Waco Cotton Palace Queen 2019

By Gretchen Eichenberg

Olivia Leigh Henderson

Pictured: Photo by Doug Fitzjarrell

Olivia Leigh Henderson will be crowned Cotton Palace Queen at the 49th annual Waco Cotton Palace Production Friday, April 26, 2019 at Waco Hall.

Olivia is the daughter of Ronald Earl Henderson III and Charlotte Metz Henderson.

She is the granddaughter of Kay and Charles Metz of Waco and the late Diane and Ronald Earl Henderson, Jr. of Waco.

The warmth of her smile is one of the first things people notice about Olivia. Maybe that’s why one of her favorite quotes is: “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” — Mother Teresa

Olivia hails from a line of Wacoans and Cotton Palace royalty. Her father, Ronnie, was a Royal Escort in 1986 and her mother, Charlotte, was a Princess in 1987. Olivia’s aunts and uncles were also court members: Mary Henderson Senter (1982), Kimberly Allen Dang (1988), Carey Metz (1988) and Margaret Allen Henry (1991).

Charlotte has worked on various Cotton Palace committees, including chairing Royal Reception and Facilitation, which organizes the logistics of getting court members around to all the weekend events. Charlotte has also appeared in many historical scenes and, along with her father, portrayed a former king and queen. Olivia’s grandmothers, Kay Metz and the late Diane Henderson — both served Cotton Palace in various capacities over the years.

“Both of my grandmothers have served in Cotton Palace roles throughout the years and their love for Waco is easily seen through their involvement in the community,” Olivia said. “My grandmother, Diane Henderson, passed away last fall and isn’t here to see me as Cotton Palace Queen, but I know how proud of me she would be.”

Olivia is a senior at Waco High School where she is a member of National Honor Society. She has competed on the Mock Trial team for all four years of high school and was awarded Best Advocate at the 2018 regional competition. Olivia has played varsity tennis for four years, as well. And her favorite subject has always been math, she said.

“Math has become especially enjoyable the past two years because of my wonderful teacher Julie Murphy,” she said. “Her passion for teaching has allowed for AP Calculus to become one of my favorite classes and her caring personality makes her a person that I look up to in all aspects of my life.

Olivia said attending a large; inner-city public high school has afforded her many opportunities and experiences.

“Going to Waco High, I’ve been able to challenge myself in the many AP and dual credit courses they offer, but I’ve also been able to meet some of the most incredible people, both friends and teachers. I’ve been able to grow my love for tennis through Waco High’s Tennis team and I’ve been able to explore my interest in the legal world through our Mock Trial team. It’s truly one of the most supportive, encouraging and caring environments I’ve ever been a part of.”

This fall, Olivia will attend the University of Texas, where she has been accepted into the Business Honors program of the McCombs School of Business.

“I’m the first one out of the house, so I think it’s going to be a little weird for all us,” she said. “I think I’m most excited to explore a new city and meet lots of new people. Austin has so much to offer and I can’t wait to learn more about others, while I continue to grow as a person.”

Olivia is a dedicated member of National Charity League (NCL), an organization that encourages mothers and daughters to serve the community together.

“Through National Charity League, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer at many deserving places, but my favorite was definitely the Family Abuse Center,” she said. “Despite their difficult situation, the kids that I got to spend my time with never failed to put a smile on my face.”

Olivia was awarded the National Charity League Yellow Rosebud Award both her sophomore and junior years for completing 75 hours of service. Last year, she was awarded the National Charity League Modelette Award for the best modeling of the NCL mission.

“Serving your community allows you to better understand the city that you live in,” she said. “There are still so many parts of Waco that I’m learning about, and by volunteering, I can see all the small or big things that I can do to help my community members. There is so much love to give and receive, and volunteering has helped me, and I’m sure many others, to realize just that.”

Olivia is a graduate of the 2018 Teen Leadership Waco class, which is a leadership development program sponsored by the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. She also was selected to be part of the Waco Youth Council.

“The Youth Council allows young people to learn about the Waco community and any problems or challenges that exist within it,” she said. “Then we get the opportunity to have a say in how to address those issues. It is a great way for youth to become involved in the community.”

As a junior, Olivia was a Symphony Belle and is a member of First Presbyterian Church, where she has been a youth group member and youth elder, serving on the Session.

Outside of school, Olivia likes to spend time with friends, just hanging out and relaxing, she said.

“It’s easy for me to get caught up in my busy life, but being around my best friends allows me to relax and enjoy their company,” she said. “A friend is someone who I can always count on, someone who can make me smile even on bad days, and someone who loves me unconditionally. My best friends embody all of those qualities.”

Olivia’s kind, caring personality makes her easy to be around.

“Olivia always puts others before herself, said her mom. “Her organized and driven personality allows her to excel in all that she does, while keeping a smile on her face. She has such a loving and calm spirit and makes people feel comfortable when they are with her. She is also open to new adventures and is fun to be around.”

Most important to Olivia, though, is her family.

“We’ve always been really close,” she said, “and I can wholeheartedly say that I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without all of the love and support they’ve given me over the years. Even my little brother, Billy, who can sometimes drive me crazy.”

Olivia said she loves going to yoga classes or having a movie night on the couch with my three dogs next to me. And she has a strong work ethic, taking pride in her part-time job.

“I work at Adorn Boutique, a clothing store in downtown Waco,” Olivia said. “I absolutely love my job because I work with some of the sweetest girls and get to help people do one of my favorite activities — shopping.”

Camp Longhorn is a 10-year tradition for Olivia — and she’ll be heading there the day after graduation to work as a counselor for two weeks. In addition, she will be taking an annual family trip to North Carolina, working, enjoying the last couple of months with her friends.

Representing Waco just comes naturally for Olivia because she appreciates her community and its people very much.

“The thing I love the most about Waco is the people and the loving community they create,” she said. “From the day I was born, I’ve been surrounded by the kindest people, who have supported me and loved me endlessly. Waco is such a welcoming and nurturing community and I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to grow up in a town like this. I love that I can be friends with people from many different schools and continue to grow old friendships and make new ones.”

A favorite spot where you might run into Olivia and her friends? Bangkok Royal.

“It’s a go-to restaurant for my friends and me,” she said. “It always hits the spot. But my favorite place to be is at my family ranch in Clifton, where I can be stress free and enjoy time with my family and friends.”

Olivia’s royal gown is feminine and elegant, and is fashioned of starlight silk shantung. The silk is complimented by additional fabrics, consisting of silver baby sequins and a sparkling crystal-studded overlay with champagne and gold embroidery. The bodice and skirt are further accented by hundreds of Swarovski crystals stones, as well as two unique gold rhinestone beaded trims. The bottom of the skirt has scrolling embroidery of delicate gold and champagne flowers, which are also present on the sleeves of the dress. The dress was designed by Allison Harkins, Court Costumes Chairman, and constructed by Susie Thennes of Dallas, Texas.

“Serving as Cotton Palace Queen is such an honor,” Olivia said. “Not only do I get to represent my family and the Cotton Palace court, but I get to represent the Waco family as well. I’m so excited to meet new people and make them feel welcome in this wonderful city.”

In her sparkling gown and the traditional Cotton Palace regalia, Olivia said she’s ready for the weekend to begin. Showing warmth and genuine hospitality will be her personal mission during the weekend festivities, Olivia said.

“I hope to make sure that the out of town court is able to feel as welcome and as comfortable as possible,” she said. “I can’t wait to show them all of the wonderful people and elements of Waco and help them to have the most memorable weekend possible. I hope by the end of the weekend, everyone will feel like part of the Waco family.”

Her parents know that making Waco shine will be an easy task for Olivia.

“We hope that Olivia represents Waco’s welcoming nature in her role as Queen,” Charlotte said. “It is a huge honor for her to be chosen, but with that honor comes responsibility. It will be part of her job to make sure that all out of town court feel comfortable and enjoy their stay in Waco. We feel that her easy-going personality reflects Waco and the people that reside here.”

Join the Conversation