#Miles to Magnolia

By Megan Willome

Three families move to Waco in season 3 of 'Fixer Upper'

On HGTV.com’s “Fixer Upper” page there is an article by Liz Gray, which is a compilation of tips from fans called “28 Signs You’re a Fixer Upper Fanatic.” No. 1 is “You refer to the Gaines couple as JoJo and Chip when discussing the show, like they are your close friends.” The list includes No. 4, “You want every room in your house painted gray,” and No. 10, “You have used the term ‘shiplap’ in the last 24 hours.’ There should be a No. 29: Even though you don’t live in Waco, you apply to be on the show, get accepted and are featured in an upcoming season. For this month’s home issue, we interviewed three couples who did just that — Jessie and Cameron Bell from Denton, Kelly and Ken Downs from Plano and Stacie and Ben Childers from Rancho Cucamonga, California.

Magnolia Homes and Chip and Joanna Gaines already had a great reputation locally before “Fixer Upper” took off and introduced a national audience to Waco’s charms. And that’s when folks started calling the chamber. Chris McGowan, director of urban development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, gets the phone calls.

“We get a lot of calls, people who are interested in what’s happening in the city,” he said. “The show has been a tremendous asset in terms of elevating people’s perception of Waco. What it’s done for us specifically is it’s great to have a positive presence on national TV every week, and [Chip and Joanna] do an amazing job of selling Waco because they love it as much as we do.”

The selling of Waco translates into real dollars. Magnolia Market on Bosque Boulevard is a bona fide tourist destination. Recently, Joanna Gaines’ blog at magnoliahomes.net featured a new contest called #MilesToMagnolia. Fans of the show are encouraged to visit the “Little Shop on Bosque,” document their trip with photos and then share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Even people who haven’t managed to relocate to Waco are already driving miles to Magnolia. Cars park up and down Bosque, even on weekdays, and people take selfies in front of the shop. Imagine the crowds that will come downtown when the silos open this fall.

Since filming of season 3 was still in progress, Megan Willome visited with each soon-to-be-local couple by phone. To see how Chip and JoJo made each of these houses feel like home, stay tuned for the next season of “Fixer Upper.” And if you run into the Bells or the Downs or the Childers in H-E-B, be sure to say hi. Show them Wacoans really are as friendly as we seem on TV.

Jessie & Cameron Bell, Denton, Texas

When the Bells move to Waco this fall, they will be coming home. The two met in eighth grade at St. Louis Catholic School and started dating in high school. After several years in the Metroplex, they were ready to leave the hustle and bustle and find a home for themselves and their three Labs.

WACOAN: Tell me a little about yourselves.

Cameron: We both grew up in Waco and ended up going to St. Louis [Catholic School] together. I went in the eighth grade. We went to Reicher [Catholic High School] together. Started dating when we were 15?

Jessie: Fifteen, yeah.

WACOAN: Did you get married in Waco?

Jessie: We got married at the Palladium in, when, 2012? We’re coming up on our three-year anniversary in October.

Cameron: Yeah, 2012. What throws me off is we dated since we were 15, so I had the whole anniversary thing locked in, and then there was a new one.

Jessie: I tried to keep them close. Our wedding anniversary is October 13, and our dating anniversary is October 16. We started dating in 2001 and got married in 2012. Our deacon [from St. Louis Catholic Church] did our wedding. He said, ‘Y’all have been dating longer than some people have been married!’

Cameron: Now we’re almost 30. Jess went to [University of North Texas] in Denton.

I was a hunting guide, so I worked in Texas and Louisiana some and then went on to start guiding in Africa, in Tanzania and South Africa. Did that for quite a while. After we got engaged, I was spending a ton of time in Africa and came back here and decided to get a real job.

Jessie: Make my parents feel a little bit more at ease.

WACOAN: Do you live in Denton now?

Cameron: Yes, we’re still in Denton.

Now we both work at Cardiac Infusion Specialists. We make heart medicine. Our office is in Lewisville. [Editor’s note: The company specializes in inotropic home infusion.] I’m in sales, and Jess works in the office doing a plethora of things.

Jessie: Cameron is the sales rep for the Waco area.

WACOAN: Do you have kids?

Jessie: That’s on the horizon. We have three adorable Labs: two black Labs, Joshua and Warren; and a chocolate, Bronko Nagurski. He’s named after a 1940s football player. It’s a full house, three big dogs in one little house.

WACOAN: Outside of your visits here for work, how much have the two of you been in Waco since you left?

Jessie: We stayed up here [in Denton] after I graduated [from UNT], so we haven’t lived there since we were in high school. But … coming back home!

WACOAN: Are either of your parents still in Waco?

Cameron: My parents are still in Waco.

Jessie: Mine are in Brenham. But my mom taught at St. Louis and has so many connections there.

WACOAN: When did you start watching ‘Fixer Upper’?

Cameron: We don’t have cable, but we have Wi-Fi. We have a TV just for watching DVDs, but we have Netflix and Amazon and all that.

Jessie: I had heard there was a show in Waco. And I was like, ‘In Waco? On HGTV? I’ve got to check this out.’

Cameron: The whole first season had already aired. I’d keep hearing about it, but we were so busy with work, and then we finally looked it up online and bought an episode through Amazon, more for the novelty of seeing a show about Waco. And then I was just watching it for the heck of it, and we liked it a lot.

Jessie: I think we were hooked by the end of episode 1. I was like, ‘This is so cool! I want to meet [Chip and Joanna]!’

Cameron: We were the cliché of everyone from Waco who watches the show and is like, ‘I know that place!’

Jessie: Or ‘What neighborhood are they in?’ or ‘Wait, do we know these people?’

Cameron: We were hooked, and then we were waiting for season 2 to come out.

Jessie: And now we watch it religiously.

WACOAN: What was it like to be on the show?

Cameron: It was a lot of fun. I liked looking at how it was all done, how they hooked up the equipment. In general, the whole thing was fun. We’re still in the middle of it right now.

Jessie: I absolutely loved it. I was so nervous — what do I wear? What am I going to say? I was overthinking everything. They told us, ‘Really, don’t stress.’ Everyone was so incredibly nice. The crew was super nice.

Chip and Joanna were so easy to get along with. They said, ‘You’ll forget about the cameras,’ and I thought there’s no way, but you do.

They were always getting us water because it was so hot.

Cameron: Yeah, Jessie turned into a prima donna real quick.

Jessie: Yeah, where is my drink!

WACOAN: Other than Waco being part of your sales territory, Cameron, why did you decide to make the change now and move?

Cameron: I think it was twofold. We’re both from Waco, so there’s no big surprises there. It’s kind of like home.

And then once Waco became my territory, I didn’t know I’d be down there so much. The way it weighed out is I was in Waco more than here.

Both of us have fairly flexible jobs. I’m on the road a lot. Jess is usually in the office. She’ll come back here some and work from home some.

WACOAN: Do you know when you will be moving to Waco?

Cameron: It’s still somewhat up in the air. Safe to say early fall. We’re hopeful for late September, October for sure, probably.

WACOAN: Since you’re moving back home to Waco, what are you excited about?

Jessie: I really do love being able to go out to H-E-B and run into 18 people I know. It feels good to be around people that you love. I’m just excited for that.

Cameron: And the commute. Our office was in Dallas on [U.S. Highway] 75 and Walnut Hill [Lane].

Jessie: It was an awful drive.

Cameron: We were commuting from Denton, and it was an hour and a half, sometimes two hours. I think a lot of what I’m looking forward to is that [living in Waco] beats the hustle and bustle a little bit. Sometimes I go to Austin [for work], but you can lay low.

WACOAN: It’s likely your commute will be 15 minutes in Waco, if you’re driving across town.

Cameron: It’s amazing how quickly you get used to that. The other day there was traffic on Valley Mills [Drive], and I was like, ‘Come on!’

WACOAN: How does the housing market in Waco compare with Denton’s?

Cameron: Waco is still — it’s getting more expensive, but compared to Dallas and Austin, it’s way more reasonably priced.
Denton is a small college town. It’s its own little entity but still near the Metroplex. Commercial real estate is considerably more expensive than in Waco. Residential real estate is fairly comparable.

Jessie: The closer you get to Dallas, it just gets more expensive. Land and commercial get dramatically more expensive.

WACOAN: What else are you looking forward to about moving back?

Cameron: When I stopped guiding in Africa, I started tinkering with some outdoor products. When I left Africa, I thought, ‘I’m going to do something that I’m passionate about.’ It took three years of tinkering before I got to go to market. I make waterproof bags for the fishing, outdoor, hunting market. The company is called Korongo. I make everything in the U.S. I’m working closely with a company right now, coming up with products for the Navy, for Naval special warfare units. That stuff has to be made in the U.S.

WACOAN: How will being located in Waco be helpful to you with your company?

Cameron: I think part of that will be eventually getting a warehouse or an area where I can do more in-house manufacturing without outsourcing everything.

WACOAN: Have you had a chance to visit Magnolia Market?

Jessie: I have. It was a long, long time ago. I have not been able to make it down recently. It’s probably packed.

Cameron: It’s so funny, since we both went to Waco for high school, we drove by that [place] all the time. Now when you drive by there — I drove by a month ago, and I couldn’t believe all the people. People taking pictures, parked all down the street.

Kelly & Ken Downs, Plano, Texas

The Downs are not only new to Waco but also relatively new to Texas. Ken is originally from New Mexico, and Kelly lived in Naples, Florida, until she and Ken married in 2013. She knew Waco from some of her consulting work, and she enjoyed driving up and down the streets, looking at the charm and character of the older homes. The Downs said they were looking for a place to live that was “calmer” and “friendlier,” and Waco fit the bill.

WACOAN: Tell me a little about yourselves.

Ken: We recently married in 2013. I am a design engineer in the semiconductor industry.

Kelly: He’s a contractor for various semiconductor companies.

Ken: I’ve been living in Plano, Texas, for about 15 years. I came from Albuquerque, New Mexico, prior to that. I came to Texas to find my first job out of college.

Kelly: I’m a pediatric occupational therapist. I moved to Texas because of Ken. For Ken and I, it was our first time getting married, later in life. I’m from Naples, Florida. I also design children’s toys. My company is called Junction of Function.

WACOAN: You say you married later in life. Give me a decade.

Kelly: In our 40s.

WACOAN: So, no children?

Ken and Kelly: No.

WACOAN: When did you start watching ‘Fixer Upper’? Did you both watch?

Kelly: That’s definitely me. It’s a funny story. Ken has a total bachelor pad, and we’re living amongst boxes. He has white carpet that’s no longer white.

I’ve always wanted an older home. I thought it was a good opportunity for Ken and I to get something closer to what we wanted. I wanted something older and something to fix up. I did some contract work in Waco. I’d drive up and down around the streets in Waco, and I liked the charm and character of the older homes.

I was looking around, looking at HGTV at different ideas. I watched how they do it [on ‘Fixer Upper’] and liked the show a lot. Chip and Joanna make it a joy to watch. I love her design. I love them as a couple, what they’re about.

WACOAN: You said you were doing consulting work. Who was that with?

Kelly: I was working as an occupational therapist with Waco ISD.

WACOAN: If you were traveling from school to school in the city limits, you’d see a lot of different old houses, from different decades.

Kelly: Yes.

WACOAN: Ken, did you watch ‘Fixer Upper’?

Ken: Not until [Kelly] got into it. She thought it was the most entertaining of the shows [on HGTV]. [Chip and Joanna] are funny. It’s fun to guess which house the couple is going to choose, but now that we’ve gone through the process, it isn’t that mysterious anymore.

WACOAN: Kelly, you worked in Waco with your consulting. Ken, what exposure had you had to Waco had outside of ‘Fixer Upper’?

Ken: I used to go down and see [Kelly] when she was working.

WACOAN: Back to ‘Fixer Upper.’ What was it like to be on the show?

Kelly: Hard work. You really appreciate what Joanna and Chip do. It’s tough.

WACOAN: I know you’re waiting for the reveal on your fixer upper. How often have you been to Waco during the process?

Ken: Not at all. We can visit the Magnolia Homes real estate office. We might do that if we need to give them samples or to discuss some aspect of the process. We don’t make any visual contact with the house once it’s under construction.

WACOAN: Why did you choose to make a change now and move to Waco?

Kelly: We wanted to move earlier than now. We’ve been waiting a long time. Ken works from home, and I do a lot of work from home, and we just said, ‘Why not?’

Ken: It’s a calmer city than Dallas. I think it will be friendlier as well.

Kelly: I like a little slower pace. I’m from Naples, Florida. It’s a nice town, smaller [than Waco]. In Dallas you’re clenching the steering wheel as you drive home from work. You get caught up in traffic.

Ken: If we want to go back to the hustle and bustle, we can visit. Waco is nicely located between major Texas cities.

WACOAN: When will you be moving?

Ken: Our hope is to move in the last week of September.

Kelly: We’re not sure.

Ken: They have to move out a lot of their furniture that they use for staging.

WACOAN: What is the housing market like in Plano, and how does that compare to what you’ve found in Waco?

Kelly: We found Waco to be priced friendlier.

WACOAN: Have you been to Magnolia Market?

Kelly: Yes, I have. I love it.

WACOAN: Any closing thoughts?

Ken: We’re just thrilled to be on the show. It’s most important to have Joanna do our house.

Kelly: We feel very fortunate and blessed, for sure.

Stacie & Ben Childers, Rancho Cucamonga, California

Stacie and Ben Childers currently live in Rancho Cucamonga, California. It’s the sixth state they’ve lived in during their marriage, and when they move to Waco then Texas will become their seventh. With one child at Baylor and another “on deck” to become a Baylor Bear, the Childers think Waco already feels like home.

WACOAN: Tell me a little bit about yourselves. Where in California are you?

Stacie: We’re in Rancho Cucamonga, Southern California. It’s about 60 miles east of [Los Angeles]. We’ve been there seven years.

Ben: We’ve moved quite a bit throughout the years. I’m a regional vice president for UniFirst Corporation. We’re a uniform rental and textile service company out of Boston, [Massachusetts]. I manage the Western region, from Denver, [Colorado,] on through the west.

Stacie: But not Hawaii!

WACOAN: Stacie, what do you do?

Stacie: I’m a homemaker. We have three kids, a son who will be 26 this week. He’s married and in the Coast Guard and lives in Florida. They just had our second grandchild. We have a daughter starting her sophomore year at Baylor. And our other daughter is starting her senior year in high school. She’s on deck to go to Baylor next year. She’s filling out her application now.

WACOAN: What is your connection to Baylor?

Stacie: We have friends who have since moved to Austin, but he’s a Baylor graduate. All their kids went. I went to church with them. He’s very active at Baylor. He had a huge influence on us looking [at Baylor], and our [oldest] daughter fell in love with it. She did early application. It was the only school she applied to, got accepted and could enjoy the rest of her senior year.

Ben: We’d heard about Baylor at other times, through an old boss.

Stacie: We have friends in Atlanta, [Georgia,] who graduated from Baylor.

When you’re a Baylor graduate — I’ve never come across another place where people have such a passion and love for it after they leave, and we wanted that for our girls. We only wish that we had been able to go there.

Ben: I still have eligibility!

We’re from Columbus, Ohio, and I’m an Ohio State fan. Stacie is a Baylor Bear fan, tried and true. Stacie loves the Bears. I’ll probably get there, but Ohio State is still first.

WACOAN: When did you start watching ‘Fixer Upper’?

Stacie: That’s a Baylor connection too. I follow Baylor Athletics on Facebook, and right before the first show [of ‘Fixer Upper’] was to come on, they posted on Facebook that there was this new show, two Baylor Bears, and I thought, ‘Oh, I have to watch this!’

Ben: My answer is Stacie started watching it first.

Stacie: We do DIY. We do home improvement. Immediately when I watched ‘Fixer Upper,’ we fell in love.

Ben: We coined a phrase — Stacie would say, ‘You know, I have an idea.’ And I’d say, ‘I’m starting to sweat already,’ and what I came out with was, ‘Your inspiration is my perspiration.’ We told Chip and Joanna that, and they loved it. They said they might even have T-shirts made.

WACOAN: What was it like to be on the show?

Stacie: It was so much fun! We’re not done yet. We’ll finish up next week. It has just been — everyone is so sweet, and if it’s possible for all of them to be nicer in person than they are on TV, then I’d say that is absolutely true. Just knowing that you’re going to get quality work, and they really care about us.

Ben: The first day of filming, I thought, ‘Wow, this is so much fun!’ They work very hard, every one of them — the contractors, the film crew, Chip and Joanna. It’s not like it happens very easily.

Stacie: They have such a great respect for each other. It’s an awesome environment to be in. They’re such good people.

WACOAN: What exposure have you had to Waco outside of ‘Fixer Upper’ and Baylor?

Stacie: We pulled out of California a year ago today to drive [our oldest daughter] to Baylor. That was our first visit.

Ben: We’d been there three or four times to look at the school.

Stacie: Right. But after that we also came to three football games. After the ‘Fixer Upper’ process started, we probably came a couple more times after that.

WACOAN: Why did you decide to make a change now and move to Waco?

Stacie: I’ve loved Texas for a long, long time. We’ve loved Baylor. We fell in love with Baylor, but we also fell in love with Waco.

[Our oldest daughter] was at band camp — she marches in the color guard at Baylor. [After we dropped her off] we had some extra time to drive around, and I wanted to go to Magnolia Market. We pulled up, and Chip and Jo were outside. That doesn’t happen all that often.

Ben: Especially now.

Stacie: There were a lot of people around, and they were talking to everybody.

I was talking to [Joanna] and taking pictures and telling her how much we’d fallen in love with Waco and were ready to get away from California, and she looked at me and said, ‘Why are you in California? Come to Waco!’

Ben: I had interviewed for a position in Austin, back in ’04, and it just so happened that through the Lord’s thing, his path for us, it didn’t happen. It looked like it was supposed to happen. It was a fluke thing. Stacie went with me for that interview and looked around Austin. She visited a couple of times, always liked Texas. She was so excited.

[To Stacie:] You were truly heartbroken that we didn’t get that. I was just looking at the job.

Stacie: I left a little bit of my heart there. After we moved to California, we visited [Texas] a lot, gone to Round Top several times.

Ben: As we were exposed to Baylor — in LA, the weather is nice, but it’s hard to find where you can get land. And you have so many people around you. We’d talked about buying land, maybe around Round Top, and then we started thinking after our exposure to Waco and Baylor maybe something in the area. Maybe Hubbard. But I also thought maybe [we’d buy] 10 acres or more and then we’d build something. Then the show became more and more relevant in our minds and our thoughts.

In Waco the people are so nice. They care about you. It’s nothing that we’re used to.

Stacie: There’s not all the traffic. It’s a different lifestyle.

Ben: So we started asking ourselves, ‘Why not in Waco?’

WACOAN: You’ve already alluded to the housing market in California. I know a lot of Californians are moving to Texas.

Stacie: The property taxes are horrendous.

Ben: What we want to make sure people know is that we’re not Californian. We’re Midwestern and more actually Southern people now because I have Southern roots. We lived in Florida, in North Carolina, so we like more of the Southern feel of things. It’s more our cup of tea. Texas, everything about Texas, fits our background and our wishes.

Stacie: We feel like we’re with our people.

WACOAN: How will this new house in Waco affect your daughter who is a senior in high school?

Stacie: She’s going to finish [in California]. We’re going to have our feet in two states right now. We’ll be running back and forth between the two. It’s a slow process.

WACOAN: When do you think you might be able to move?

Ben: I think our plan is put our house up for sale in March of next year, depending on the housing market. The minute our daughter graduates, May 19, we’ll be ready to go.

WACOAN: So will your home in Waco function as a second home for a while?

Ben: People ask us, ‘Why do you have this house in Waco? It’s not like a second home or a vacation home.’ Honestly, we will go to Waco for vacation! Stacie will be there three weeks at a time, at times. We don’t know what the future holds. We’re allowing God to work.

WACOAN: Stacie, you mentioned that you met Chip and Joanna on a trip to Magnolia Market. Have you been back?

Stacie: I go pretty much every time I’m there. Sometimes I look at the 5,000 of my closest friends that are also visiting and think, ‘I’ll come back later.’ [The Gaineses] are definitely going to fill the silos very fast.

I enjoy [Joanna’s] style, and she and I, we get each other. I got to work with somebody who — she gets me, and I get her, and I think the outcome is going to be … I’m beside myself! I get to see it a week from now.

WACOAN: Anything else?

Ben: We don’t know what the future really holds, but Waco is where our heart is.

Stacie: To me, it feels like my hometown.

Ben: And we’ve lived all over. But where we really want to live is Waco, Texas.