NEW HANOVER COUNTY -- Adorned with spiral curls, fancy dresses and gloves the Azalea belles are ready to make their debut during the Azalea Festival. There are 124 belles this year, which is a big difference from the original seven back in 1969. Cape Fear Garden Club Chairman Ginger Longino says keeping up with the belles can be overwhelming sometimes, but it's a wonderful program. "We invite as many girls that want to come in to it. We're thrilled to open it up to anyone who wants to be a belle," she said. She says many young girls look up to the belles. Marissa Kieber is a new belle and says she was one of those little girls. "I loved the Azalea Belles," Kieber said. "I was the girl who went up to every single one of the belles and had to get my picture with all of the them when I was little, so I guess it's fun to finally be one." Marissa and her fellow belles will be busy this week. They will be at the Azalea Queen Coronation followed by the 55th Annual Garden Tour and Saturday's parade. The spotlight is usually for the beloved Azalea Flower; for now it seems all eyes are on the belles. If you would like to be a 2009 Azalea Belle log on to www.capefeargardenclub.org.
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