Yoga helps Trauma Survivors

Story by Lauren Friederman | Photo by Corrie Coleman

For people who struggle with post traumatic stress disorder, simply living life can be challenging. Mundane tasks can become overwhelming. Especially for people who experience interpersonal trauma.

“In the perpetrators grooming of the victim, they strip the person of their sense of truth and self-awareness and being able to be present with things that feel uncomfortable and set boundaries,” Waco-area therapist Salley Schmid said. “They’re told things like ‘You’re safe, I won’t hurt you,’ and then they hurt them.”

According to the American Psychiatric Association, post traumatic stress disorder is defined as a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed trauma. People suffering from PTSD often experience intense, disturbing thoughts related to the trauma they experienced.

To further combat these symptoms, Schmid wanted to find a supplement to counseling. She discovered yoga.  

“It’s researched, it’s proven in a lot of the work that has been done by therapists and psychologists who’ve discovered changes that occur with their clients who participate in yoga,” Schmid said. “They dug in deeper and began to study it and determined that there were actual neurobiological, neurophysiological changes that took place that were positive and helpful for trauma recovery. I wanted that to be a resource I could offer my clients and other therapist’s clients as well.”

She reached out to Kim Damm, the owner of Yoga8, with the idea to begin a yoga workshop for people struggling with PTSD. Damm was immediately onboard, and within two weeks, they had a workshop.

To begin each class, Schmid talks about what happens in the brain of individuals with PTSD. This allows them to gain a deeper understanding of what the trauma exposure robs them of and what the healing process allows them to reclaim for themselves. She also discusses triggers, triggered states and gaining wisdom and discernment in who to trust.

Next, Damm discusses how the yoga practice will help trauma survivors heal.

Finally, the physical yoga practice begins. This practice focuses mostly on the connection between breathing and the body. The practice in this workshop isn’t physically strenuous, but it encourages students to feel what it’s like to be comfortable in their own skin.

For each session, there are several therapists present to assist students if they become triggered at some point during their practice.

“The presence of the therapist is to help facilitate that process for the yogi being able to name the triggered state as a triggered state not an actual threat,” Schmid said. “Then a process called grounding which is coming back to the here and now. So we have different things that we do to help them ground into the here and now and the fact that they’re in the yoga studio not in the place where harm has occurred to them.”

For trauma survivors, this is difficult to achieve, but by the end of the six-week course, many of them find the peace they’ve been seeking. Damm and Schmid hope give their students a safe space where they can connect to themselves.

“Most of the yoga survivors feel safe when they’re in the space and they’re breathing and they’re able to let go even if it’s just for that 60-minute class and to finally relax and maybe sleep through the night. I’ve had several survivor yogis say ‘I don’t know what happened but I slept and I haven’t slept that good in such a long time,’ So I feel like yoga aids in that in the fact that it’s a total mind, body, spirit connection and when you’re away from that that long, to be able to connect to that is wonderful.”

For the founders of the Survivor Yogi Workshop, seeing the trauma survivors heal through their yoga practice is an emotional experience.

“I think towards the end of every single workshop, Salley and I will just take a moment and see these wonderful students resting with their eyes closed in complete stillness, and we’ll both look at each other with tears in our eyes,” Damm said. “Just seeing them healing in front of us is the most beautiful picture because there’s so much movement and non-stillness at the beginning of the journey. It finally settles in that they’re finally okay to be in their own skin right now even if it’s for five minutes. It’s just so beautiful.”


Need for Clean

Story by Caroline Waterhouse | Courtesy photo

I don’t remember when it all started; it began as a routine then slowly turned into a silent prison.

The first memory I have of it was as a kid waking up in my pajamas in the morning. My clothes couldn’t touch anything but my skin and my bed. If the bottom of my pants grazed the bedroom floor, I had to throw them in the laundry hamper. I carefully hung them up, cautious that they did not touch anything but the wall hanger. Then, I  put on my second set of clothes for the day. Socks, pants and a sweatshirt or shirt with sleeves. I wentwould go downstairs for breakfast. Even if it was hot, the long sleeves, pants, and socks hwould helped so I did not directly touch the kitchen seat, floor, or countertop. When I was finished I would go up and change into my outfit for the day. By nine in the morning, I already was already on outfit number three. Time and time again, my mom wasould be frustrated that I went through as much laundry as my brother, sister and dad combined every week. My mom and eventually my sister called me OCD, meaning Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Over the years, it became stronger and more than just an extra set of clothes for the day. It was the worst at night. After I finished getting ready for bed, I had to wash my hands, then turn the light off, then wash my hands again in the dark. If I decided not to wear socks, I had to jump a few feet from my bathroom to my bed. Wait. I forgot to turn off my bedroom light. I had to go turn that off, but then my hands had to be washed again. I went to my bathroom and washed my hands. Wait. That was not good enough. Wash them again. Wait. They are not clean. Wash them again. Wait. Wash. Wait. I only washed them four times; I needed it to be five. Why five? I do not know. However that fifth time they were not clean enough. After the sixth time, they were finally clean, but I went over five, now I have to get my number to ten. Shoot, I just bought this soap two days ago and now it almost empty. Mom will be mad.

“Stop being so OCD,” “you just cleaned your hands,” “you’re wasting products,” were all phrases I heard all the time. My brother and dad never really paid attention or worried about my OCD behavior, however, my mom, sister and grandma always corrected me. They told me how weird it was. They told me . I was ’m being too OCD.

I could go to school, hang out with friends, live a normal life and it would not be a problem. If someone sneezed across the room in class and didn’t cover their mouth, I would be paranoid that somehow those germs would drift over to me or that they would cover the door handle. Except that was not OCD to think like that, any normal person would think that is gross. I thought everyone else believed that too, it was not just myself.

When my mom constantly told me I was being freaky and OCD, she said I get it from my dad. She thought he was OCD too, always had to have everything in its place and order. He would tell me I was not OCD. It was just a term my mom used to describe my weird behavior. I did not see a problem with it. I knew she meant well and cared, but there was nothing wrong with it.

I told myself the issues were not serious because they did not affect my daily schedule. I was not like this in public or around friends. However sometimes if I had the urge to wash my hands, I would wait until I had the chance to go to a bathroom. I could not think about anything but washing my hands and would not want to touch anything else or I would have to clean that too.

I never saw a doctor to diagnose it; it was just a tendency I had to grow out of. As I got older, the pressure to keep up with it faded, but whenever I was stressed, the urge to clean became so strong it was hard to suppress. . Once I got to college and shopped for my own groceries and supplies, I discovered my love for cleaning items, especially Lysol. I loved spraying it in my dorm room, wiping everything down with Lysol wipes, and using hand sanitizer like a person uses air to breathe. I remember the first time I used a Lysol wipe to wash my hands. It seemed normal; after all, it was a cleaning supply. I was not stupid enough to handle food or somethingIt wasn’t ideal, but it worked in the moment.

It peeked when I was overly stressed or upset. If I became too stressed with school or classes, I would sit in my bathroom and wash my hands two times, three times, five times, then just waste 10 minutes cleaning my hands again and again. They are clean, they are clean, but I only washed them eight times, I just have two more to go. I would get so frustrated with how much it was taking over and consuming me. It was irritating because I thought it was something I struggled with as a child, but the anxiety of a test or strain to get somewhere on time could bring back all of those compulsive needs.

The key to controlling the obsessive , compulsive tendencies is to restrain myself from cleaning when it is not necessary. It is easier said then done, but not impossible. When I am overwhelmed with anxiety or stress I still binge on cleaning or organizing, but taking it step by step and day-by-day is what it takes. It is just the liking of being a little extra clean, but it is not a life controlling, holding me down disorder. It is a little flaw I have that occasionally holds me, but does not confine me. Not every issue has to be consuming some can be quite manageable. I am able to talk about it lightly and even see the humor in it; I mean I don’t even mind cleaning toilets.


Life in 3D

Story by Taliyah Clark; Photos by Maggie Malone

Alex Le Roux
Alex Le Roux focuses on the instructions he types into the laptop that controls his 3D printer.


Creative science? Those two words don’t usually correlate, until you meet Alex Le Roux. A recent Baylor mechanical engineering graduate, Le Roux designed and created a 3-D printer that can create large concrete structures and 3-D images.

Le Roux has always been good with his hands. As a child, he loved building things and always excelled in math classes. When he got to Baylor he chose to major in mechanical engineering because it combined all of his favorite things.

“Mechanical engineering is right the intersection of what I enjoy doing and what I am good at,” Le Roux said.

His interest in 3-D printing came as Le Roux was diving deeper into his field of study. As he was deciding which route he wanted to go with mechanical engineering, Le Roux researched which engineering field was experiencing the most growth. Surprisingly, it was 3-D printing technology.

Though this type of technology was still in its infancy at the time, Le Roux saw an opportunity in the field where he could be involved with every aspect of printing. He wanted to study materials science of the substrate (the material or substance with which an enzyme reacts) and stress analysis of printer components.

“I bought three different 3-D printers before Idecided to go out and build my own printer,” Le Roux said. “Each was a little different and taught me a lot about how a printer functions and where there might be room for improvement.”

A box filled with cables and wires connects to Le Roux’s 3D printer and computer.

He was right. At the end of Le Roux’s journey, which took the entire spring and summer months of 2015, he had a fully functioning 3-D printer.

Le Roux’s professors were impressed that he had built a printer. One of his professors even came to his home to view it. His peers were equally as impressed and encouraging, offering to help him during the development stage of building.

Since building the printer, Le Roux has been testing it to see its capabilities. He plans to begin printing the structural components to build a small house. Le Roux hopes that the house structure will show that constructing with a 3-D printer can lead to major decreases in cost, time and labor – factors often negatively associated with a construction budget. He also hopes the house structure will generate more interest for the printer itself from different companies.

“We just need to refine and improve on the printer just a little more before taking on more than the few customers who have already put in orders for our minimum viable product,” Le Roux said.

While reflecting on his work, Le Roux noted that creativity is needed to build a printer that makes 3-D objects.

“The printer has the capability of printing most 3-D models,” Le Roux said. “The biggest restraint on what the printer outputs is what the user can imagine and model on the computer,” Le Roux said.

Le Roux believes that 3-D printing can be an art form, but it depends on the printer’s capacity.

“3-D printing definitely can be an art form if the printer is up to the task of making art,” Le Roux said. “Some printers are up to the task, some simply are not… I like to think that our printer does make art!”


Savory Smokey Success

The rest of the state has brisket. We have sausage.

By Kate McGuire

It is no doubt that German and Czech heritage run strong within the communities of Taylor and Walburg and can be seen most prominently in the delicious smoked and summer sausages that are made in Central Texas.


No matter how famous the sausages get, Tim Mikeska stays true to his family’s roots.

“We have such a strong Czech influence,” Mikeska said, recalling their history. “All of our recipes have been handed down for decades, even centuries.”

Humble yet proud, Mikeska is one of the most well-known barbecue players in the business. With more than six restaurants and multiple TV and festival appearances, Mikeska knows a thing or two about smoked and summer sausage. His family is dubbed as “The First Family of Texas Bar-B-Q” by both the Travel Channel and Texas Monthly.

Mikeska said his family has been making Czech styled sausage since the early 1880s, when his family immigrated to Galveston. In the 1920s, his family moved towards rural Taylor.

“During the Great Depression, they butchered animals for money and as part of being paid, got to keep parts of the butchered animal so our family never went hungry,” Mikeska said.

Since then, fourth-generation Mikeska has taken over the business as CEO of Mikeska Bar-B-Q. Located in Temple, Killeen, Cameron, Belton, Columbus and El Campo, Tim prizes his family’s success solely on their Czech-styled sausage.

“In the 1950s my dad sold sausage to beer joints in Taylor. One of the owners told him, ‘Mr. Rudy, if you could make this sausage a bit more spicy, I would have more business and so would you.’ My dad added more cayenne red pepper and it was great. This was now a hot sausage. His profits doubled as more people requested more beer,” Mikeska said, laughing.

Mikeska’s best-selling sausages in Texas are made by cutting and grinding beef or pork meat, seasoning the meat to the desired taste and smoking it to perfection. Smoking sausage brings out flavors one wouldn’t get from gas or electric cooking because different woods have different aromas that seep into the sausage. Mikeska uses natural gut casing to hold the sausage, which makes their sausage unique from competitors.

Their most popular sausage is pork sausage, followed by jalapeño-and-cheese-filled sausage. Mikeska’s sausages have grown so popular that Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern featured Mikeska and his family on their Texas Episode in 2008. Mikeska’s sausages have won numerous awards and now Tim travels to Chicago, speaking at barbecue festivals and conventions.


Only 30 minutes northwest of Taylor lies the even smaller community of Walburg, home to authentic German sausage and good hospitality.

Every year in November, around 200 volunteers bear the cool outside temperatures to soon be surrounded by rows of hot and ready-to-cook barbecue pits. This annual event, given the name “Wurstbraten,” is celebrated by hundreds of citizens of Walburg and thousands in the surrounding communities. Wurstbraten stems from the more commonly known German sausage, brätwurst; “wurst” meaning to pan fry and “bräten” meaning sausage.

Wurstbraten began in 1972 during the first week of November when the women’s group of Zion Lutheran Church and School needed to earn money to carpet the church, as Ethel Micken recalls. Micken, now 79, was one of the first women to begin Wurstbraten in the church group and remembers the fundraising event as if it were yesterday.

“We butchered two hogs, smoked them on Saturday and Sunday and served about 400 people on Monday,” Micken said.

Micken doesn’t let out many secrets about cooking the summer sausages, but did reveal that the meat is smoked with only live oak because of its aroma. Beginning Saturday morning, the volunteers flock to Zion Lutheran Church and School to cut, grind, cube, season and smoke the sausages. On Sunday, the sausages are hung in a smokehouse and on Monday are served to the hungry thousands.

When asked about the unique flavor of their sausage, Micken laughed and answered, “Our recipe is not given out; it is for old-timer’s use only.”

Micken’s own grandfather was the founder of Walburg. In the early 1880s Henry Doering settled there and opened a general store, adding a post office years later. Other Germans later immigrated to that area, such as her husband, Ray Micken, owner of Micken Motor Co. in Walburg.

“It is a wonderful event,” Micken said. “We have people from all over the state to buy sausage and to buy plates. Some profit goes to the church and other profits go to the community.”

Today, more than 4,500 people are served 12,500 pounds of smoked sausage within four hours on the first Monday of November. The homemade menu includes many German influences: summer and smoked sausage, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, sweet potatoes, potato salad, coleslaw, green beans, bread and pickles.

“It is wonderful to see the generous folk of Walburg come and serve good food to good people,” Micken said with a smile.

Taylor isn’t only the home of the Mikeska family, it is the known as “The Heart of Texan Bar-B-Q,” according to their chamber of commerce. While the Mikeska family shares their rich Czech heritage, Taylor Meat Co. has risen in popularity by selling various meats from different ethnic backgrounds.


In 1947, two brothers saw the rising popularity of barbecue in Central Texas and founded Taylor Meat Co. Since then, there have been more than 84 different types of smoked and summer sausages drawing from German and Czech influences.

All recipes have been passed along since 1947, but new spins on old classics have become instant favorites among routine customers. Ron Ivy, president of R.L. Ivy Management and partner in Taylor Meat Co., described the ethnic smoked and summer sausages they sell.

“Our summer sausage is called cervelat, which can be eaten cold or heated, mostly as finger food,” Ivy said.

Cervelat (pronounced “serve-a-la”) stems from Swiss, French and German influence and is actually derived from the Latin word, “cerebellum,” for brain. Cervelat used to be made from the brains of pigs mixed with pork and beef, but that soon became unpopular. Taylor Meat Co. uses pork rind, pork and beef with spices for flavoring.

Two additionally popular sausage choices are liver ring, which is a German classic, and head cheese, which became popular around the Middle Ages in Europe. Liver Ring is made by chopping up the intestines of a pig, flavoring and smoking it, and hanging in a smokehouse, after which it can be served heated or cold.

“We use pork liver, kidneys and pork tongue smoked over hickory wood,” Ivy said. “After it’s smoked and pulled, we case it in gelatin to set.”

Head cheese is another summer sausage popular at Taylor’s Meat. Head cheese refers to using the head of the pig to make the meat of the sausage and the jelly found in the skull as a casing. Ivy said Taylor’s Meat uses the snout, ears and tongue of the pig for their head cheese.

“We are primarily a German and Czech community, and our food matches the town’s culture,” Ivy said.

He’s Got Sole


From his upbringing to a lifelong passion, Greg Carmack creates masterful leather goods from the heart

By Laura Beth Moore

Inhale, as the whiff of leather seeps in deep, powerfully transporting one back in time to the days of saloons, gun smoke and back when the West was still wild. As the door to the shop closes, beating rings out and bounces off the tin walls. The clash of tools ricochets off the concrete floors and behind the aged wooden counter hunched over, concentrated on his work stands Greg Carmack, owner of Carmack’s Custom Cowboy Boots. Located off Highway 6 in Central Texas, just down the road from where he grew up, is the place where he first learned the craft of boot-making at age 11. An old craft, Carmack says, is diminishing quickly.

Growing up on his father’s ranch in Central Texas, Carmack worked on the farm during the summer at age 10. When the next summer came around, 11-year-old Carmack spoke up saying, “I don’t think I’m cut out for this kind of work.” The local boot maker, Larry Jackson, went to church with the Carmack family in Walnut Springs and little Carmack asked if he could sweep the floors of the shop. While Jackson said he didn’t need a sweeper, he taught Carmack to become a welt sewer—the process of stitching a strip between a shoe sole and upper portion of the boot. At the time Carmack didn’t know he would own Jackson’s store one day and become a boot-maker full-time. After a summer as a welt sewer, Jackson realized Carmack had a knack for bootmaking.

“You could tell he wanted to learn, and he never failed to learn,” Jackson said. “Greg didn’t want to make mistakes.”

Carmack continued working for Jackson through high school and college before stepping into the corporate world, which frustrated him, “You could discuss the issue, but no action was taken quickly to solve the problem. You couldn’t make a change when a change needed to be made. I like to hear people’s ideas and perspectives. I don’t have to be right, but if we know there’s a change that needs to be made, let’s make it.”

After discussing this with his mentor one day, Jackson said, “Then why don’t you just buy me out?” Shortly after Carmack purchased the business from Jackson and made improvements to the boots. He said the improvements he made focus around geometry, material construction, technique and design.

“I didn’t invent any of this,” he admitted. “This business is old, old, old, but a lot of stuff gets forgotten. So I just went back to the boot that was built in the 50s, 60s and 70s and put a few things back into that boot that took too much time for large manufacturers to produce.”


Carmack moves the weight bearing into the arch eliminating pressure on the long bridge of the boot causing feet to become tired. This modification holds and supports the arch of the foot making the boot more comfortable. For a man who stands on concrete 10-12 hours a day in leather soles, “My feet are happy,” he said. “It’s not magic it’s just time and understanding.” None of the factory boots can provide that modification, “they just don’t have the time. They’re just trying to compete to the dollar, and it’s a race to the bottom.”

With an emphasis on an “American born and bred” culture surrounding many boot-wearers’ there’s actually only one piece of U.S. leather in Carmack’s boots—the top lining. The lack of U.S. material grieves Carmack who wants to create a truly  authentic American made boot, but now it’s impossible. There are no tanners in the nation making sole leather for boots. There’s no sole leather to be found. When Carmack began only two tanners existed within the U.S., and now there’s no U.S. sole leather and no calf skin—a staple to the boot.

The last U.S. tanner of sole leather went out of business in 2005. Carmack explained the reason these tanners go out of business is due to the costs large boot manufacturing companies save by purchasing leather from a South American tanner compared to a U.S. tanner in Pennsylvania. With time he watched as the Pennsylvania tanners—the last U.S. sole leather tanners—went out of business.

Over the thirty years he has built strong network of people who help him find what he needs. Carmack sources his own calf out of France and sources another piece of calf out of Poland. “I’m lucky enough that my exotic friends of mine can get whatever ostrich or alligator I need. Mainly it’s just difficult to get quality material,” he said.

The strength of his network led to acquiring the finest French calf to make his boots. A partnership with a representative for a French tannery—owned by exclusive leather goods maker Hermes—changed the entire quality of Carmack’s boots. Now he actually stocks the leather upstairs and sells it to other bootmakers as an agent for the representative based in Connecticut.

As the only bootmaker in the shop, trying to balance 30 percent of his time sourcing materials and the remainder of time making the boots remains quite a balancing act.

“You want to know the fastest way to insult me is to say, ‘You know I’d like to come a couple of weekends and learn how to make boots.’ So insulting. I could have been a surgeon faster than I was a bootmaker, and I could have made a lot more money,” said Carmack. “You don’t get to be bootmaker in a day, a week, a month or two months, a year or two years. It’s a slow, learned, repetitive, ‘do-it-in-your-sleep’ thing, and most people don’t have the want to do that.”


It’s his dedication to detail and perfecting the bootmaking process that brings customers flooding in to order their own pair of Carmack’s Custom Boots. People who knew Carmack when he was a kid sweeping the floors at the shop still come in to buy boots from him, and now their sons and grandsons come in to order their own pair of Carmack’s Custom Boots.

“I’m not so great with names, but if I built your boots, I could look at your boots and know I built them, and remember the boot go to the order in my head and look at the name blank—and know your name,” said Carmack.

While a majority of the clientele are Texas customers, Carmack has customers in all the states; he’s even shipped boots to France, Germany and China.

When customers are choosing a boot design, Carmack says they go through a careful process. He keeps lots of pictures and examples for them to see. As far as if they’re going to use it for a dress boot or a work boot, he steers them to the leathers that work best depending on the use of the boot.   

“It’s a sense of accomplishment, when you take raw leather and combine it with someone’s idea put it all together and in the end you’ve got a finished product. They smile, put it on and say, ‘that’s exactly what I wanted,’” he said—a phrase that causes a smile to turn up across his face.

“In the end if the bootmaker and the customer aren’t both smiling…then you’ve got trouble,” Carmack said.


Over the years, the unique machines Carmack uses have been rebuilt with new parts from wear and tear, but to purchase new machines, Carmack would have to go to Italy and pay around $50,000 for just one piece.

“A company named United Shoe Machinery Corporation built all the shoe equipment, but they didn’t sell a piece of it, you could only lease the equipment from them. You never owned their equipment, until a little company named Landis came along and started making shoe equipment with the tag line, ‘Own your Own.’ They would actually sell the equipment to you,” he said as the machine rattles.

“I just love this machine because it’s so old, and it just works and works.”

Walking over with a brisk in his step, eager to show off the only piece of equipment left from when he first bought the shop—the sewing machine he learned how to stitch on. “The faster you go, the more you get done,” Carmack said while the needle rapidly blazed a trail of thread upon the tanned leather.


Along with the rare equipment, Carmack’s tools for bootmaking are hard to come by. New boot-making tools cannot be accessed in America. He must travel to South America to purchase them. His tools worn with smoothed handles from the 40s he purchased from West Germany. “A curved awl,” the tool he sews welt with allows him to poke holes into the welt to then sew the stitches through.

As his tools began to dull, he made a partnership with a guy in Ecuador to make some cowboy boots. In passing through a market where he buys leather, the “curved Awl” tool caught Carmack’s eye. Immediately he recognized the tools were from Germany stamped with the brand, King, “best curved awl tools you can get.” The tools were a buck a-piece. “Buy them all,” he said. “Now I have enough to last me and even for my kids if they want to pick up the business.”

This Land


A Photo Story by Constance Atton

There are many people outside of Texas who envision ranching as a lifestyle only made up of baling hay and sipping sweet tea on a front porch swing. However, what they don’t see is the privilege that these families have.  While Texas continues to modernize and grow, filling itself with concrete and skyscrapers, ranch owners have managed to contain the unique beauty that is Texas right in their backyards. These ranches on the following pages offer a glimpse into exactly what that beauty is and the little treasures hidden behind their entrance gates.

The Wild Side | By Nicollette Niles

In a small shopping center in Hewitt you can purchase coatimundis (members of the raccoon family,) micro mini pigs, chinchillas, sugar gliders, leopard geckos and many more exotic animals. Established in 2012, Critters Exotic Pets brings an animal experience to the region unlike any other. Owner Tierny Krueger wanted to open an exotic pet shop because nothing like it had ever been built before in the Waco area. Manager Jessica Saenz helps open and run the shop. The shop also offers small animal boarding, “critters cutz” grooming, parties and educational events.

Krueger and Saenz share their insights on Critters Exotic Pets.

Why did you decide to open this store?
Krueger: I’ve always had a love for animals. I’ve had several of these animals throughout my life. I actually worked in [human resources] for 10, 15 years and my job transferred to Dallas, so I just decided to take the plunge.

Photo by Derek Byrne

Why exotic pets?
Krueger: There’s so much controversy over dogs and cats since there’s so many out there for adoption, so I didn’t want to make it tough for the adoption clinics. So I decided to just focus on the exotic type pets.

Have you come across any special challenges?
Saenz: Unexpected challenges to me — that’s coming in and finding a litter of babies, and finding time to accommodate their needs.

Do you have any crazy or funny stories about anything that’s happened with the animals?
Saenz: When I came in one day and the kinkajou had gotten out, he had climbed all over the store, tore everything down, ate through all the packages of food. You would’ve thought the place had been robbed, just because of all the cages that had been on the floor. He didn’t really damage, he just made a mess, basically. Our decorations were all hanging on the floor cause he thought he could swing on them. The hardest part was trying to find him, cause he’s nocturnal. We spent maybe three hours trying to find him. He was asleep in the trash bag box in the cabinet in the kitchen.

How do you monitor the health of the animals?
Saenz: We have a vet that we take them to and we have inspections, and just knowledge of the animals. You can kind of tell when one of them is lethargic and just the experience of having animals and researching it. We’re always doing anything we can to learn about different things so it’s not we just buy the animals, turn around and sell them. We actually research them, see what their needs are, and see what their health care requires. It’s our responsibility to make sure they are kept healthy.
What’s the process like to raise and sell exotic pets?
Saenz: We try to socialize all our animals at early ages, that way they’re good with customers and when you get them home you don’t have to worry about wild behaviors and them not being friendly and not being able to pet or interact with them. So we try to socialize our animals at early ages and any of our exotic pets we sell, we always sell as babies. We don’t sell anything that’s full grown or preowned, just because if you’re going to buy an exotic pet you need to know that you’re the one raising it and you can raise it how you want to be raised.

Which animals do you take to your birthday parties and educational events?
Saenz: We take anywhere from the hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets to the chinchillas, hedgehogs, the boxed turtles, the tortoise, a python and then if you have any special requests we consider those. We take the kinkajou and the marmoset as well. You get about 10 to 15 animals.

Do they get to interact with the animals?
Saenz: Yes, the birthday kid gets to hold mostly all of the animals and the other kids can pet and touch some. Depending on the animals’ temperament that day will also depend on how long we let them hold the animals as well. Educational events are somewhat the same. Sometimes we put certain animals in pens, like a petting area. The monkeys and the kinkajou we leash up so that way we can control their behaviors, in case they get scared.


Watching a Dream Take Shape | By Kyndall Jirasek

Silver hair tied back in a loose ponytail, a few strands sweep across a woman’s face as she leans over the wheel. Wearing a red apron with the word “sister” stitched across the front, Titia Califano shares the journey of faith that led her to become a potter and an unexpected fudge maker.

Califano’s passion for pottery began in childhood. She lived next to Coleman Creek, where as a child she dug up clay and shale. By second grade she discovered her dream of becoming an artist. Although she practiced art at Little Rock Central High School, Califano didn’t fully pursue it until 1981 at Harding University in Arkansas.

Califano’s professor, Paul Pitt, was her mentor. She would sit for countless hours watching the movements of his hands work the clay. “My hands hit the clay, and I said, ‘This is it,’” she said.

Photo by Hannah Haseloff

Califano’s pottery plans were put on hold for 11 years as she followed her husband’s pursuit in ministry. He was a pulpit preacher and she was a preacher’s wife. Faced with the frustration of an unprogressive congregation, the Califanos began to apply for ministry positions at other churches. When no offers came, they decided it was time for Califano to pursue her own dream. Little did she know, it would become a ministry as well.

She spotted property for sale in Salado, but at the time, her family was facing eviction from their home and couldn’t afford it. Califano worked multiple part-time jobs while her husband struggled to run a new furniture business. Opening up a pottery shop seemed impossible.

Just when it seemed time to pass up the property, the family received a check from a young couple who had heard about Califano’s interest in purchasing the shop. The young couple was interested in using the front room of the building for a cappuccino business. It was just enough for a down payment. One of the couple’s relatives even wrote a check to help Califano purchase a kiln.

Generosity from the community didn’t stop there.

With only 30 days left to raise the money needed to open the business, Califano received cash and checks from family and friends. Some knew they would be paid back and others didn’t want repayment.

“People would come up to me and say, ‘Are you Titia?’ and I’d say yes, and then they’d grab me, put money in my hand and start praying with me in the middle of the store,” Califano said.

When she would ask for their names, they often replied, “That’s not important. You just know that God told us to do this.”

Califano was grateful for all of the help she received, but with every donated dollar came more responsibility.

“It was so scary,” Califano said. “I was in tears thinking that everything is going to have to come from my hands to provide for this entire family and I had never had that responsibility in my life.”

For two and a half years, Califano, her husband and four children lived in a 350-square-foot room in the back of the shop, trying to get business at the Village Potter to pick up.

Still, the community provided. An elderly couple would often call to check up on Califano and offer to buy toilet paper and other grocery items for the family.

“I bet you’re out of toothpaste too,” the elderly woman said. “And you need some more pimento cheese and moon pies for those kids.”

Neighbors would bring food and offer favors, like letting Califano charge and pay later at Westside Drug store when her children got sick so they could have medicine.

“It was the biggest walk of faith I’ve ever done,” she said. “But I figured if we were being evicted and creditors were calling and we were losing everything anyway, what does it matter? Let’s go for it.”

In 1986, Sir Wigglesworth’s Fudge, the popular fudge shop in downtown Salado, was about to close its doors. Califano stopped by with the intention of purchasing a glass display case she could use to showcase her pottery at her store. The owner of the fudge shop, however, had different plans for Califano. She asked her to take over the business.

“I left rolling my eyes at the thought of taking over the fudge business,” she said. But the owner, Susan Stockton, did not give up. She called her every two weeks to ask, “Well, what did you sell today?”

When Califano would tell her she sold less than $50 on any given day, Stockton would ask how she was surviving on that kind of profit.

Photo by Hannah Haseloff
Photo by Hannah Haseloff

“The Lord works it out at the end of the month,” she recalls telling her.

But Califano couldn’t deny that her pottery business could be better. Soon after, she decided to take over Stockton’s fudge business and learned how to make homemade fudge. She sold her building and moved into a new one complete with a pottery room, fudge kitchen and a new name, Mud Pies Pottery.

Califano’s stepdaughter, Amie Dunn, recalls her children’s reactions to their granny throwing pottery.

“When the girls were little it was the first time they had seen her throw pottery,” Dunn said.  “Hailey, who was 2 at the time, said, ‘Why you all muddy, granny?’ Ever since then she was muddy granny.”

“People always wanted to know if she made mud pies,” Dunn said with a laugh.  “It was always a running joke and when she got the fudge business the fudge looked like mud pies.”

Before Stockton passed away, Califano asked if she could have the sign from the old Wigglesworth’s business: a big wooden painting adorned with bunnies sitting in a pumpkin patch. Today, the freshly repainted sign sits outside of Mud Pies Pottery and reads “home of Sir Wigglesworth’s Homemade Fudge.”

“In 2003, and for the first three months, I wondered if I was still a potter because everyone was coming in for fudge and not much pottery,” Califano said. “But now it’s different.”

As the business grew, customers entered Mud Pies Pottery understanding they weren’t just getting fudge and pottery, but also a piece of Califano’s ministry hidden within.

Isaiah 64:8 is etched on the bottom of all Califano’s pieces, referencing the verse, “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

Just like trying to center the clay on the pottery wheel, “when your life is centered it just sits there and hums,” Califano said.

“When you have issues and it’s off balance then your life isn’t centered in Christ,” she continued. “You can still kind of throw a vessel, but it’s going to be thick on one side and thin on the other, and it’s not going to be as stable and strong.”

When customers come into her store, Califano sees it as an opportunity to share the Gospel. She asks herself, “How will I be his witness in my Jerusalem—where I work every day for the Savior, in my shop.”

Customers often ask if she makes all of her wares.

Califano usually responds, “Not by my strength, not by my might, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

One particular moment Califano remembers is her response to a man, Al Hoeksema, who is also a potter, who questioned if God actually helped her make all of the fudge.

“This business wouldn’t be here without him,” she recalls telling him. “It’s his business, his money, his clay, everything.”

Hoeksema said he respects the manner in which she uses faith to run her business.

“She focuses on her faith and is more of a spiritual potter,” he said. “She invited me to throw pottery for her when I needed work.”

Califano’s journey has been a bumpy one, but she recognizes that it was all a part of God’s plan.

“In the same sense of the word, it’s not about me, it’s about him,” she said. “I’m supposed to shine for Christ and for God through every circumstance.”

All Who Are Hungry |By Elizabeth Arnold

Inside the kitchen, a smoothly operating staff hustles to keep up with the rush of customers. They wear personalized white aprons speckled with faded yellow stains. The 15-by-15-foot space is crowded, walls stacked floor to ceiling with an array of pots, pans and canned vegetables. A worn paper sign above the serving window reads, “All are to be welcomed as Christ.”

A line of hungry people stretches out the door and stays constant for two full hours, an organized flow of people shuffling atop creaking floorboards and faded blue carpet. The aroma of hot casserole and meatloaf wafts through the room. Sunlight pours through the windows and colorful worship banners hang throughout the room, declaring “Peace like a river” and “HOPE in a time of waiting.”

Photo by Alyssa Rummel
Photo by Alyssa Rummel

This is CrossTies Gospel Cafe.

The cafe serves a free, hearty lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Wednesday through Friday in a refurbished crack house on the west side of 10th Street, just a two-minute drive from Baylor’s campus. On any given day, one can see a myriad of tattoos, piercings, ages and skin colors. But Gospel Cafe does not serve the homeless, druggies, drunks or punks. It serves people.

“The last thing I want to do is make generalities about the people,” said Sherry Castello, one of the founders of Gospel Cafe.

The ministry runs on donations from local churches and ample amounts of faith. Donations are welcomed during lunch, but more often than not the collection basket at the front of the cafe stands empty. Even still, they don’t deny anyone.

“They never fail to respond to the needs of the people who show up on their doors,” said Charles Sutton, a longtime Gospel Cafe diner.
Sutton has served time in prison and been drawing Social Security for 20 years. While he admits he could have done better for himself, he is grateful for the cafe’s benevolent presence in the community.

Dorothy Warren is also keenly aware of the impact Gospel Cafe has made on her neighborhood. She’s lived in the house next to the cafe for 25 years and watched the building transfer ownership from a Hispanic family to crack dealers and now to a nonprofit ministry. She has mothered eight children, 24 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and much of the neighborhood in the dilapidated house’s shadow.

“Most people call me Mom,” Warren said. “I don’t care what color they is, even the grown folks.”

When one of Warren’s sons was shot and killed 20 years ago, Gospel Cafe came alongside her. Their kindness made an unthinkable tragedy bearable.
“These are my family right here,” Warren said.

In 1992, the four-person community of the newly formed CrossTies Ecumenical Church purchased the rundown building for $15,000. They were all Baylor graduates, and all women, with thriving professional careers.

At the time, Sherry Castello, 56, had been editor of the Baylor Line alumni magazine for 25 years. Marsha Martie, 37, was moving up in a local construction company. Susan Cowley, 43, was working at her family’s marketing and advertising firm. Still, they each felt called to something higher.

“We came here very much aware of how little we knew about a poverty neighborhood,” said Castello, now 78 years old. “We knew the only way we were going to learn was to be here.”

They spent the next four years and over $80,000 dollars repurposing the house into a functional restaurant complete with industrial cooking equipment, two full dining rooms and several meeting rooms in back. Some of the money came from their own pockets.

When the doors finally opened on April 15, 1996, Castello was the only chef. The cafe might serve 15 to 30 people for lunch each day. Now the record stands at 278. In 2013 they served 24,000 meals. As needs continue to increase and word about the cafe continues to spread, the ministry continues to grow.

“It’s been a matter of mutual trust,” Castello said. “They’ve trusted us that we will be the same people we were last week. That’s really vital, as much as feeding people, are the relationships we build with people.”

While the ministry calls itself Gospel Cafe, it doesn’t force religion on its guests. They don’t hand out tracts, force prayer before meals or anoint heads with oil. They simply let their actions speak.

Photo by Alyssa Rummel

“If you want to serve God, this is it,” said Gail Froberg, who has volunteered with the cafe for the last decade and now serves as one of the standing chefs.
A 75-year-old retired nurse, Froberg worked in the ICU for 35 years and taught nursing several additional years. Now, she goes with Gospel Cafe diners to their medical appointments, demanding they receive excellent care regardless of their financial standing.

“Once you’re a nurse, you must keep on helping people,” she said.

Gospel Cafe is open roughly 11 months out of the year, only closed during spring break, Thanksgiving and Christmas break. Most days feature two different menu items, like chicken spaghetti or Mexican casserole.

“I’m going to write my book on the resuscitation of casseroles,” Castello jokes.

The famous chef salad and staple Gospel Cafe chili dog are also served daily. Many boast it’s the best chili dog in town.

Gospel Cafe doesn’t just meet their diners’ immediate physical needs. CrossTies and Gospel Cafe volunteers have worked to get their guests steady jobs at local establishments like H-E-B, Aramark and Uncle Dan’s BBQ. Marsha Martie, the CrossTies pastor, leads both an Alcoholics Anonymous and a Narcotics Anonymous group in the cafe building. After 20 years in the neighborhood, these diners are their friends.

The cafe relies heavily on volunteers to operate smoothly. Some come regularly, like members of First Baptist Waco, who volunteer the last Friday of every month. Others come only when they can. Still others are familiar fixtures at the cafe, as much a part of the atmosphere as the stifled air itself.

Ernesto Andiño, a former military officer and retired schoolteacher, has been volunteering every Wednesday since last year when his wife of 40 years died. Elijah Hudson, similarly, has been the cafe’s sole dishwasher for more than six years.

Gospel Cafe is more than a charity, more than an altar call. It’s not a pity party. Gospel Cafe is a tangible expression of faith lived through everyday relationships.

A Well-Worn History | By Liz Hitchcock

Stacks of National Geographic copies sit in front of the window as light pours through, illuminating the smallest brush strokes on a piece of white Canson paper. His glasses rest on the bridge of his nose and his curly black hair glistens in the light. If looking closely, paint stains decorate his blue button-down shirt and a U.S. Postal Service patch adorns the front.

The scene of this seemingly disheveled, yet organized and serene studio in East Waco is home to the only American scarf designer to ever work for the Parisian design house, Hermès. Kermit Oliver is an unlikely candidate for a leading fashion brand designer. He leads a very quiet existence, away from the hustle and bustle of the fashion world, just out of the reach of the public and the art community that appreciates his work so greatly.
“It’s all these events that happen that illuminate something and people respond to it,” Oliver said, “But compared to an artist’s work, it’s very modest. It’s serendipity. You’re there in a place and you can take advantage of it, but a lot of times I don’t.”

Photo by Hannah Haseloff
Photo by Hannah Haseloff

A true Texas artist, Oliver designs scarves that are unique in style, bold in color and American-themed, portraying old Western scenes, Native Americans and explorers coming to “les ameriques.” He has worked for Hermès for 30 years now; 30 years which he claims to have been relatively uneventful despite working for one of the premier names in fashion.
Oliver grew up in south Texas and moved to Waco in 1984. His wife, Katie, had family in Waco and had attended Baylor when she was younger. After her grandparents left her their home, the same one she and Oliver still live in, they ended up staying.
“My grandparents lived here. They were both very ill. She wanted me to have her home so we came to live here while she was still alive to help out,” Katie explained. “That was the main reason we came here.”
Despite his bachelor’s degree in fine arts, Oliver never intended to make a career of his work, only showing it when it was sought out. In fact, he said that a career in commercial arts was discouraged when he was in school.
“It’s very modest,” Oliver said. “My art is very ordinary. It wasn’t something urgent that I had to do. It wasn’t something that was primary in my life. It was very down the road. I never went out to promote or engage other people with my art. It was always events that made it happen. With as much restraint as I could, I was able to keep secluded.”
After moving to Waco from Houston, Oliver continued his employment of six years with the U.S. Postal Service and worked for the Waco post office for 30 more years. This has always been his main source of income, enabling him to work freely on his art. He was able to lead a normal life outside of the limelight while working night shifts at the post office.
“My security was never based in my art, so I was able to go out and leisurely do things that I wanted to and any advancement of notoriety came about by happenstance,” he said. “I was just made available every once in a while so it grew out of that. My art was nothing dealing with the art community.”
Oliver is represented by Houston gallery Hooks-Epstein after leaving his previous gallery in Houston, DuBose, because of their insistence of promotion of his work. It was also a driving factor in Oliver’s employment at the post office.
“It was one of the reasons I decided to start at the post office,” he said. “The format had changed with the new owner of the gallery I was with. You had to go out and be more promotional and I had never done that.”
Oliver only has one solo exhibition of his work every two years, keeping out of the public spotlight, but was still able to draw the attention of Hermès during one of his gallery showings in Houston.
“Every two years I have a one-man exhibit. That’s the only time I have an offering of my work,” Oliver said. “Every two years I make a public showing of myself for about three hours and that’s it.”
It just so happened that Hermès contacted him through Hooks-Epstein after Lawrence Marcus, the late son of entrepreneurial giant Neiman Marcus, recommended him for the job of designing scarves for the brand. Marcus, who lived in Dallas at the time, had stopped by one of Oliver’s rare solo exhibitions and fell in love with his work.
“[Hermès was] interested in introducing American themes,” Oliver said. “It would either be the history of Neiman Marcus or the opening of the Forth Worth Weston museum or a choice of my own. Lawrence Marcus had suggested me as an artist. Xavier [Guerrand-Hermès] Dumas came and interviewed me. I decided to do an American Indian theme. That’s where it all began.”
With an idea of what the scarf will look like, Oliver uses photo references to place specific images in a design that will eventually become an ornate and colorful silk scarf. Waco-McLennan County Library on Austin Avenue is his largest source for references, he says, and he spends a good amount of time there selecting images he can use for ideas.
“When they suggest a theme, there are artists working toward it,” he said. “It’s a matter of finding references and putting them together. I know where everything goes; it’s just a matter of finding an object I can put there.”
The designs of the scarves are typically radial, with a dominant focal image in the center and other smaller objects set around it in a circular manner, but others are simply detailed scenes and images set in the silk square. Much like his paintings, Oliver primarily focuses on people in his designs, using objects and patterns to support the figurative nature. Other designs include cornucopias, different Texas wildlife and even the occasional historical figure, such as Marquis de Lafayette.
During his time with Hermès, Oliver has designed 17 scarves for the brand. His first, released in 1982, is called Pani La Shar Pawnee, and his most recent was released in limited quantities in February of this year.
La Vie Sauvage du Texas was designed for the Caesar Kleburg Wildlife Research Institute and some proceeds went to conservation efforts made by the King Ranch, owned by the Kleburg family.
Oliver’s scarves go for about $425 retail, if buyers are quick enough to reserve one since many times they sell out quickly. Used, on eBay, his scarves can range up to $1,000.
Despite his ongoing work and relationship with Hermès, Oliver intends to keep to himself. He even turns down the offer to visit their factories and mingle with the upper echelon of the company in Paris.
“We’ve gone twice and refused 28 times,” Oliver said. “They want us to come every year. It’s been about 30 years working for them. It’s been a quiet 30 years.”
Oliver’s paintings are just as impressive as his scarf designs. Contrasting many traditional Texas artists, Oliver’s paintings are not only primarily figurative, they are graphic and minimal in their design, using negative space, tight rendering and solid colors. He uses acrylic and acrylic washes in the majority of the paintings to create a loose feel that doesn’t have the look and feel of being painted. Since Oliver studied the history of art, he admits that his influences do not come from one or two specific artists, but a number of different artists and just as many time periods in art history.
Throughout almost every painting Oliver has created he uses allegorical symbolism, often referencing biblical events or symbols, using his paintings to tell a story. He says he prefers that the viewer interpret the story of his work in their own way before they learn what he meant the images to mean. That way they can find their own meaning in it.
Dr. Mary Ruth Smith, professor of fine arts at Baylor and fabrics and fibers artist, describes Oliver’s work as elaborate yet minimal in its design.
“Kermit Oliver’s work is full of symbolism,” Smith said. “Composed of thoughtfully selected and arranged images that provide the viewer with a wealth of information to decipher. The way he places images is deliberate so that he is able to tell the story that is depicted in his pictorial compositions. His work is very intricate; simple, yet complicated. Many are radially designed, especially the Hermès scarves where colorful and detailed drawings fill squares of silk fabric with style, insight and beauty.”
In May 2014, Oliver’s work was displayed at the Martin Museum of Art at Baylor, in which museum director Karin Gilliam, said all different mediums of his work were displayed, including paintings, drawings, prints and even his renowned scarves.
“We feel very privileged and honored that Kermit has done these exhibitions with us because he does so few,” Gilliam said. “Even he was saying that he has only spoken publicly or given a lecture three or four times, and two have been at Baylor. We recognize that it was an extraordinary effort on his part to do the exhibition. He did that to support the arts in Central Texas, which is really important to him. Especially the efforts of young, emerging artists.”
Aside from his few shows at either Hooks-Epstein or at the Martin Museum, there aren’t many places people can view Kermit Oliver’s work. He continues to be an anomaly in the art world, promoting himself as little as possible but still managing to obtain great opportunity and even greater recognition and respect.
“Everywhere we’ve gone I’m always the best-kept secret of the place that I’m at,” Oliver said. “It shows that I’m really reclusive.”

The Men Behind The Plan

Story by: Rebecca Malzahn

Photo by: Kyle Beam

Before Shane and Cody Turner became two of the most sought-after property developer and construction duo, they grew up learning everything they know from their father in Groesbeck, 45 minutes from the stirring streets of downtown Waco.

“It just happened. You do what you know,” said Shane Turner, referring to his family’s business background.

Shane and Cody’s dream to inspire a movement in the downtown area has become a reality, fueled by a strategic plan to introduce a young energy to historic streets. With a real estate background, the brothers began their business with three pieces of downtown property. It started on a personal level, escalated to a leasing business and transitioned into a profession of developing and selling space for future hot-spot businesses.

“It’s a lot of risk. We knew that going into it. I was young, single and could take risks.” Many believe that’s the type of people it takes to tackle a project like this one. Without high expectations and daring goals, transformations may not occur.

The brothers hope to see an expanding development on the fringes of downtown, with great opportunity between Franklin Avenue and interstate 35. “Those to me are the areas with the most opportunity and are going to have the most positive effect on the downtown,” Turner said.

Lights, music and people speckled the streets of what downtown used to be. The steady transition back to this atmosphere, beckons a new energy where individuals from all generations work together to develop a new community.

“Baylor graduates are staying in Waco now instead of leaving, keeping their ideas here,” Turner said. “People come to Baylor from cities all over the United States so they’ve seen other things, able to implement their experiences in Waco.”

The means of expanding are present. The ideas of growth are strong. The sense of awakening has begun.

Greater Things Are Still To Be Done In This City

Story by: Austin Eck

Photos by: Rebecca Malzahn


The earth trembled as the shockwave traveled through the nearby neighborhoods. The French doors of a house were blown off their hinges and lodged themselves into an interior wall. Glass shattered and formed small missiles that took aim at anything and everything in their path. Insulation poured in from the ceiling forming a dirty, gray snow bank in the center of the room.

On April 17, 2013, the West Fertilizer Company’s plant caught on fire and exploded, killing 15, and a new chapter in the history of West was underway. The cause of the fire is unknown.

It was a Wednesday night, which meant religion class at the Church of the Assumption for Michele’s 9-year-old daughter, Lauren. Michele, principal of West Elementary School and Baylor graduate, dropped Lauren off at 6:15 p.m. like she had done so many times before. Behind West Middle School a fire was growing at the fertilizer plant. Michele, still unaware of what exactly was happening, deviated from her routine. Typically, her daughter’s religion class was a chance to walk the track at the middle school to get away from it all. On this day, she broke that habit and instead went to her parents’ house on the south side of town. As she was leaving to pick her daughter up from religion class, her parents invited her and her daughter to eat with them.

Bear In Dirt

They were eating at the table when the walls shook, and there was a loud boom—a  boom that will resonate in the ears of many citizens of West for years to come. The boom was so loud, it scared the children in the house. “I remember the kids just screamed at the top of their lungs,” said Michele. Immediately, the family tried to figure out what caused the noise. “We thought it was a burglar trying to break through the windows,” Lauren said.

Walking outside to make sense of the loud noise, Michele saw the superintendent of the school district who told her that the fertilizer plant had exploded. Panic struck as her thoughts shifted to her home, just a few blocks from the plant. Racing towards a mushroom cloud of smoke, she got within three blocks before the devastation became so apparent that she knew her house was gone. “It was unreal like a war zone,” she said. “A bomb had gone off.” The impact of the blast was not limited to buildings; it had left its mark on the people in the area as well. “When the blast took place, people must have been in their cars either seeing what was going on or driving by,” she said. “I just remember this one lady just had blood dripping down her face. I guess the windshield had exploded when she was in the car.”

Michele Scott’s house was not salvageable, but her focus did not shift to rebuilding it. Her attention was needed in the school system. As principal of West Elementary School, her main priority was getting her students back in school.

Her family did not stay in West that night, but found a hotel room in Waco instead. Plans to reopen schools were deliberated mere hours after the blast. Marty Crawford, superintendent of the West Independent School District, called a meeting for all of the administration and school board at 8 a.m. the following morning. “Our superintendent already had this goal; we needed to get kids back in school on Monday,” said Michele.

The following days were stressful. West Middle School about 1,000 feet from the plant was destroyed, and as a result its students were moved to the elementary school to continue their classes. School officials worked to convert storage rooms into classrooms for the incoming students from the middle school, and portable buildings had to be installed behind the school to house the excess students. “Was it kind of crazy? Yes, but everybody just stepped up, and did what we could do for the kids to keep their lives normal,” said Michele. “That was our big push. We got to get kids back in school. They’ve got to have some normalcy. All the adults were going crazy, so we had to be strong, pull together, get in there and start teaching.” That day counselors from across the state converged on West to help any student needing someone to listen. Others spent the day in the classroom with their teachers. “For the most part, teachers did their best to teach the kids that day,” Michele said. “They had curriculum; they were ready to go.”

One does not have to look far from the school to see the impact of the explosion in West. A drive down Reagan Street reveals a town picking up the pieces, rebuilding and bringing routine back to life. Traveling north along the street, visitors will pass through a residential part of town before encountering the high school football field and the plot where the middle school once stood. Seeing the football field and nothing else, there is no inclination of what happened months ago. The field looks like any other high school football field in Texas and now once again is a host to student athletes. On Friday nights, the lights beat down on the green field. Fans fill the bleachers the same way they once did. Below, young men compete in a game full of passion and excitement. This scene is a stark contrast to the flashing lights and sirens of the ambulances that overtook the field on the night of the blast.

Across the street, all that remains are the columns at the front of the school the children used to walk through on their way to class. The playground stands, and the bright yellows and blues of the equipment contrast against the white columns and gray rubble. The middle school track Michele use to pace, stands scarred from the blast. The red and black scoreboard that once illuminated middle school football scores has fallen to the ground.

Past the schools, faded black X’s speckle the front doors of residences, signaling danger. The chipped paint has worn thin from the rain and sunshine beating down. The grain of the wood shows through the faded X’s. Other houses are undergoing repairs and others, like Michele’s, have been demolished.


All along Reagan Street construction crews work to rebuild the lost homes. The yellow bulldozers push the brown dirt and workers quietly go about their tasks. The neighborhood is still until the hammer of a worker breaks the silence. Each impact echoes throughout the street, dies out slowly and the street falls silent again. “You have to help your neighbor,” said Jesus Buseamante, head of construction for A.A.A. Honest Concrete. “That’s what Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor.’ Besides that you get a good feeling.”

Since the blast, Michele and Lauren have lived with her parents. Michele and other teachers who lost their homes have put personal matters on the backburner in order to help the school and the kids of West. “We didn’t ever stop,” she said. “After that explosion in April and May we were here just focusing on the kids.” But just because she is strong at school does not mean she is invincible. “I put on a pretty good game face here at school because I have to be strong,” Michele said. “I will be honest, there are times maybe once every month and half or two months I have to have some time away and try to process all of this.”

It would be easy to cut her losses and move out of town, and the thought has crossed her mind. “This is my home,” she said. “God is going to carry me through all of this. He got us this far; he’s not going to let us go now. I’m trying to just really stay strong in my faith. It’s going to work out he’s got a plan.” Six months after the fertilizer plant exploded, things are starting to return to normal at West Elementary School. Kids play on the playgrounds and smile after they complete a somersault and eagerly await their ride home at the end of the day. But there is more than meets the eye. “With everything we’ve been through, we’ve stuck together and we’re just doing what’s best for kids to keep their lives normal,” Michele said.

It is apparent, West is not the same as it was on April 16. The rebuilding process is far from over, and there is much to be done in the city. West’s community will not give up, and simply put: they will rebuild.

Down But Not Out

Story by: Malory Green

Photos by: Kyle Beam

A house destroyed by flames, a family of six children left with nothing and no time to develop a young business, would be enough to crush anyone’s spirit. For a father, the immediate question is not how to rebuild a home, but where his children’s next meals will come from. David Brydon of The Pecan Shop, a local farm that has roots in the Waco Downtown Farmer’s Market, has overcome this nightmare and  seen the community come together in a way he never imagined.

When Brydon took over the Pecan Shop from its retiring owners in 2010, continuing its legacy as a family business greatly appealed to him. “I wanted a business where I could work with my kids… where I didn’t have to go away from the farm,” Brydon said.

20121125 Brydon family picture at 810 West 31st

The Pecan Shop slowly began to expand, dipping into local markets and making its way into the brand new Waco Downtown Farmers Market in 2011. Brydon and his family worked together to realize his dream to keep his business close to home.

This dream threatened to transform into a nightmare when one phone call from his wife in 2012 changed everything. “I was at the farmers market when [the fire] happened,” Brydon said, “I have six children and the youngest just turned four and the oldest is 20.”

His family just made it out in time. “My wife had laid down to take a nap and she started smelling smoke,” Brydon said. His daughter smelled smoke as well but didn’t know the source. She went to take a nap outside to evade the odor and saw the flames.

“By then, the house was starting to fill with smoke,” Brydon said. “They got out and it went up within minutes, totally in flames.” His wife Amy believes that if it had happened at night, they might not have gotten everyone out in time.

“She called me and Sarah [Brydon’s oldest daughter] took the little ones to our neighbor because they were very upset.” By the time Brydon arrived, there were six fire departments there who had arrived within minutes of being called.

Brydon recalled the few meaningful items they were able to salvage from the flames from a closet that stood as an addition on the house. “In the closet was a handmade harp that my daughter Grace played, there were some files that survived and a handmade shotgun that had been my father’s.”

Though they’re not entirely sure what started the fire, Brydon is fairly confident it was electrical. The Pecan Shop stood as a separate building away from the house and was spared, but what stood on the other side of the house wasn’t so lucky. “We had a carport the other direction and the wind was going that way. It melted from the heat.”

He calls the entire ordeal an overwhelming experience, made easier by the outpouring of love and support from friends and neighbors. “[The fire] all went very quickly and immediately our neighbors were there offering help, food, money and a place to stay.” Those that surrounded his family did everything they could to help this family in their need.

This kindness went deeper than simple southern hospitality, as local community members were not the only ones who helped carry the Brydons when they needed it the most. The Red Cross offered their services as well. “I’ll never forget how much I needed that care and how much it was provided by our neighbors, friends and church.”

The week before the fire, Brydon met with his father-in-law John Cogdell. They brainstormed the possibility of purchasing a farm together to expand the business and make it a family affair. The following Friday, six days after the fire claimed virtually every material possession they had, Brydon and Cogdell visited the 40-acre farm complete with 1919 farmhouse they have since called home.

Cogdell sold his house in Austin and moved to the farm with Brydon’s family, each doing their part for the family business. Retired faculty member from The University of Texas at Austin, Cogdell volunteers to come to the farmers market every week and sell their pecans.

The reason he comes to the market every week is much more than the business it brings. Cogdell said, “the people are interested in the quality of the food, they’re just good people and I often find something in common with them.”  His sentiments are shared by the rest of the family and the Pecan Shop has not strayed from its core as the home-grown business Brydon hoped it would be.

Teaching his children valuable skills and instilling a good work ethic in them is very important to Brydon. Each child, no matter their age, has a place in the family business. “The younger children can help bag pecans and my oldest daughter is in charge of the recipes and preparing them,” Brydon said.

His daughter Sarah learned accounting through the bookkeeping process by keeping track of the Pecan Shop’s finances. “It’s just such good practical work,” Brydon believes. He said the children learn the importance of “attention, being careful, learning how to work with money, and relating to people…The Farmers Market is one of their favorite things.”

The Waco Downtown Farmers Market helped launch the business in the early stages.  The Pecan Shop had a presence at the Clifton Farmers Market in 2011 and was one of the first vendors to set up shop when Waco opened its in 2011. It is open from 9a.m. to 1p.m. and many vendors only accept cash. However, the Farmers Market has a token system in which customers purchase a certain dollar amount of tokens and use those to purchase produce, cheese, meat and whatever else they want.


Brydon remembers over 2000 people on the very first Saturday of the Waco Downtown Farmers Market when they bought everything he had. Since then, the business has expanded to markets and stores including Whole Foods in Austin, and online as well.

The flames are a part of the Brydons’ story, but they’re not the most important. David Brydon recalls his daughter’s sentiment as they drove away from their charred home in 2011. She had always hoped that material things were not the most important thing in her life and the fire assured her of it. Her father remembers her statement, “It’s the relationships that really matter.”

Sustainable farming incorporates the idea that friends and neighbors can provide for each other, producing what they can and building friendships along the way. This is the driving force behind the Waco Downtown Farmers Market and others like it. Rather than frequenting super-sized chain stores, proponents of sustainable farming hope to produce for and buy from the same people who would stand beside them during a tragedy like the fire the Brydons experienced.

“When everything is so fragmented we start getting to know each other and provide for each other,” Brydon said of the people he has come to know during this process. “It is so satisfying and it has changed our lives.

Say Good Morning To Your Neighbor

Story and Photos by: Jordan Corona

On a brisk November morning, the Brazos rolls away, pensive with stories from a hundred years ago, ducks quacking along with it. It’s a murky flow, ebbing glinted bits of yellow Texas sunrise at its Waco banks. The river runs against this flat turf, northwest to southeast, at a mighty-Brazos diagonal.

For years, people living at the southwest bank watched the sun rise by the east. They said good morning to their neighbor and began a day’s work. Later, right about suppertime, those at the east bank bid their Brazos valley neighbors goodnight.

Say good morning to your neighbor.


Lula Jane’s Bakery has an honor-system coffee bar by the checkout counter. Nancy Grayson started the bakery on Elm Avenue. Atop a counter, adjacent to the checkout, there’s a coffee pot, some sweetener, an assortment of repurposed mason jars and unmatched coffee cups, and a jar for your honesty.

Just after cutting the grass behind the bakery’s garden, Grayson took a bite from her chocolate chip cookie and said, “I think integrity is extraordinarily important. Inherently, people want to be good.” For 50 cents, you may pour a cup of “cheap coffee,” and not have to feel out of place at the bakery if you can’t afford much else. Lula Jane’s is a new establishment in the community. She said the idea was to give people a meeting place, a reason to come to east Waco, sit down and talk and have some good food. It’s prophetic behavior in this neighborhood. The community’s best life was, is and will be when it’s positively engaged with it neighbors.

Say good morning to your neighbor.

“I think east Waco is vibrant but forgotten,” Grayson said.

Historically, the east Waco community had trouble proving its essentialness to the “other side of the river,” when the city expanded into a mid-century era of modernity. Waco’s growing pangs happened in sync with small municipalities all across the county. The 1950’s were tough on most urban centers as people became interested in moving away from the city after the Second World War. The federal government subsidized development projects, namely home building.  Automobiles were much more popular than decades before so suburbia not only seemed desirable, but much more doable for some.

Racial integration, which was not popular in the southern part of the country, stimulated these sorts of migrations, meaning a more stratified municipality. The white population concentrated in the suburbs while the African American population moved from the outlying rural parts of their cities, into downtown districts, like east Waco. The Census Bureau reported the percentage of African Americans living in cities rose to 42 percent in 1950.

Dr. Van Allen was the vice president at Paul Quinn College, a school established by the African Methodist-Episcopal Church for African-American students. What started as a trade school in 1872 developed into a liberal arts college in the predominately African-American community of East Waco. And while the country wrestled with its race issues, leaders in civil rights mobilized from behind their pulpits and desks, gathered their congregants and walked their community to a new society.

The Rev. Ronald Gilbert, who pastored Carver Park Baptist Church, couldn’t march. Although he sat in a wheelchair he stood for the defenseless. He and his friends gave the community a progressive identity—a sense of purpose and belonging. “People looked to Reverend Gilbert for direction,” Allen said. “He had the trust of the people; they believed in his leadership.”

Times were uncertain and even violent at times, but the community’s leaders showed the city a new day, a second chance at life together.

They said good morning, neighbor.

Things in East Waco grew darker in the years after 1989, when Paul Quinn closed its doors for the last time and moved to Dallas. Three years later, Gilbert died. The community maintained its status as a city center for at least two decades after suburbanization. But the expansion ultimately strained the downtown economies on both sides of the river. At the end of the day, many business owners had to tack boards across their windows. “The parents told the young folks (students) to get an education ‘so you can get out of here,’” Allen said. “And the education they received didn’t teach them what they needed to straighten the system up. The kids never came back,” he said solemnly.


The departure of Paul Quinn College characterized the last of a long exodus of income and people from East Waco. The community had sprung a leak. While too many people moved away, too quickly, the buildings became dilapidated, and the place donned a stereotype for criminal activity. “Waco was a challenging environment when Paul Quinn left,” said Allen. “It left a void in the Waco experience.”

Allen still lives in a pretty, red, brick house with long white columns reaching up to the roof. Across the street from his home lies what remains of the old Paul Quinn campus.

Sometimes while he’s tending his front lawn, children will pass by on their way to school. “The kids will ask, ‘Hey mister, do you live there?’” he said. “I wave at them and say, ‘I sure do.’” Allen wants to be a positive role model in his community. He wants to give back. So he’s staying.

It’s been years since Jeanette Bell has mothered children in her home on Spring Street, just off Elm Avenue, behind the East Waco library. In fact, her children now have children of their own. Once, she would lean over the sleeping, warm bodies, hug and kiss them good morning for it was time for school. “We’d pray and thank God for letting us see another day,” she said. “And ask him for help making good decisions.”

Bell remains grateful for a new day. As her community in East Waco begins to shake off a few decades of social and economic disparity, Bell’s taken a leadership role in her neighborhood to see a change. Bell serves as president for her neighborhood association in East Waco and sits on the Waco Downtown Development Corp. board. “I’ve really been trying to promote housing, economic, community and business development over here,” she said.

Bell, who’s lived in Waco for more than 20 years, said she couldn’t help but feel there has been a general lack of investment in her community for years. “This area was once thriving, surviving and providing,” she said. “Now there are no jobs.”

Far from a cry for pity, Bell respects the power of the people in her community and said things are changing for the better. But it’ll take some intentional thought and creativity to restore what over 60 years of economic decline did to the community.

It’s a new day for Waco.

The East Waco community, particularly, is waking to a new era of socially responsible development and progress. Considering the nature of the community’s specific difficulties, “socially responsible” seems to be the key ingredient when it comes to development. It’s not enough to bring new things—East Waco’s got streets full of concrete things, boarded-up things, broken things. People in East Waco are talking. East Waco wants to not be forgotten, but to make a lasting legacy with the rest of the city.

Marissa Binkoski and Emily Heit are interns at the World Hunger Relief Farm. Every week, they drive to J.H.Hines Elementary to teach an after-school garden club. “It’s always terror and then fascination,” Heit said. The two laughed thinking about the first time they showed the children a live turkey. She and Binkoski are introducing some very non-urban ideas to the students’ understanding.

“It’s important to know where your food comes from,” said Binkoski. “As I see it, food is foundational. And you don’t have to be super talented to grow your own food.” Heit convinced the children she spends time with are Waco’s future.

She said making the natural world relatable to children who live in a community scarred by urban culture will equip those children to contribute better things to the community.

“When a community is part of a garden, they’re participating in a real life and death processes,” Binkoski said.

Engaged community development means good things for East Waco. Economic growth can work wonders for a community in disrepair. But the brokenness and the decay were never as much about the missing dollars as it was about being forgotten and being left behind.

East Waco is strong and vibrant, but that’s nothing new. It’s a community of hard-working people. Many of them stayed with their neighbors and friends, committed, even after things got tough.

New life to an old downtown district will feel something like soul. But the true life of a community comes with the dawn.Watch the sunrise in the east and say, “Good morning, neighbor.”