Bonds That Last

By Kathleen Seaman & Kevin Tankersley

Meet four families that are building family cultures of service, adventure, community and empathy.

Pictured: Photos by Cecy Ayala, photographybycecy.com

The Serrato Family

Lives of Service

If there’s one word that could be used to describe the Serrato family, it would be service. Marlene and Ernesto have served as Spanish-language pastors, lifegroup leaders and missions conference directors at Antioch Community Church, where they have been members for nearly 11 years. Their oldest child, 22-year-old Tito, is the drummer for a worship band at Antioch (and about to finish his degree in finance from Tarleton State University); and 16-year-old Alayne, who will soon be a junior at Midway High School, has plans to study counseling in college. Five-year-old Seth rounds out the Serrato family. He’s in his third season of playing at Heart of Texas Soccer.

In addition to their efforts at Antioch, Marlene and Ernesto also volunteer with Unbound, a Waco-based nonprofit that fights human trafficking.

“Our culture is very vulnerable to human trafficking,” Ernesto said. “One thing is they don’t know the language. And then [trafficking victims are] brought from their country [after being offered] a job, and whenever they get here, it’s not what it was supposed to be.”

Marlene said it’s critical that she “raises her voice for people that can’t speak for themselves.”

“For me, it is so important. I think that God, he is a God of justice. And there’s so much injustice [being done] on these people, in being exploited in labor trafficking and human trafficking.”

Ernesto and Marlene met in middle school when they both lived in Mexico, shortly before Ernesto’s family moved to Waco. They met again, years later, at a friend’s wedding.

“Then we started going out,” he said. “For four years, she was in Mexico, and I was in the United States.”

Their relationship consisted of many letters mailed back and forth and making it a point to pray at the same time each day. Ernesto would travel to Mexico three or four times a year, whenever he had a break from school and work. After that four years, they got married and have now been married for 23 years.

Ernesto works in life insurance for Texas Farm Bureau. Marlene is a stay-at-home mom, using her degree in education to home-school Seth, who recently finished kindergarten.
The Serrato family spends time together at church and cooking out — Ernesto is the outside cook; Marlene is the inside cook. On a date night, the grown-ups will often go out to eat and then for a walk.

“We talk about our goals, how our relationship is going,” Ernesto said. “And we pray together.”


The Neubert Family

Outdoor Adventures

None of the Neubert girls are going to remember their first hikes. After all, they were only about 6 months old.

That’s the age when their parents, Ashton and Jacob, strapped in whoever was youngest at the time and took off for a multihour trek in a national park.

“There have been hikes that have gone for five or six hours, and they’ll take a two-hour nap in the [baby carrier],” Jacob said. “It’s really surprising how much they like that.”

The family has hiked in Estes Park a couple of times “because we love Rocky Mountain National Park,” Ashton said. They’ve also trekked about Olympic National Park, near Seattle, and, most recently, Glacier National Park, in Montana.

Ashton and Jacob both attended Midway High School — where they started dating their senior year — and Baylor University, where Jacob played basketball for three seasons. They both started their careers at Regions Bank and have been married for eight years. Ashton is now a consultant for Usbourne Books, “to promote a love for reading within our homes,” she said, and a stay-at-home mom with the girls: 5-year-old Nora; 3-year-old Harper; and Elliston, who is 14 months. Jacob is a managing partner with Visiting Angels, an in-home care provider.

While working for Regions Bank, Jacob and Ashton lived in Dallas but moved back to Waco “to be near family when we started our own family,” Ashton said.

Her parents, Phil Roach and Denise Ray, and Jacob’s folks, Mitch and Alison Neubert, all live nearby.

“We have built-in babysitting all over town,” Jacob said.

Within the last year, all of the grandparents have had pools installed, so the family spends lots of time in the water. Really, they love all outdoor activities, including hiking at Lake Waco and Cameron Park. Nora also enjoys family game night on Mondays and movie night on Fridays.

Faith and family are core to Jacob and Ashton. “I feel like Waco is very conducive to being able to pursue those two things,” Jacob said. “We have a great spiritual community around us.”

The family attends Highland Baptist Church, which is where Jacob and Ashton attended when they were in college. Their church is just one of the reasons that they’re probably in Waco for the long haul.

“I think about a lot of places that would be really cool to live,” Jacob said. “We love the mountains, but I don’t think we’d ever leave Waco. The benefits of Waco so much supersede the costs of giving up those relationships that we have here. I think we’re pretty much here for good.”


The Bible Family

Fostering Community

As parents to four young children, Saundrea and John Bible try to demonstrate the importance of dedication, whether that’s to their family, their faith or their community.

“At the beginning of your life, everything’s about self and building yourself up,” John said. “But then as you get older, you find out you’re here to serve. That’s what I love about our family. We get that. God put us on this planet to serve others.”

An investment adviser and business owner, John is the CEO and president of Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce.

“We want to see our community thrive, and we want everyone in our community to have a fair share of the prosperity that’s going on around here,” he said.

Saundrea is primarily a stay-at-home mom to Shemar, 9, Aydon, 7, Eden, 5, and Benjamin, 3. Together, she and John also run Bible & Sovereign Partners Financial Services, an umbrella company over several other businesses, including BSP Financial & Tax Service and Young Bible Readers.

Young Bible Readers is a ministry Saundrea created to teach her children life skills and lessons using stories from the Bible.

“Seeing things they’re going through at school, I’m able to create activities for them that align with the Word and what they’re actually going through day to day,” she said. “That’s helping them in their training and growing as they get older.”

Another family ministry, YBR Kids, allows their children to give back to the community every month. Recently, they packed and delivered sack lunches to the homeless. “It’s really showing them to love their neighbor,” Saundrea said.

The family attends church at Waco Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, where John is associate minister.

At the Bible household, Friday night is family night. The night used to be about going somewhere as a family, but the past year changed that.

“We couldn’t go anywhere,” John said. “Family night became popcorn, snacks, candy and finding a movie to watch.”

Saundrea and John started introducing their kids to some of their own childhood favorites, like “How to Eat Fried Worms” and “Home Alone.”

For many, 2020 was a hard year, but Saundrea said she’s thankful for the unexpected opportunities and lessons it gave her family.

“It gave us the opportunity to draw closer to each other and really think about what we can do beyond our ambitions and our personal goals. I could plan the day out, and someone can call me and say, ‘Hey, can you come?’ and I’m on my way. Sometimes you’re tired, but you say, ‘Lord, give us the strength,’ and we just keep it moving. It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work.”


The Wehmeyer Bunch

Learning & Overcoming

Here’s the story, of a lady named Jennie
Who was raising two young boys and a girl
They were Koko, Kameron, and Savannah
Then Van entered their world

It’s the story, of Dr. Wehmeyer
Who was raising his own group of three
They were Cade and Zane and Avi
Their dad was cool, they agreed

Till the one day at the Woodway Family Center
Jennie was just playing on her phone
Van sat down beside her on the bleachers
Now they all share a home

Nobody has to tell the Wehmeyer family that they resemble the Brady Bunch. They get it. In fact, they own the entire five seasons of “The Brady Bunch” TV show on DVD.

When Jennie Price and Van Wehmeyer got married on August 6, 2016, they each brought three children to the union. Jennie’s children are Savannah, 19; Kameron, 16; and Kolton, 11. (Kolton’s nickname is Koko.) Van’s kids are Cade, 16; Zane, 14; and Avi, 12. Savannah, a Midway graduate, recently finished her freshman year studying speech pathology at the University of North Texas. The other children are students in Midway schools. The family attends Harris Creek Baptist Church.

With six children and a handful of pets now living under one roof, Jennie — who had previously worked as a pharmaceutical sales rep and in the hospice field — transitioned into the role of stay-at-home mom and also helps oversee some rental properties. Van is a family physician at Baylor Scott & White Health, where he splits time between the clinic on Fish Pond Road and hospitals in Waco and Temple.

Jennie is originally from California. Her parents, David and Nancy Price, now live in Waco. Van grew up in Madisonville.

WACOAN: So how did y’all meet?

Van: It was not within a year after my wife passed away. I was coaching the kids in soccer, and it was one of those late nights at Woodway Family Center. We were actually playing against Jennie’s team.

I knew Jennie, just peripherally. I knew her first name, basically. And I was tired of talking to couples and stuff like that. Jennie was hanging out on her phone, and I sat down and started talking to her. So we met at Woodway Family Center, on the soccer fields.

WACOAN: How long ago was this?

Jennie: About six years ago. We got engaged after about five months of dating, and then we got married about nine months, 10 months after dating.

Van: It was pretty quick. We didn’t let the kids meet for a while. We were very hesitant in the way of that.

The dating aspect was pretty easy, being that we lived next to each other. All the kids were in Midway, and we had mutual friends. We went to different churches.

We actually had a friend suggest a book for us called ‘The Smart Stepfamily’ [by Ron L. Deal]. We would get together during the week and read a chapter and go out on a date and talk about that chapter. That would become part of our dating system. We stayed in town and did all the local hangouts.

WACOAN: Where did you go on your first date?

Van: 1424 [Bistro].

Jennie: Then we went to Common Grounds after.

WACOAN: Jennie, you grew up in California, right?

Jennie: I grew up about 50 miles outside of San Francisco in Concord, California. I’ve lived a lot of places. I’ve lived in Austin, Fort Worth, Corvallis, Oregon.

WACOAN: And where did you go to college?

Jennie: I went to [California State University] Hayward.

WACOAN: Van, where are you from?

Van: Madisonville, Texas. About an hour-and-a-half [from Waco], close to College Station. I went to Texas A&M and went to Houston for medical school.

I was planning on going overseas and going into internal medicine, but some guys told me, ‘Hey, you need to come check out this residency program in Waco.’ So I came up here and met Dr. Tim McCall and Dr. Michael L. Jahrmarkt [with Waco Family Medicine] and just fell in love with the program. Worked there for a few years, and then I started working for Baylor Scott & White right after that.

WACOAN: You mentioned your first wife. What was her name?

Van: Her name was Susan. She passed away. She got diagnosed with lymphoma shortly after we moved here to Waco. She was pregnant with our first child. We induced him at 32 weeks. He was a NICU baby. She started chemo for about nine months and kind of beat that.

We had some more kids in the process, and then right after the third kid she had leukemia. Lymphoma and all that turned into leukemia. We fought that for about 10 years off and on. She had a bone marrow transplant, and the bone marrow transplant is what killed her. That was 2015.

WACOAN: How long were you and Susan married?

Van: Fifteen years. We got married pretty young.

WACOAN: What was the biggest challenge in blending your two families?

Van: I think the main thing is just having people get their own identity and where they are. I think if you ask each kid what the challenge was, you would get a different answer.

With Jennie and I, it’s the parenting aspect. Trying to figure out how to parent another person’s kids without the authority of that parent. At the same time, if something comes up with those kids, how do you present it to that other person without them getting defensive and taking sides?

From my standpoint, the challenge of blending a family is how do you not become defensive? How do you trust your partner and how they see things and in taking some blinders off that have been present for years?

All six kids have gone through a lot of trauma. Seeing that trauma and us going through that trauma and healing, all at the same time. Now, where we are, it’s a much healthier place from where we were five years ago. And you can see the happiness in these kids now compared to three years, four years ago. Each year is a little more happier.

Just understanding that each kid has gone through something pretty horrendous, and it takes time. In reading this book together, it talks about when you’re building a family, not even a hint of normalcy starts to occur until after the third year. And being slow and not trying to put your own timeframe on things, [thinking] we need to be like the nuclear family ASAP. And understand that that’s not going to happen. It’s going to take a while, if ever, and just being OK with those parameters.

It’s OK that Jennie’s kids are tighter with each other and my kids are tighter with each other. It’s OK to allow them to be like that.

WACOAN: Jennie, what did you see as the biggest challenge?

Jennie: I’d say just, all of a sudden, it’s eight people living together. It was really, I’d say, very challenging.

Van had different rules. I had different rules, and then kind of figuring out, once we got married and all lived together, what do we want? What’s fair? What’s somewhat equal? That kind of stuff. I think it’s still challenging.

WACOAN: How do you parent differently than Van?

Jennie: One of the things that we read in our book, and we decided, is if there was a discipline issue with my kids, then I would be the one to handle it. If there is a discipline issue with his kids, then he would be the one to handle it. I don’t say to him, ‘You need to have them do this and this for disciplining.’ I’ll say, ‘This is what’s going on.’

WACOAN: How does that work out?

Van: It’s challenging. That’s probably been most of our heated discussions and disagreements is that right there, the parenting aspect. It’s gotten a little easier. At the same time, it’s hard.

Like, I come home, it’s been a crazy, stressful day and then to hear about what my kids have done. Now I’m like, do I take care of this? Not having it already being taken care of, and then doing it to the way that the other person thinks that needs to be taken care of as well. And vice versa. Jennie is always in the harder position, being at home, because it’s pretty easy with her kids, just boom, boom, boom. With my kids, it’s a lot more walking around eggshells, or, ‘How do I present this to Van? How do I say this?’ But that’s the challenging part.

Jennie: It’s very challenging.

Van: Talking to other couples with blended families, it’s the hard part.

Two people get together, and they get together because they’re pretty compatible. That parenting thing can put a wedge in your mind.

One of the biggest things in that book, it said at the very beginning, this is going to be hard. Around 70% of all second marriages fail. That’s a huge statistic. We keep reminding ourselves that God put us together for a reason. It’s gonna be difficult. Trying not to be defensive and just keeping it open is my biggest challenge.

Jennie: We don’t have [any of our kids] that live other places. Everybody lives at our house. It’s not, they’re just here for a weekend. We don’t have that.

I think one of the things that can be a plus for blended families is the other parent can see things maybe with less bias, like, ‘Oh, I noticed this kid is doing this and needs help in that area.’ I think sometimes if it’s just the mom and dad, they maybe don’t always see the areas that need help. So I think that’s a plus. It can help us to see those things with loving eyes.

WACOAN: I know it’s a major outing with six kids, but when your family goes out, what do you like to do in Waco?

Van: Eat. They love to go out and eat.

Jennie: We don’t actually go out to eat that often. But they like Freddy’s [Frozen Custard & Steakburgers].

Van: We’ve gone to Union Hall a couple of times. They like Slow Rise [Slice House].

Jennie: We’ve gone on a couple big family trips that everyone’s loved. Van is the one that plans all our trips. He does a great job.

We just went to Belize. We snorkeled. We swam with sharks. Everybody had an awesome time. They were very brave and did all the things. The summer before that, we went to Florida. That was super fun.

Van: Typically, our thing has been going to Port [Aransas]. That’s been our go-to for the last few years, eating at a specific restaurant. That’s become a little tradition. It’s Fins [Grill and Icehouse]. And a little boat called the Jetty Boat that will take you across the causeway there where all the little restaurants are.

There’s another island right there called San Jose Island. And it’s a private 23-mile long barrier island, but in the state of Texas, all beaches are public. So they just drop people off. We carry our stuff. We’ll go along the beach, and there’s hardly anybody there. We just set up camp for a few hours. The shells are huge. It’s just a neat little place.

WACOAN: If you can get away for a date night, what do you do?

Van: Usually go out to eat. We try to vary it.

Jennie: We mix it up. We go to a bunch of different places.

Van: We try to have a date night once a week, once every two weeks. Sometimes La Fiesta is the No. 1 place. But we’ll go to The Grape or Hecho En Waco.

Jennie: Every year, we usually go on at least one trip by ourselves, without our kids.

[For babysitting], we have a 19-year-old, and my parents live in town. Then we usually go at least twice a year, a weekend getaway.

WACOAN: Where do you like to go on vacation together?

Van: We’ve been doing the Caribbean lately. Then COVID hit, and I’m a COVID doctor. I’m like, OK. I know what to do. I know how not to get it. And I know where to go that it’s not a lot of COVID. So we went to St. John last August.

Jennie: That was great.

Van: There was nobody there. You’re like going to the best beach in the world, and then you can go just across the island to the next great beach in the world. It’s great.

We just mix it up. So we’ve been doing a little Caribbean stuff. Things that are kind of close, if we have to fly to get back fairly quickly if something comes up.

Jennie: And then we go on a couples trip every year. We went to Fredericksburg. Last week, we went to North Carolina. We try to do things with just us.

Van: That’s another thing. How long have you and your wife been married?

WACOAN: It’ll be 25 years in December.

Van: How long were you married before you had your first kid?

WACOAN: Eight years.

Van: You got eight years by yourself. So that’s one thing that I think is challenging when you get remarried. You don’t have that time to get to know each other without a lot of distractions going on.

Jennie: And a lot of people needing things.

WACOAN: Do you have pets?

Van: Three dogs and two cats. And we foster kittens. We just fostered a puppy. They were fun, actually.

Jennie: It was fun.

Van: We’ve done it a couple of times. It’s one of those things that the kids get to be involved with. It’s just a little bonding experience.

Jennie: I had done that before. I asked Savannah — she’s the oldest one — maybe a year ago, ‘What’s one of your fun childhood memories?’ Immediately, she was like, ‘Oh, fostering the kittens and puppies.’ I was so surprised.

I talked to Van; we hadn’t done it together with our current family. I was like, ‘What do you think?’ We have a separate room that we can keep them in. The kids loved it.

WACOAN: Do the younger ones have a hard time giving up the kittens when it’s time for them to go to their forever homes?

Jennie: It’s usually the oldest. We’re clear ahead of time. Our job is to make sure that these little animals are friendly for when they go to their new home. A lot of times we’ve gotten ones that were super scared, and it’s been perfect because there’s been a lot of people to hold them and pet them. My parents adopted two, and they’re just the sweetest pets.

We’ve presented it as like this is volunteer work our family is doing. There’s not tons of volunteer work that young kids can do. Think about how happy people are that somebody took care of their pet when it was a baby. They would probably love to keep them all, but there’s an understanding that we’re doing this for someone else.

WACOAN: Do you have any family tradition that you’ve created as a blended family?

Jennie: At Christmas, we all wear matching pajamas, including our cats. They got pajamas this year. Avi and I make this drink at Fourth of July. It’s a red, white and blue drink. She and I make that for everybody every year. At Thanksgiving, my parents always come over. We usually host the holidays. I don’t like to go other places.

Van: We try to sit down once a week, once every two weeks, with everybody and have dinner. It’s a lot of [schedules] to coordinate.

WACOAN: What are some qualities you tried to instill in your children?

Jennie: Being loving to each other and supportive. Keeping God No. 1. That’s kind of the main thing I have talked to them about, because if you can do that, then a lot of things will fall into place.

When I talk to them about it, I tell them kids are probably the best Christians I know. You’re probably doing it more than I am. So it’s a good reminder for both of us to keep God No. 1.

It is important to me that they are kind to each other and important that they do their best at things.

Van: Loving God. Loving others. Keep it as simple as that.

We try to teach them empathy. Some kids are more empathetic to others and other kids. My two boys, I’ve been really struggling teaching them empathy and honesty. One is too honest, and one is not enough honest. Where’s the balance of that?

Those basic core values that need to be like a Jesus figure in our world, that’s not a legalistic or judgmental Jesus or not a totally everything goes Jesus, but a Jesus that’s right in the middle, that gets down and dirty. I think that’s been a little challenging being a first-generation wealthy person in our family. I try to teach our kids, ‘Yeah, we’re wealthy. We live in a nice neighborhood, but this is how I grew up.’ Going down and doing Church Under the Bridge. This is what most of the real world is like.

Two kids are going on mission trips this summer, one to a third-world country and one to the [Rio Grande]. Savannah had gone to the valley last year with First Woodway.

WACOAN: And Savannah is at University of North Texas?

Jennie: She is, but she’s going to transfer. She’s going to go to [McLennan Community College] for a year or semester and then transfer to Baylor. That’s what she’d like to do.

Van: You want to ask what our hobby is?

Jennie: We do real estate to help pay for college. We have some long-term rentals with the idea in mind that, over time, it’s going to assist paying for college. At one point, we’re going to have four kids in college at one time. And so North Texas was fine. We were like, ‘Great. That’s perfect. Our properties can pay for that.’

Then when she decided that that wasn’t a good fit for her and she’s going to do MCC for a semester or year then Baylor, we talked, and we’re actually just buying a short-term rental in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It has better cash flow, so it can better assist with that. So that’s kind of our hobby.

WACOAN: Are y’all reading anything good right now?

Jennie: I’m reading ‘The E Myth’ [by Michael Gerber]. It’s like the entrepreneurial myth.

Van: I’m reading Tim Keller. He’s a Presbyterian theologian up in Manhattan. He’s a wonderful writer. He wrote a book called ‘Every Good Endeavor.’ It’s basically finding your meaning in work. I just read that. And then, do you ever get writer’s block?

WACOAN: Sometimes. But when I sit down and I get something written on the screen, then I can go,

Van: I just read, ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield. I like that book a lot. I manage a bunch of doctors, and doctors, we’re weird people.

WACOAN: Why are doctors weird people?

Van: Doctors are hard-headed people. We have our ways. To convince people to change a way, you need a really good ‘why.’ I feel that I lack in communication skills, so I’ve been reading a couple communication books.

Jennie: I think he’s a very good communicator.

WACOAN: Why do you think he is a very good communicator?

Jennie: I think he is very open about his thoughts and his feelings. I don’t agree with Van on everything, but I do understand what he’s telling me or his point of view. I feel like he’s very open. He’s very easy to talk to. So from my point of view, I think he’s a good communicator.

WACOAN: Why do you think you’re not a good communicator?

Van: I think I have all these little thoughts and ideas in my head. When I spew them out, they don’t come out the way they are portrayed in my brain. That goes back to when I was an ADD kid. I had a speech impediment when I was a kid. But when I take my Vyvanse [medication], oh, man. It’s on. I can communicate really well.

WACOAN: Is there anything else I need to know?

Van: We’re real people. We’re real people that have real struggles. We don’t have it all together. Every day is a new challenge, but we see the blessing as well. We’re having fun. We’re making life happy for each other and six kids.

Jennie: We get along great. We have a great time together.

Van: It’s hard work. It’s very hard work. You go forward one step, back two steps or three steps.

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