Twitter:@Parisberelc

Paris was born & raised in the suburbs of Milwaukee WI. She’s a mixture of French Canadian, European and Asian (Filipino). Paris started in dance at the age of 4 then competed in gymnastics for 9 years. She started a modeling career when she was 9 with Ford Models Chicago then begun an acting career a few years later.

Mighty Med is the first TV series Paris booked shortly after she came to LA. After two seasons, Disney decided to combine Mighty Med with Lab Rats: Elite Force where Paris reprised her role as Skylar Storm. In between shows, Paris was casted as Molly on a Disney Original Movie, Invisible Sister.

Rounding out the invited guestlist is Wilmingtonian, Azalea Festival artist Sean Ruttkay.  Sean’s artwork, a digital photograph of an azalea emerging from the ocean, was unveiled this past Fall as the Official Artwork and Commemorative Print of the 70th North Carolina Azalea Festival.  His print is currently for sale at the Festival Tickt Office for $50.00.

Sean Ruttkay – Azalea Festival Official Artist
Instagram/Twitter: @EDASurf
Father, surfer, and artist, are some of the labels that come to mind when describing Sean D. Ruttkay. However, it was the label of “dyslexic” in the first grade that Ruttkay was first given. “Early in my school years teachers and the community did not think that a person with my level of dyslexia could make it to college,” says Ruttkay. “But growing up with swimming and later finding surfing and surf culture, I believe I was able to work through these barriers and build the life that I had hoped for. And I owe it all to the power of water.”

This desire to be with water and the ocean motivated Ruttkay to graduate both high school and and then from college at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a Teaching Degree in Special Education with an academic focus on students with dyslexia. But at this point Ruttkay decided to pivot. So after graduating in 2005, Ruttkay decided to pursue a new, creative path in life, one that was true to his hydro based spirit. He started Elemental Digital Art (EDA Surf) with the mission of spreading the visual power of water to the built environment through art installations. Since 2005 Ruttkay, through his brand EDA Surf, has shipped, and installed thousands of holistic water art pieces.  Residential, corporate, and healthcare spaces, from Singapore to Washington, D.C. have found value in Ruttkay’s ability to transform both interior and exterior, with grand mood-stimulating installations. Today Sean Ruttkay lives and works with his wife Cornelia, daughter Nealie (4) and son Dax (2) in Wilmington, North Carolina.

 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.

For more information on the upcoming 70th Annual North Carolina Azalea Festival, visit www.ncazaleafestival.org or contact Executive Director Alison Baringer at alison@ncazaleafestival.org or (910) 216-9400.

The North Carolina Azalea Festival thanks its 2017 sponsors:

Miller Lite
Hilton Wilmington Riverside
Wells Fargo
Duke Energy
LM Restaurants
Wilmington Convention Center
Bud Light
Hawthorne Residential Partners
New Hanover Regional Medical Center
Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits
UNC Wilmington
Coastal Children’s Services
Lowes Foods
Piedmont Natural Gas
Wilmington Health
Bimbo Bakeries
BlueCross and BlueShield of NC
Chart Local
MassMutual Financial Group
North Carolina Ports
Parkway of Wilmington
Party Reflections
Port City Java
Wilmington Grill
RV Transportation Provided by Rex and Sons RV’s

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