Carole Fergusson

By Kathleen Seaman

Creating community collaborations

If you were to look at Carole Fergusson’s resume, you might notice that she’s worked in a lot of different fields. She’s been a bartender. She’s worked in the nonprofit sector. She’s created local community events. She’s a photographer.

“Some people graduate high school knowing exactly what they want to be, and I didn’t,” Fergusson said. But it’s not something she’s upset about. “I’m in my 30s, and usually when people have their midlife crisis, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I should have been this. Or I should have been that.’ I don’t have to worry about that because I’ve already done it all.”

In fact, all of Fergusson’s diverse experiences are what allowed her to discover her passion for community involvement, especially when it comes to forming connections between organizations and finding ways to collaborate. After working with local businesses like Balcones Distilling, Startup Waco and Sidekick Creative Agency, Fergusson has recently found another role that will let her be a part of growing Waco. In late October, Fergusson became the new executive director of Keep Waco Beautiful, a nonprofit that’s been contributing to the beautification of Waco since 1979. Recently, Fergusson spoke with the Wacoan about key moments that brought her passion to light and how she plans to approach her new role.

WACOAN: How did you become involved with Keep Waco Beautiful?

Fergusson: I knew of the organization because of Ashley Crownover, who was one of the previous executive directors. We both were in LeadershipPlenty together. I learned a little bit more of what Keep Waco Beautiful was at that time. This was probably two years ago.

It is such an interesting organization. They have their hand in a lot of aspects of the community. A lot of people are probably involved with their recycling, and they do a lot of river cleanups and park cleanups, which is important for the community, but they’re also involved with a lot of beautification efforts. Heritage Square, the lights that are on the new bridge, things like that, that really make our community quite beautiful and make people want to live here. And it drives economic growth. That’s what’s exciting about this organization. There’s just a lot of potential.

WACOAN: Your last job was at a creative agency. That sounds pretty different. What did you do in that role?

Fergusson: I was at Sidekick. I was an account manager, so I managed several [client] accounts and made sure at the end of the day that their brands looked beautiful, that they had good communications. And I worked directly with the creative teams, arranging for photoshoots, things like that.

I would say it’s more marketing-communication-related than nonprofit, which when I was at Startup was very nonprofit-related, but with a huge aspect of running programs, fundraising, finding collaborations with the community, and that’s what I am really passionate about. Collaborating with the community and growing Waco.

I was there just over a year, so it was a nice steppingstone between the jobs.

WACOAN: Can you tell me a little more about your role with Startup Waco?

Fergusson: We joked we were a startup starting up startups, so it was an interesting time because we had an interim director, and then there was about 10 months where we didn’t have one, and then we got the director that they have now, who is Jon Passavant. I had the pleasure of working with him for over a year before I left and getting him integrated into the community and understanding the dynamics of different organizations and how they operate, how they work, and the gaps that we could fill and collaborate with these organizations.

It was a perfect time to be there, really learn and get my hands deep into how nonprofit life can be anything from beautiful to chaotic to fun. Just like any company and organization. It was a wild ride, and I really enjoyed it. I’m excited to get back to a nonprofit life. It’s kind of my jam.

WACOAN: I know that you’re a longtime Wacoan. Were you born and raised here?

Fergusson: I was born in Waco. I did spend two years in Tyler, that’s where I started school, and then I came back in 2009. Since then, I met my husband, Cody, and we were involved with helping start Dichotomy. He still works there. We really planted our roots here, and he’s also from here. Both of our parents were here — his parents are here; mine actually just passed last year — so we’re here because of them and all the great things that are happening in Waco and just love to see it grow.

WACOAN: What are some of the highlights of things you’ve seen develop and come to fruition?

Fergusson: Definitely the vibrancy of downtown growing has been really great. Seeing the beautification efforts with Cameron Park. I remember growing up, you didn’t really go to Cameron Park. There’s been a lot of great efforts around town to just really make Waco beautiful.

You see all these storefronts that are empty, and you know there’s potential for them. You’re starting to see people get excited about that and changing that, like the Elm Avenue beautification project that has been going on. It’s just really exciting to see the culture and vibrancy start to come to life that I know could have been there all along. It’s exciting to actually see it play out. There’s a lot of good things here to work with.

WACOAN: What’s your undergraduate degree in? I think I read somewhere that, like for many people, it’s doesn’t have anything to do with your current field.

Fergusson: No, nothing at all. A Bachelor of Science in psychology.

WACOAN: What were you originally intending to do with a degree in psychology?

Fergusson: I had several ideas. I thought anything from art therapy all the way to being a psychiatric nurse. I had my hand in being a [certified nursing assistant]. It’s hard work.

If you look at my resume, it’s like, ‘Wow, you’ve tried a lot of stuff.’ I know I don’t want to be a bartender. I know I don’t want to be a nurse. I know I don’t want to be this and that because I’ve already done it.

Now, I know what my passion is, and it is very much community-driven. It’s collaborating with people who are here, building the table with the community and having them come and speak and eat with us. Just really making passionate moves to where it’s a better living and community.

WACOAN: Can you think back to any key moments that made your passion come to light? When did you realize, this is what I should be doing all the time?

Fergusson: I found it in several moments. Once upon a time when downtown was just barely starting to really kick off, we would have these potlucks. We called them the Wacotown Potlucks, and it was an invitation to anyone who wanted to come together for community and get to know one another and anyone who just had this vision for what downtown could be or what Waco could be. It was exciting to see what I would say was a really pivotal moment of Waco changing, and obviously this was pre-Magnolia, and it was just teetering back into the life that it once had.

When I worked at Balcones, seeing the passion around Dichotomy come together, and my time at Startup, I really got to see community collaboration start to play out a little bit more. And I was like, ‘This is exciting. This is what fuels my heart.’ It really developed strongly when I was at Startup and working with the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber and trying to create something for forgotten communities that we need to really tap into. I created the Floating Mercado, which is a Latino market that happens at the Hispanic chamber. It’s a time to celebrate culture and diversity and anyone who has a business, maybe they do food or whatever, and it’s just an exciting event.

Then, I developed Waco Restaurant Week, which I’ve only been able to do once because of COVID, but seeing that collaboration play out was like, ‘OK, yes, this is it.’ It was just little pieces of the puzzle starting to fall together for the bigger picture.

WACOAN: Will Waco Restaurant Week be coming back?

Fergusson: I want it to. Yes, I’m hopeful.

It’s one of those things I did very grassroots. It was really just me running the show, which I don’t recommend because it was a big job, but the impact was awesome. We raised just under $10,000 for Caritas, and that was just from a percentage of donations from the restaurants. We had over 65 restaurants and food trucks and popups, and they’re all local. This was all local dollars going back to local businesses.

We had some new people — like Around The World that was popping up at different locations and now has a brick-and-mortar at Union Hall. It was really cool to see all these people starting to put their ideas to fruition and try out what they were wanting to do. [We also had] established businesses who have been here for a long time, like La Fiesta. It was an exciting event that I was like, ‘Yeah, this is it. This is what I’m meant to do.’

WACOAN: Did you start Waco Restaurant Week because of your involvement with Caritas or just because you wanted to?

Fergusson: Just because I wanted to. It was one of those things that I knew Waco needed. It was time.

The amount of food businesses we had popping up and what we already had were just really flourishing. I actually wasn’t on the board [for Caritas] at that time. It was just, ‘I want to do this. I keep waiting for someone to do it. Why wait? Why not do it myself?’ And after that, I got an invitation to be on the board.

Important to know, I’ve actually rolled off the board for Caritas, but I am going on the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber board, so by the time this article comes out that will be effective.

WACOAN: Where did the idea for the Floating Mercado come from?

Fergusson: I was sitting in a meeting with [president and CEO] Alfred Solano, who was new to the chamber at the time, and [we discussed some of the] issues that were happening. You had the La Salle corridor, which had a huge pocket of Latino businesses, and then you had the 25th Street corridor, which again, the same thing. I just saw these siloed pockets of community and businesses who maybe didn’t know one another.

The market is intended to float around the city and bring in new people and businesses to the neighborhood and meet one another. Maybe the businesses will collaborate with one another or maybe they’ll just make new connections that they didn’t have before. One part of it is to celebrate culture and the other part of it is to create that connection.

What I realized is that these little pockets just didn’t know one another because they were across I-35. It was just an easy win to create something like that. That was in 2018, and the Hispanic chamber still does it once a month. I created it and was like, ‘Here you go.’

WACOAN: What are your initial plans or goals regarding your role at Keep Waco Beautiful?

Fergusson: I would say the first chunk of the year, like six months or so, I’ll just be sitting back and hearing from all different parts of the community. This is a really established organization. It’s been around since the ’70s. There’s been a lot of players involved and a lot of hard work that’s happened over the years.

There’s a lot of strategy ahead. I’m really excited to put together an 18-month strategic plan to really get things off the ground. I’ll be working really close with my board president, other members of the board, other members of the community on that.

The interesting thing is I’ve found that people see it as one way, and they don’t realize that there is a whole other aspect of Keep Waco Beautiful. There’s the beautification side. People get to enjoy Heritage Square, and that was a huge part of what they’ve been able to do. The possibilities with the organization are endless, and I hope in 10 years, we are just as thriving as ever.

WACOAN: You mentioned your husband, Cody, earlier. Can you tell me a little more about you and your family?

Fergusson: We’ve been married eight years. We’ve been in Waco most of our lives. We live just on the cusp of South Waco, technically in Robinson. We have a little girl who’s 4. Her name’s Lucy. She is amazing, and we have a goldendoodle named Lily, which if you’re wondering, ‘Do I get those two [names] confused?’ Yes. All the time.

We’re very outdoorsy. We try to be outside as much as we can, if it’s not 100 degrees. I garden. It’s raised beds, mostly vegetables, some fruits and stuff.

My daughter is in soccer. My husband coaches her team, so we’ve been busy the last few weeks with that, but we’re kind of homebodies. Usually, we’re just at home cooking. I’m looking forward to the wintertime where it’s just cozy. I have to shoot [photos] for the fair later today, so I was like, ‘Do I wear shorts?’ since I know I’m going to be running around.

WACOAN: Do you do photography as a side business? Events? Weddings?

Fergusson: Oh, yeah. That’s probably something interesting [to mention]. I do photography. I’ve done it all. Less on the wedding side more just on portraits lately. When I was at Sidekick, I had a noncompete [agreement], so it was strict on what I could say yes and no to. Now that I’m done, I’m actually able to pick up some side work. I’m shooting at the [Heart O’ Texas Fair] today. It’s just a fun shoot. I love doing events and stuff like that. Whatever comes my way.

WACOAN: Since your husband works at Dichotomy, what is your coffee setup like at home?

Fergusson: It’s almost like a coffee pot. If you were to come to our home and see our coffee setup, you’d be like, ‘Really? This?’ But we have all the equipment everywhere. We’re right in the middle of remodeling our kitchen, so I plan to make it cuter and fancier.

He’s actually a certified ‘coffee sommelier,’ [a Quality Arabica Grader (Q Grader) certified by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI)]. There’s only so many in the United States, and you would think that we’d have this glorious setup, but it’s just like a machine pour-over type of thing. You just press a button. I need simple.

Carole’s 5 Must-Have Items

1. Yoga. I work out at Duality Yoga; it’s a local business as well.
2. Black coffee. Plain. As straight as you can get it. I like Pinewood and Dichotomy. I was into sweet drinks when I was younger. I tried to get a sweet drink recently, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I haven’t had one years. This makes me nauseated.’ Just give me black coffee. I’m happy.
3. Red wine. Cab’ Franc. Just ask the Wine Shoppe for ‘Whatever Carole Drinks.’ They’ll know.
4. A walk in Cameron Park. It’s peaceful, and I just enjoy exploring.
5. Gardening. I started an Instagram account called @wacogardening. It’s just, ‘This is what I’ve learned.’ Trial and error.

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