By all accounts, this has been an incredible week in Ellis County — with lots of exciting developments taking place.

On Monday, the Ellis County Commissioners Court authorized the sale of several county buildings along the square in downtown Waxahachie to developers Jim Lake and Amanda Moreno Cross, who are also in the process of purchasing other downtown properties, including the Rogers Hotel.

The development group has been instrument in several other revitalization projects, including the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff, south of Dallas.

On Friday, the Waxahachie City Council and the city’s Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone Board approved an agreement to provide tax incentives for the multi-million dollar redevelopment initiative that will transform the heart of the city.

The revitalization of downtown Waxahachie has been a steady, ongoing project for more than a decade since the adoption of the Downtown Master Plan. A lot of people — in both the public and private sectors — have invested a lot of time, energy and resources to breathe new life into the city’s historic downtown corridor.

Each successful step has brought the city closer to its goal of returning downtown Waxahachie into the hub of activity and commerce it once was.

The Lake/Cross development project is the final piece of the equation, bringing the resources to restore multiple buildings at one time and create the catalyst needed to create an entertainment and retail district that drive commerce.

If they can duplicate the success of the Bishop Arts District, downtown Waxahachie will be thriving. It’s well worth the 20-mile drive north to see why so many folks in Waxahachie are so excited.

Personally, I would be absolutely be thrilled if they could talk the owners of the Hunky’s Hamburger restaurant in the Bishop Arts District to open a location in downtown Waxahachie. I think the 1950’s-style restaurant — complete with ice cream milkshakes and made-from-scratch onion rings — would be a perfect fit for our historic downtown.

My “wish list” aside, this week’s development is fantastic news for Waxahachie.

While the sale of the buildings officially closes next week, we look forward to covering the transformation in the weeks and months to come — and we look forward to welcoming the new businesses that will soon be locating in our downtown corridor.

Congratulations to everyone involved in the project — and there are a lot of thank you’s to go around. Well done, Ellis County. Well done, city of Waxahachie.

Navarro College visit

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Barbara Kavalier, the incoming president of the Navarro College system.

In September, Dr. Kavalier will assume leadership of the college when Dr. Richard Sanchez retires.

A native Texan, Kavalier served as the president of San Jose City College in California prior to her new position with Navarro.

Based on first impressions, I have to say the Navarro College Board of Trustees made an excellent decision in selecting Kavalier. She is outgoing, personable and extremely passionate about education and the role it plays in helping preparing citizens to meet the ever-changing demands being required by the workforce.

Having spent several years working with tech-industry leaders in California’s Silicon Valley, she is very well versed on form partnerships and alliances — and the need to adapt educational curriculum to fit workforce needs.

During our chat about the rising cost of higher education — including college becoming unattainable for many bright students — I was impressed with her answers and what she saw as the future role of Navarro College.

I shared with her one of the strategies of the city’s economic development commission, which seeks to expand health care opportunities in our community. In conjunction with the new Baylor Medical Center, the commission is working to create a hub for new health care industries, which could be located in the I-35E, Highway 287 corridor.

I posed the question of possibly expanding Navarro’s curriculum to include more health care fields, with the possibility of partnering with Baylor Medical Center to allow students the opportunity to receive their required on-the-job training.

While I was hoping to plant a seed, I was pleasantly surprised when Dr. Kavalier told me she already had an appointment to visit with Jay Fox, president of Baylor Medical Center of Waxahachie.

Although it was just a first impression, I see a lot of good things to come with Dr. Kavalier’s leadership at Navarro College.

One thing I’m certain of, while she will be based at Navarro’s main campus in Corsicana, she made it clear that she will be spending a lot of time in Ellis County — and not just for fundraising functions.

And that’s great news for Ellis County — for both our growing industrial base needing a skilled workforce, and our students needing affordable, practical higher education options.

Mary’s Day Update

Last Sunday I wrote about Mary’s Day, a benefit for Mary Thomas, a longtime community volunteer recently diagnosed with cancer.

Mary is not only my friend, she is an incredibly generous human being and one of my favorite people in the whole wide world.

Reluctantly, after a lot of pleading, she consented to allow the Waxahachie Optimist Club to hold the benefit. Mary didn’t want anyone making a fuss over her.

It was heart-warming to see so many people come out to the Optimist Pool Thursday afternoon — many of whom had never met Mary. They read my column in Sunday’s paper and wanted to help out.

Several cancer survivors made a point to stop by and tell Mary their story, telling her if they could beat cancer, she could too, urging her to never stop fighting.

Mary, until this year because of her cancer, had managed the Optimist Pool. To all of the lifeguards — and many of the kids who regularly swim there — Mary has served as a role model, a mentor, a surrogate mother, a boss and a friend. You couldn’t help but be touched to see her interact with all of the kids, and how much they missed having her at the pool this year.

Right at $1,600 was collected in donations during the event, money the family can certainly use. There’s no question that Mary was extremely humbled by the showing of support from the community.

I sat with Mary and her daughters Jessica and Jenna for a while beneath the awning in front of the pool house.

Jessica is a lieutenant in the Navy and was able to get a transfer to the Naval Training Center in Fort Worth, which allows her to see her mom nearly every day.

Jenna, the youngest of Mary and Dale’s three children, graduated Waxahachie High School in June and will be leaving in a few weeks to begin college at the University of Colorado where she received a scholarship.

Jenna offered to delay her education in order to stay home and help take care of her mom. But Mary wouldn’t hear of it. She told her that she’s been given a great opportunity to receive a college education, and she didn’t want her to miss out on losing her scholarship.

Still, she admitted how difficult it was going to be for her and Dale once their “baby” left the nest.

We had a long talk about becoming empty-nesters. I told how hard it was for me when Alex, our youngest, left for Texas Tech. She told me the story of Dale pulling off the side of the road and “bawling like a baby” when he took Jessica, their oldest, to the airport when she left for college. “He’s going to take Jenna leaving really hard,” she said.

Tears were flowing down both our cheeks when our conversation was halted by more guests stopping by to wish Mary a happy birthday, and courage on her fight against cancer.

A little while later I had to get back to the paper, so I gave Mary a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

“You know I love you,” I said, wishing her a happy birthday.”

As I stood up, she grabbed me by the arm and looked me in the eyes.

“I know,” she said. “That’s the only reason you’re still alive after putting my picture on the front page of the paper.”

I turned about four shades of red as everyone within earshot began rolling with laughter.

Mary has a long road ahead of her. But she also has a lot of love and support from her family, friends and community. And more importantly, she hasn’t lost her sense of humor.

Neal White is the Editor of Waxahachie Newspapers Inc. Contact Neal at or 469-517-1457. Follow Neal on Facebook at Neal White – Waxahachie Newspapers Inc., or on Twitter at wni_nwhite.