Waco Cotton Palace King 2019

By Gretchen Eichenberg

John Lee Deaver

Pictured: Photo by Doug Fitzjarrell

John Lee Deaver will be crowned King of the 49th annual Waco Cotton Palace on Friday, April 26, 2019 at Waco Hall. An accomplished local attorney, actor and lover of the arts, John has been instrumental in bringing the Cotton Palace historical production into the 21st century — working to add scenes and characters that fully represent Waco’s rich heritage from all perspectives.

“About 15 years ago, Bill Dietz and I were approached to help rework the historical part of the show,” he said. “Working with the Cotton Palace board members and advisers, we wanted to fill in some gaps that existed, historically. Some scenes needed minor adjustments and others were completely removed and different scenes were written to take their place.”

To make the show more interesting Bill and John created a speaking role for the character of Jacob de Cordova to assist in the narration.

“I played that role for several years before handing it off to Eric Shephard, who does a terrific job,” John said. “And we continue to tweak the show every year; however, I think my usefulness in that regard has just about played out. The show will continue to be in good hands as long as Mandy Morrison is at the helm.”

John, son of Ray M. Deaver and Ellen Jean Bostick Deaver, was born and raised in Waco. He’s married to Karina Lynette Jester Deaver, a native of Lexington, Kentucky, who has made Waco her home for the past 30 years. The Deavers have one daughter, Alexandra Lee Jester Deaver, who served as Cotton Palace Queen in 2014 and now lives in Los Angeles, where she attended the University of Southern California and now works for Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).

The family’s royal participation began when John’s brother, and current Waco Mayor, Kyle Deaver, was an Escort in 1982. John followed not long after as an Escort in 1984 — nephew Nicholas Deaver was an Escort in 2008 and niece Morgan Deaver Snyder was Maid of Honor in 2011.

John’s wife Karina has served Cotton Palace in many different roles on various committees, including, Gifts chairman, Program chairman, Thursday Night Dinner home host and Queen’s Ball chairman. She has also participated in the former court scene in the production. John sang and danced in the production back in the late 1980s during his years in the Baylor Theatre.

John graduated from Richfield High School in 1984. He received a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Arts from Baylor University in 1988 and then a JD from Baylor Law School in 1992. He and Karina were married in 1990 at Seventh and James Baptist Church, after meeting two-and-a-half years earlier at Baylor.

John has practiced law together with his brother, Kyle, at Deaver and Deaver for approximately 25 years, mainly serving the legal needs of American Bank and American Guaranty Title. He said his father and brother have always been role models for him in business and in life.

“They are both men of incredible strength and integrity,” John said. “I think character and integrity, and not just in the way you treat co-workers and employees and customers, but even competitors, is very important.”

Another person who helped shape John’s professional career was Jerry Powell, his evidence professor and mock trial coach in law school.

“Jerry has such a passion for demanding the most out of his students and ensuring that his graduates will never be overmatched, especially in the courtroom,” John said. “Of course, I never set foot in a courtroom again, but I also never forgot someone who was so passionate and skilled in the art of advocacy, and we have been great friends ever since.”

John belongs to the Southwest Association of Bank Counsel, is currently president of the Waco Business League, vice president of Creative Waco, and a member of the Texas Bar Foundation.

Serious about serving his community, John has been on the boards of Habitat for Humanity, Caritas, St. Paul’s Day School, the Waco Symphony, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Waco and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. He has also served as senior warden at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“When Alexandra was young I spent a great deal of time coaching her and her teams in basketball, volleyball and soccer,” John said. “I coached her in all three sports from the time she was four until she finished middle school.”

Passionate volunteers are the foundation of a solid community, John said.

“Given the structure and the way in which communities are organized, there are certain roles and certain needs that can only be performed by passionate volunteers,” he said. “And it is this web of volunteerism that lifts a community and makes it more than just a collection of people going to work every day and doing their individual jobs. These are the minds and the personalities that provide the richness, creativity and vibrancy to a city.”

Everyone has something to bring to the table, no matter how big or small, he said.

“Many of the volunteer organizations truly do form the soul of a city and allow the participants to interact and grow in a way that benefits both city and citizen,” he said. “Everyone has talents and there are so many ways to contribute, from playing the piano at your church to serving as mayor.”

That includes Cotton Palace.

“The number of volunteer hours spent on Cotton Palace is mindboggling,” John said. “I am always amazed at the number of people that give their time, year after year, to ensure that these young people and their families have a rewarding weekend. It is a testament to the way these volunteers feel about Waco and the history of this event.”

Golf, photography, fly-fishing, drums, history, astronomy, reading and speculating over where the country is headed — all are things John enjoys doing when he’s not at work, John said.

“When we are not visiting Alexandra in California, the majority of our time can be summed up in four letters: E-L-S-A,” John said. “Our two-year old French Bulldog has taken over our lives. The social media world is outside my realm of comfort, but Elsa has over 20,000 followers on Instagram and a blog she hosts with another ‘Frenchie’ in New York. She gets more mail than we do, and from all over the world. It’s a little insane. We also have a six-year old lab, Hudson, and Romeo the cat.

John said he loves living in Waco, but that his perspective may be somewhat skewed, as he’s never lived anywhere else. Like many lifelong Wacoans, he’s nostalgic, to say the least.

“The changes we have experienced in the last five years have been tremendous. Thank you Magnolia,” he said. “Waco is now a destination. But for all of the positive changes, there are also places from my childhood that I miss. I miss the Book Nook and the way I felt walking in there as a ten year old, wondering what new World War II book I might find. I miss walking across the mall to Lake Air Records. I miss Molitor’s toy store, and I miss Baylor Drug, which, small as it was, I think had more product per square foot than anywhere else in Waco and always had a protractor that a grade schooler like me needed to do his homework.”

But some things don’t change.

“I still love the smell and feel of the nave at St. Paul’s,” John said. “I love the excitement that exudes from the many visitors downtown – a downtown that many thought would never return to its previous grandeur. I love that we have to learn to watch for pedestrians before turning on a green light. I love that we are recognizing a local war hero, Doris Miller, with an impressive memorial that will be around for generations to come. I love the burgeoning art community in our new downtown Cultural Arts District and the prospect of riverfront development. Waco is a great place to be.”

John said he will bring that enthusiasm and reverence to his role as King.

“It is a real honor after the years that I have spent working on the show,” he said. “I have so much respect for Margaret Brown and everyone who works so hard on the corporate board and throughout the organization. I guess it is my way of showing my respect for everyone that has worked so hard over the years of Cotton Palace.”

Though he’s spent his fair share of time on stage, John has never been one to seek the spotlight. So, being King will definitely be a role he never though he’d play, he said.

“I will try to step out of my shell and be an enthusiastic ambassador for this great city,” he said, “and the production that highlights our history and gives these young women and men a chance to shine. I hope everyone leaves with a new appreciation for Waco, its history and its people.”