Texas Living

14 Texans You Should Know

By Abi Grise Morgan 10.27.22

Everything really is bigger in Texas, especially people’s hearts. Over 29 million people inhabit our state’s 268,597 square miles, making it the second-largest U.S. state by both area and population. While a fair share of celebrities, legends, and athletes call The Lone Star State home, it’s time they share the spotlight. The influential Texans making the biggest difference in our lives and making history for our state are not in the movies or on the radio — they’re our neighbors and everyday folks with extraordinary drive.

Today, take a break from the celebrity gossip rags to read the true and inspiring stories behind the down-to-earth heroes living next door.

Knolle Dairy Farm Owners
Sandia Knolle

The People Growing Texas Agriculture

Texas is the fifth largest milk producer in the U.S., yet family dairy farms struggle. More than 120 dairy farms have closed their barns in South Texas — but Sandia Knolle’s family farm refused to put their legacy out to pasture. They adjusted their farm’s business model and continue making artisanal cheeses to date with milk from their signature Jersey cows.

Deb and George Terrell’s 14-acre farm in Aurora, Texas, is paving the way for a new fruit in Texas agriculture: luffa. This subtropical vine is a member of the cucumber family, and while you might not recognize it at first glance, your cat might! The Terrell’s luffa is used in various innovative products, from skin exfoliation to sinus treatments to Fluffy’s favorite new toy!

Few things say “summer” like a fresh-cut Texas watermelon. The next time you sink your teeth into a juicy slice of watermelon at a backyard barbeque or Sunday potluck, you might just have the Wiggins Farms to thank. Kerri Wiggins’ family has farmed watermelons in the Rio Grande Valley for 20 years by hand. It’s a labor of love you can taste.

Abby Law was only 17 when she created the All Star Showdown, a special needs stock show in her hometown of Stratford, Texas. She grew up on a farm, and agricultural pride runs in her blood. Thanks to her production, 19 participants were given opportunities to share their own pride with their communities.

Kirk Burnett

First Responders Who Braved COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Texas in 2020, life as we knew it came to a screeching halt. People didn’t go to school, the grocery store, or work, except first responders. These selfless men and women—whom, let’s be honest, we usually take for granted—worked around the clock to safeguard our communities at truly vulnerable moments: firefighters like Kirk Burnett and Ryan Michels, paramedics like Nicole Michels, and respiratory therapists like Brigette Munoz, who comforted patients battling (and sometimes losing their lives) to the virus.

And then there are the unsung heroes who, while not on the frontlines, showed up at work every day because their communities counted on them. Farmers like Brent Tymrak did everything they could to protect their workers and keep food on our tables. Veterinarian Delaney Sweeney kept her doors open during the pandemic despite supply shortages.

Chris Wiesinger

The People Keeping Texas History Alive

If you’ve ever lamented a tulip bulb that didn’t bud a second year, it’s time to call Chris Wiesinger “The Bulb Hunter” and mastermind behind the Southern Bulb Company. Wiesinger is passionate about bulbs. His life’s work is hunting down and cultivating rare perennial bulbs that thrive in the South. And in the process, he’s dug up fascinating pieces of Texas’ gardening history.

You’ll hear many languages while eavesdropping on conversations throughout Texas. Perhaps one of the rarest and most unique is Texas Deutsch, the German-English equivalent to Spanglish. Texas Deutsch is a linguist’s catnip and was the basis of Hans Boas’ academic research named The Texas German Dialect Project. His documentation was the first of its kind to preserve a slice of Texas’ German cultural heritage.

storm chasers
Ed Grubb

Fearless Adventurers Braving the Elements

Texas is known for its wild weather: hail, ice storms, flash floods, earthquakes, and, last but certainly not least, tornados. While most of us run away from inclement weather, Ed Grubb has spent most of his life chasing storms. You can see his videos and photography documenting the powerful, horrendous storms that wreak havoc over our state on major news outlets, TV stations, and magazines.

Matt Read had an inexplicable desire to walk the entire perimeter of Texas. And so he did. In case you’re wondering, that’s 3,200 miles, and unlike famous long-distance hiking trails, this trek had no established route. He traveled for months with just a few items in his pack and sheer determination. Along the way, he faced off with a mountain lion and made friends across the state, including an adorable, furry traveling companion named Raisin.

We’re All a Piece of The Story of Texas

These influential Texan stories, and countless others in our archives, are reminders that to achieve the seemingly implausible, you really only have to do two things: decide to do something and persevere. Ed Grubb waited 40 years for his tornado. Kerri Wiggins tends to her watermelons by hand. Matt Read walked the perimeter of Texas through rain, blisters, and sweltering heat. These everyday people—our neighbors, friends, and family—are proof your wildest dreams aren’t all that far off when you continue to put one foot in front of the other every day.

Another story to tug at your heartstrings: Justin Shafer, a Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Agent whose personal encounters with loss propels his desire to help others and advocate for life insurance.

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