People of the 254

By Chris Klimkowski, Katelyn Patterson & Emily Ober

Pictured: Photos by Jennifer Pisarcik, icometotheephotography.com

What will Waco look like in 5 years? Or 10? Did lessons from the pandemic endure or did we quickly return to our old ways? Best advice for someone moving to Waco?

We asked nearly 50 Wacoans this and more recently, and received answers and insights as varied and unique as the individuals who walked into our offices. Take a minute and get to know some of your fellow citizens and enjoy a rich and interesting look into the people of our city, our memories and our hopes for the future.

It has been two years since our first People of the 254 feature ran in the October 2020 issue. We are thrilled about its return. Young and old, newcomers and native Wacoans, we hope we captured a glimpse into our individual and collective experiences at this unique point in time. And just like the first edition, perhaps it will help us all feel a little more connected.

What is your favorite place in Waco?

Serena Teakell-Rigby, 32
Owner, Living Dead Threads
Waco native

“My favorite place in Waco is Cameron Park. I love hiking and foraging and kayaking on the Brazos.”


Jamie Blanek, 32
Adaptive Athlete, Keynote Speaker
Waco native, currently living in Utah for sports training

“I love Lake Waco!” There are so many fun spots whether you’re just hanging out on a houseboat or you’re jet skiing or going around on a boat. It’s always fun time to just disconnect and have a great time with friends.”


Rianna Alvarado, 37
Founder, Artphoria Studio & Garden
Waco native

“Waco Downtown Farmers Market. We work there, but we’ve been going since the beginning. For 10 years. We love, love, love it. I think it’s just like the hub of the community.”


Kelly Connolly Palmer, 31
Waco City Council Representative, District IV; Mayor pro tem
Has lived in Waco for nearly 10 years

“My favorite place in Waco is the corner of North 15th and Colcord Avenue. I love it because it’s one of the most walkable areas in town. It’s got Jubilee grocery store and Lalo’s and Helados and Waco Family Medicine, all of these incredible nonprofits and small businesses. All right in the heart of the city. I love that neighbors from across town are all congregating there”


Brycen Turnbull, 40
Lead Park Ranger, National Parks Service at Waco Mammoth National Monument
Has lived in Waco for nearly 2 years

“My wife and I really like Union Hall. We’re foodies. And so whatever one of us wants, it doesn’t matter. We can go there and eat. They have indoor, they have outdoor. It’s a wonderful spot. Everybody’s happy because you can get whatever you want. They’re open for long periods of time, so if you’re running a little late, you can get a late lunch or an early lunch. It’s great. Now, a parking spot’s a different story.”


Danielle Young, 35
Owner, Revival Eastside Eatery
Has lived in Waco for 11 years

“I think my favorite place is Pinewood because I can walk there from my house. (Do you love the energy of it?) I do. I am not a hipster, I’m not that cool. But I love that when I go, I know 75% of the people that are there. It’s just a neighborhood coffee shop.


What is the biggest charge since you’ve lived here? Do you like it?

Tommy Sharp, 30
Owner, Sharp Hauling and Professional Strongman
Waco native

“The biggest change I guess would be the fast growth of it. Things just took off in the last 10 or 15 years. I love it. It’s brought a lot more stuff for us to do, a lot more money & I think it helps everybody out.”


Vincent Thomas, 25
Co-founder, BLACCENT
Waco native

“The biggest change I would say that I’ve seen is diversity. It has gotten to be a very mixed culture in Waco. I see a lot of different races, demographics and age groups coming together. And what I love about that is the fact that we are able to learn and understand each other on a deeper level that is just deeper than the surface. We’re able to actually kind of get acquainted and learn how to treat each other with respect and make sure that we’re appreciating each other.”


Katie Jones, 34
Co-Founder, My Closet Style
Waco native

“Yes. I think just growth in general. Even out in Woodway just expanding all over. When I was little, it wasn’t like that. We never really left this area right here. We would never go downtown and now there are things to do and it has all the events and happenings. Also we used to have to travel to do everything — eat, shop, anything. And now you don’t have to do that.”


Destini Stead, 32
Founder, Destini’s Desires, a Waco food blog
Waco native

“I absolutely love the diversity we have now. Growing up, we didn’t have all these food options, they were just kind of general. And now, we have some amazing, incredible, cultural places. You can learn so much about a culture just by how they cook their food. Food is universal, and so that’s a good way to connect with people.”


Lane Murphy, 40
Co-Founder, 2nd and Clay
Has lived in Waco for 22 years

“It seems like there are more people trying to be more considerate of others or trying to make things more equitable in the city, even city leaders, churches and just groups of people are more intentional about thinking about people who aren’t in their demographic, whether it’s cultural or ethnic or socio-economic. I think there’s really a spirit of goodwill where everybody’s pulling for each other. Not that it wasn’t there 20 years ago, maybe I wasn’t aware of it, but I just see it more on a broader scale.”


Genesis Moncada, 24
Director Marketing and Public Relations, Texas Sports Hall of Fame
Waco native

“I guess, in the position that I’m in, it’s brought in a lot more tourism that I wasn’t used to. Now that I am working more in the tourism part in museums, I see it as a benefit now rather than a disadvantage for some locals that don’t like traffic or stuff like that. It’s definitely helped local businesses, museums and different attractions.”


De’Viar Woodson, 24
Co-Founder, BLACCENT
Has lived in Waco for 15 years

“So, growing up in Hewitt and looking at it now, there’s places that are houses that used to be fields of trees and stuff like that. It blows my mind every time I see it. But, just also population increase. Yeah, there has been a huge increase in diversity here in Waco, and that’s good. But at the same time, we have just gotten more people in the city. Now, I feel like we have more people compacted into what used to be kind of a smaller town. It’s a little harder to get around. Certain routes that you used to recognize, certain streets, there used to be a certain way to get around and now that can be a little frustrating.”


Erin Montgomery, 30
Co-Owner, The Roof Co. Waco
Has lived in Waco for about 12 years

“Obviously, Magnolia has been a big change. But I think living here and becoming more of an adult and a business owner, I’ve learned there are so many small businesses in Waco that people either don’t know of, or they just don’t shop small. Now, as a small business owner, I understand that and I only really look for local small businesses.”


Aniceto Charles, 43
Co-Owner TruJamaica Restaurant
Has lived in Waco for 4 years

“The thing that I’ve noticed is there’s more emphasis on art. I think you can’t have a beautiful city without green space and without art and without culture. But I think the art piece really stands out to me. Now when you look at all the murals in the city, it’s meaningful but at the same time, it’s very creative where they’re placed and what they stand for. There’s so much art that’s happening, I just think they’re doing really good things with nourishing our artists, bringing art to the forefront. And just exposing it, just putting it out there.”


Luke Whyte, 33
Co-Founder of Waco Tours, Old Bethany Wedding Venue and Whyte Oak Homes
Has lived in Waco for 15 years

“I think a key component that I’ve seen is that, when we were at school at Baylor, it was pretty well-known that when you graduate you leave. And that there was a, I would say a draw away from Waco. Now, I think the flip of that is happening, where people are drawn to Waco in droves. Our business, Waco Tours, has benefited from that tremendously. We’ve welcomed almost 100,000 guests in the last six years from all over the world. It’s just super fun.”


Cathy Cassidy, 48
Independent Consultant for Scout & Cellar
Has lived in Meridian for 22 years

“I love it. When I first moved here, we would come [to Waco] every Sunday, we would eat at BJ’s or Olive Garden or just kind of something right there. But since I’ve been spending more days here and joining the networking groups like Female Executives of Waco and Women of Waco, I’ve spent a lot of time downtown. And it is absolutely amazing, all of the different little places to eat — Pivovar and Alpha Omega — I found all of these little holes in the wall that I would have never known existed if my new friends hadn’t taken me. Just the downtown area that has places to eat that aren’t chains.”


Where do you see Waco in 5-10 years?

Betsy Robinson, 73
Founder, Fuzzy Friends Rescue
Waco native

“I feel very positive about Waco’s future. Depending on the growth of Baylor University and the downtown area, I think we will see a sizable increase in the population in the next 10-20 years. Baylor is trying to retain graduates to stay here. For years, Waco was a well-kept secret, but it is a destination location now and folks from all over America are moving here. They have discovered what so many of us have known for years — Waco rocks!”


Chie Carroll, 43
Web Producer, 3mpStudio
Has lived in Waco for 3 Years

“I think if the people continue to be compassionate, to be patient with each other, to love each other and commit to each other, then I think Waco is really going to continue to grow not just economically, but also just as the best place to be in America. It’s a melting pot.”


Hope Balfa-Mustakim, 36
Independent Contractor, Waco Empowered Community organizer, social worker
Has lived in Waco for 13 years

“I think we have a choice right now. We’re in a very unique time and year, and we can go one of two directions. If we make choices that center on the most historically marginalized people who really deserve to be heard, we can go in one direction where it’s an equitable and safe place for all, where kids get a high-quality education and have a promising future. Or it’ll be a place that has continued to displace generations of Wacoans — I don’t know if there’s a better term than “shooting yourself in the foot,” but while trying to build something great, we sometimes end up causing more harm.”


Eric Linares, 29
Creative Entrepreneur
Has lived in Waco for 10 years

“In 5-10 years, I really would wish that Waco is kind of a reflection of all of the really great cultures and communities in Waco. That it’s reflected in the businesses and the food options and the events and the fun. More growth of having all of these options and these fun things culturally or art based. Seeing Waco grow as a cultural destination is one thing that I would love to happen.”


Sheri L. Raleigh, 62
Chef instructor, Cast Iron Skillet Culinaire
Has lived in Waco for 9 years

“I would like to see more opportunities for small businesses. I think the women-owned businesses, I would like to see them rise and shine a little more. And more affordable housing in Waco. Because we have a large younger retired community and it’s tough to find a place. That’s going to be crucial because if we don’t have that with a better infrastructure within the city, it could be very chaotic.”


Julie Helton, 54
Director of Space Planning and Interior Design, Baylor University
Has lived in Waco for nearly 36 years

“I hope it stays the same, honestly. I like the size. I hope it doesn’t grow too large. One thing I would say about Waco that I love is the people. There are really awesome people that live in Waco, and I just feel very fortunate to have great friends here. It’s still kind of a small town. You go to H-E-B and see five people you know. It definitely has that small town feel. That’s what I would tell people coming from out of town. If you like that, but you don’t want to live in a tiny town, it’s got the best of both worlds.


Heather Garcia, 36
Office Manager, Swim Kids Waco
Has lived in Waco for 17 years

“I’m just waiting for what’s going to go on that Robinson side on I-35. It’s right on I-35, prime property. Is it going to be more shopping? Is it going to be some amusement type stuff? That’s what I see changing. And probably East Waco will look way different as well.”


Cade Kegerreis, 26
Artist; Owner, Devolved
Waco native

“I’m hoping it’s a steady growth of what we have without being too much. I like the little bubble that we’re in without too much traffic. But, growth overall with arts and culture and all of that kind of stuff.”


Micah Burgess, 51
Owner and founder, Waco Doula; Podcast Host; Author, “The Humor in Birth”
Waco native

“I think in 5-10 years, we’re going to see more Wacoans who grew up here come back to Waco. It’s large enough that there are lots of things to do, but we have a small-town feel. And I think that’s going to bring a lot of Wacoans back to say, ‘Hey, this where I want to raise my family. This is where my roots are.’”


What does your ideal Waco Weekend look like?

Lindsay Page, 33 & Jenny Passavant, 32
Co-Founders, Bloom Waco
Waco natives

“Well, I still love Diamondbacks. That’s still my favorite dinner spot. Yeah, so I love going to like maybe dinner at Diamondbacks and then for drinks, it’s Sloane’s.” – Lindsay
“Then like a Cameron Park run. And antiquing, we always go antiquing on weekends. To like Laverty’s or Homewreckers.” – Jenny


Whitley Holton, 32
Co-Host, Waco Famous Podcast
Waco native

“I’d say brunch somewhere downtown — at Milo. And then we could head to the lake. And then get a craft cocktail at Balcones.”


Marissa Ramos, 28
Co-owner, Willies CBD Shop; Content creator
Waco native

“Going to a local coffee shop, grabbing some tacos from a taco stand on La Salle, probably dinner at Union Hall, and a movie at the new movie theater [AMC].”


Soledad Bautista, 39
Director, Professional Development and Creative Outreach, Creative Waco
Has lived in Waco for 6 months

“Saturday morning, I wake up, put my helmet on and ride my bike, and when I’m done, I like to go to the farmer’s market. I do some shopping, I have breakfast, I have coffee, then I go back home. Look to see if there’s a concert, a play or a movie, then decide which one I want to do, Saturday or Sunday. Then in the afternoon, I like walking downtown to see what’s happening. Cultivate7Twelve has a lot of stuff usually. Sometimes, I go dancing. Warehouse has really amazing music, and if not True Love. Then Sunday, I like brunch, at Milo or Hecho En Waco. Di Campli’s has good brunch too.”


Dylan Holton, 32
Co-Host, Waco Famous Podcast
Has lived in Waco for 21 years

“Mine would be a 7:30 [a.m.] tee time at Bear Ridge, then wake surfing at Lake Waco, and then I’m finishing Saturday up at Slow Rise [Slice House]. And we’re getting up in the morning on Sunday morning, we’re doing brunch at Milo, and then we’re going to like One Day [Bar] and we’re be-bopping around all day Sunday and finishing Sunday at Slow Rise again.”


What advice would you give someone moving here?

T’Neyah Thomas, 24
Co-founder, BLACCENT
Has lived in Waco for 7 years

“Like if you’re trying to be an artist or something like that, I feel like Waco is a good spot because it’s a place where you can kind of come and do your own thing. And you can flourish, because, in a bigger city like Forth Worth, where I’m from, it’s like trying to do something and ten other people are already doing it. Then, you try something else and five other people are already doing it. But in Waco, you can find your place. You can find your spot, and you can flourish in that.”


Beau Blackshear, 30
Owner, Virkim Fertilizer & Chemical
Waco native

“Be involved with stuff that’s going on around town, whether it be stuff the city is putting on or any events downtown. When I was younger, downtown was nothing really more than what was left of Waco after the tornado. Now, they have a lot more events, whether it be Woodway or Waco or whatever.”


Heather Beck, 45
Interim Director of Alumni Engagement, Baylor University
Waco native

“One of the wonderful things about Waco is you’ve got a great number of people that are really welcoming, and they’re connectors. It’s not so big that you don’t meet someone that knows someone else that connects you to someone else. And that’s one of the best things I think that people new to the area enjoy about living in Waco. Because they can make fast friends and really solid relationships. If they want to volunteer their time, talent or treasure that can get plugged in, in just about any way that’s really near and dear to their heart. The bigger the city, I think that’s a little bit more challenging. I just would say go out and find your people and support their passions and they’ll support yours.”


Bradley Bolen, 62
Senior Lecturer, Baylor Music School
Has lived in Waco for nearly 20 years

“Go out and explore. There’s a lake, there’s a park, there’s one of the best zoos in the country. Cameron Park, it’s very unusual for a city our size. Maybe one reason why they used to call it the best-kept secret is that it’s set up just like Austin. You’ve got the city on the river, and you’ve got the university. It’s the same dynamics, but we’re actually in the center of Texas. I think this energy’s going to… we’re going to be different than Austin and plan ahead for our infrastructure.”


Richelle Braswell, 27
Fiction Editor, Owner, Richelle Braswell Comprehensive Editing
Waco native

“Check out the local businesses like the small places. And also the local food because a lot of it’s really delicious and unique to Waco. And while we have a lot going on downtown, make sure you don’t just only stay to the stuff downtown because there’s a lot elsewhere in the area.”


Viviana Charles, 61
Co-Owner TruJamaica Restaurant
Has lived in Waco for 4 years

“Come in with an open mind and an open heart. If you come open, you’re gonna find your niche, your gonna find the people you’re drawn to, and you will be able to build a life here so come open.”


Amy Gaston, 37
Director of Experiential Marketing, Magnolia
Has lived in Waco for nearly 4 years

“Waco is more than it appears. Take time to dig and find the spots that the locals talk about. Just jump in and get to know the proprietors that make those places what they are.”


Taheshah Moise Krejchi, 29
Morning News Anchor, KCEN
Has lived in Waco for 2 years

“I would say be ready to be welcomed with open arms. Everyone is very friendly here, and it’s a super family friendly city.”


Betsy Daniels, 30
Co-Founder, My Closet Style
Has lived in Waco for 5 years

“I think maybe just find your place, find your school, and dive right in and get connected. I mean, as a person who just moved here five years ago, I felt like that’s what helped me. Yeah, just dive in headfirst.”


Roxana Robles, 48
Owner, Couture Tailoring by Roxana and Fashion Designer
Has lived in Waco for 24 years

“Waco is beautiful. You need to go to all the places we have here, especially Cameron Park. Learn about the history of Waco because it’s very interesting. People are very friendly. Please come and be friendly to us. And keep Waco clean.”


Did the pandemic teach you anything? If so, what did you learn?

Shaun Jones, 29
Owner, Yox2 Reptiles
Has lived in Waco for 2 years

“It really taught me how to save money and to go for what I want because during the pandemic I bought my first snake. It was this one [Fury]. And now two years later, we have a reptile store. You know, that was something really, really cool. I bought him and then took a big leap and came here with my family.”


Melody Hammer, 39
Founder and Owner, Loud Lounge
Has lived in Waco for nearly 2 years

“It’s taught me the value of person-to-person connection. I actually, my company was ecommerce for three years and we just opened our location on Elm avenue. Being able to interact with people every day, especially the people of Waco who are all very friendly and nice, has been a much-needed reprieve from the pandemic.


Andrea La Valleur-Purvis, 46
Creative Strategist, Founder, Vivid Creative
Has lived in Waco for nearly 1 year

“I was in Spain in the pandemic. It was extremely difficult and much stricter than the states. We were housebound for 100 days almost. Like you could leave to get food and that’s it. The police were just strict. It was emotionally very difficult, but beautiful things came from it. I was, going through a lot of thinking about what do I want for me? I was in my mid-40s so what goals do I really have? And one of the big ones was finding roots and buying a home because I’ve always rented. So that’s what brought me to Waco.


Stephanie and Bryan Tate, 36, 42
Co-Franchisees, Arthur Murray Dance Company
Have lived in Waco for nearly 3 years, since February 2020

“One day at a time. Whether you like it or not, when divine intervention happens, there’s nothing you can do but just step out in faith. It taught us that we really are meant to be here because all of the odds were stacked against us. We opened up a business where people touch each other during a pandemic. And, by the grace of God, we were so blessed. It taught us to just really have faith. In the same way, that’s what we needed. We needed a reconnection. It’s just reaffirmed why we do what we do. As humans, we need that connection. It really showed us just how important dancing is for people. Not just learning how to dance, but having the community at the dance studio because we really believe that dancing adds value to people’s lives. It let us see that people need this more than ever.”


Rachel Whyte, 32
Co-Founder of Waco Tours, Old Bethany Wedding Venue and Whyte Oak Homes
Has lived in Waco for 15 years

“You have to be ready and willing to adapt. Adapt your policies, your business practices, etc. I think the pandemic taught business owners that everything can change on a dime. If that happens, are you ready to adapt?”


Ashley Futris, 35
Co-Host, Waco Famous Podcast
Has lived in Waco for 25 years

“I think it shows the resiliency of Waco businesses because I’m pretty shocked how many, all things considered, made it through the pandemic and I think that just goes to show that locals really came out to support and wanted to see those businesses stay. And they got creative on how to stay relevant during the pandemic.”

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