Most Interesting People of 2014

Dr. Kent Brantly
Dr. Kent Brantly’s blue eyes are heavy and tired but reveal a joy and peace deep inside of him that few of us could comprehend. When he talks to you, his eye contact doesn’t flicker. These are not the eyes of a weak man, but one who devotes his life to constant service of others and has seen the horrors of Ebola.
    The 33-year-old doctor moved to Liberia with his wife and children before the Ebola outbreak, just a few months after he completed his residency at Fort Worth’s John Peter Smith Hospital.
    At that time he felt called to Liberia, a nation torn apart by civil war and with little medical services. Then the outbreak happened. 
    “We moved to Liberia to serve people there. And we weren’t going to leave when there was a disaster there. There was more of a reason to help,” Kent said.
    So they stayed.
    “Treating it as a doctor is humbling because it is out of your control. It is sobering to walk through that valley with people, to sit by their bedside and hold their hand while their family member next to them is dying of the same disease,” Kent said.
    Then Kent became infected.
    “To suffer from it yourself is to identify with it in a totally new way,” he said.
    Right now Kent isn’t practicing medicine, although he has plans to return. Raising awareness for medical and social needs in West Africa through Western media is his current full-time job.
    And if there is a silver lining to his catching Ebola, he would say that at least it turned the cameras toward the suffering in West Africa. Before an American contracted the disease, he said nobody cared. Now 10,000 are infected with Ebola and more than 5,000 dead.
    “Here, it is a small club [of infected]. There, it is devastation,” Kent said. We live in a global community, and they need to recognize [that] what is happening across the world is also happening to you.”
    Kent’s favorite Bible verse (Mark 6:34) could describe the heaviness and puffiness in his eyes.
    “It comes at a time when Jesus is exhausted. John the Baptist, his cousin, was just beheaded. And all of that is happening, and he says to the disciples, come with me to a place where we can rest,” Kent said.
    But when Jesus arrived, a crowd of people had followed him there, needing his help.
    “He knew they needed someone. Even in all of that strain and stress, He realized they needed compassion. That is what we were trying to live out there [in West Africa]. There were a lot of times when I felt defeated and overwhelmed,” Kent said.
    And, yes, Kent would go back in a heartbeat if it weren’t for his family. He’s not going without them now, but they all plan to return as soon as he can.

 


Luke Wade
It is almost harmonious that Luke Wade’s musical career started at The Moon, a small bar on Berry Street across from the Fort Worth landmark, Record Town, where the infamous Kris Kristofferson, T-Bone Burnett and brothers Sumter and Stephen Bruton would hang out in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s to jam.
    With a soulful voice often compared to Ray LaMontagne, Luke is now a finalist on NBC’s The Voice. Ever since, this self-proclaimed Fort Worthian has had a fascinating ride in 2014.
    Luke never even played music until he was 18 years old, but he developed an appreciation for music early when cleaning his mother’s dance studio to earn an allowance. He would turn on her record player and mop to Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Otis Redding, The Beatles and more. Then when CD players became a thing, his sister bought him Pearl Jam, Collective Soul and Dave Matthews CDs.
    At 26 he moved to Fort Worth from his rural hometown, Dublin, Texas. He spent the next few years playing gigs with his friends, whom you might recognize now as well known in the indie music scene—Josh Weathers, Nick Choate, David Matsler and Justin Pate.
    Because of this, he says he owes his success to his opening fan base in Fort Worth. “There were times when I was an inch away from quitting,” Luke said.
    Then he uploaded a YouTube video of his singing. A “scout” at The Voice saw this, and at 31 his career got the green light.


Victor Boschini
Victor Boschini would say he is one of the most boring people in Fort Worth. He thinks his office is even more boring. But it is his enthusiasm for life, his work and his thousands of beloved students at TCU that make him anything but boring.
    This is also why you will most likely find him scampering around campus oohing and awing over the new construction, like a boy, admiring the excavators and huge holes with his sweet grin and bright eyes.
    Or out talking to students and teaching classes. He craves connections with real people. They aren’t just stats and numbers to him. “Vic,” as he prefers to be called, even teaches a freshman seminar class about whether higher education is a force for negative or positive social change in America. He typically holds class in unorthodox places to keep his students’ minds fresh and alive.
    “I love the immediate feedback you are getting with students. If you’re a teacher, there is no better feeling than watching the light bulb go on,” he said.
    Fort Worth and TCU have the connectedness and a warm, familial feeling he’s not found at any other university.
    In his 11 years at TCU, the world has watched the campus change, and its football team has billowed across the U.S.
    Although Vic would say he’s just along for the ride, his enthusiasm is infectious. In 2008, TCU launched its $250 million campaign but almost doubled that goal raising $434 million.
    Vic said 12 of his students are younger siblings of other students. That says something.


MaryAnn Means-Dufrene
At 35 years old, MaryAnn Means-Dufrene has accomplished more than most people have in their old age. More recently, she was the deputy chief of staff to Fort Worth’s Mayor Betsy Price, and currently she is the new Susan G. Komen Greater Fort Worth (KGFW) director.
    Both her mother and grandmother are breast cancer survivors, but she also took on this job because it is her life goal to empower women in all ways from all backgrounds.
    In 2015 she plans to spend $700,000 on local breast cancer education and awareness, particularly working to reach rural and underserved neighborhoods.
    She is on the Girls Incorporated of Tarrant County board, which works with “high risk” girls who take an elective period in school to “learn how to live out their dreams.”
    And when she’s not doing all of that, she’s spinning on her stationary bike in her house at the break of dawn, watching documentaries on Netflix to put her life in perspective.
    MaryAnn moved to Fort Worth from Corsicana when she was 15. Her dad was appointed to the Federal Bench as U.S. District Judge, a position with a Fort Worth office. Although she was intimidated as the “new girl,” she quickly made her mark at Arlington Heights High School.
    At AHHS she had the highest scoring goal record (at that time) for soccer. She also promised herself she would graduate in the top 10 percent, and she did. She won junior class secretary and senior class president, again, as the new girl.
    For Susan G. Komen, she wants to focus on prevention, diet and lifestyle changes. As someone who struggled with eating disorders and majored in psychology, she gets it.
    “Holistically, we should be looking into the whole picture,” she said.


Dr. Christina Robinson
    Dr. Christina Robinson’s house burned to the ground last summer. The vulnerability that comes with loss and transition was imminent.
    The mother of two small children was even more shocked when the community she serves as a pediatrician on a mobile clinic, which is the first of its kind and launched this year, to underserved neighborhoods came through to help her replace items like lost baby clothes, strollers, bottles and cribs.
    Christina grew up in Stop Six, an infamously poor and dangerous neighborhood in Fort Worth. She became the first in her family to not only get a college degree, but also a medical degree.
    Her biggest inspiration was her own pediatrician who mentored her through the hardships of becoming a doctor even though she came from an underprivileged family.
    When she was 4 years old, her mother asked her what she wanted to be.
    “A lawyer, a doctor and a teacher,” she replied.
    She and her mother smile at that memory because she does all three as an advocate for families who need support from a professional—she has no problem calling the school to tell the principal this child isn’t simply a problem child, but one who is dealing with horrible truths at home.
    She’s also a teacher because she teaches families how to care for their loved ones once they walk away from her office on wheels.
    Her biggest dream is for her mobile clinic with the UNT Health and Science Center to become a fleet, serving everyone who needs healthcare but may not have access because of poverty, insurance hindrances or even fear of deportation.

 


Russell Kirkpatrick
Putting together a massive operation like Fort Worth’s first-ever Food and Wine Festival (FWFWF) makes the event’s founder and former director Russell Kirkpatrick a happy man.
    There are few people that find the stress of coordinating hundreds of various factors and moving  parts to create a successful event, fun.
    Never knowing how it was all going to come together, he would say the FWFWF ended up a huge hit.
    “It was surreal at how well it all went. The biggest compliment was that people walked up and said they felt like it had been going on for years,” Russell said.
    In its first year, the FWFWF nonprofit raised more than $10,000 for local charities and had visitors attend from 14 states and 82 cities in Texas.
    The bigger the project, the more intrigued Russell becomes. Which is why he has always been fascinated by Reata, his employer for eight years. After he married his wife and moved to her hometown of Fort Worth, she took him to her favorite restaurant in town.
    The four-story, 22,000-sq.-ft. operation grabbed his heart and attention. He recently became their general manager, doing what he loves, again, putting all the moving parts together and making them work.
    He may have come from the small Texas town of Lockhart, but Russell is bringing big city sophistication to Fort Worth.


Brandon Finnegan
It is unusual to make it to baseball’s major league. Period. But when a 21-year-old gets called up from 1A minor leagues (skipping 2A and Triple A) into the major leagues overnight, that’s interesting.
    Not only that, but Fort Worth-native Brandon Finnegan is the first young man to pitch in both the College World Series and the MLB World Series in the same season.
    Brandon always looked up to his father, Gary Finnegan. Like his son, he was one of those rare left-handed pitchers, and he pitched for TCU in 1989. So as soon as his little boy could pick up a bat, Gary had Brandon on the baseball field.
    Brandon would say he’s most calm on the field. He breathes deeply and tunes out the world around him. It’s off the field when he feels stress and pressure.
    He doesn’t really like school and never did, but he did turn down the Texas Rangers when they tried to draft him right out of high school to go to TCU instead.
    “No high school kid is ready for pro baseball,” Finnegan said.
    Brandon lives a hectic life. People all over Kansas City recognize him. When he comes home, all the girls ogle over him. But he always makes time for his adopted friend, a terminally ill, 39-pound, 5-year-old named Micah Ahern.
    Micah has Neuroblastoma and undergoes treatment at Cook Children’s Medical Center. Brandon recently had the entire Kansas City Royals team sign a bat and brought it to Micah at the hospital in early November. “He was freaking out,” Brandon said.
    Brandon knows he brings Micah joy, but he said what Micah does for him is even more amazing.

 


Heather Reynolds
Hanging on the wall of Heather Reynolds’ office at Catholic Charities Fort Worth (CCFW) is a framed Benemerenti Medal from Pope Benedict XVI, the highest honor a layperson can receive in the Catholic Church.
    She has more than 300 employees throughout the 28-county diocese and serves more than 100,000 people a year, up from 55,112 when she started as CEO nearly a decade ago at only 25.
    Heather is only 35 years old and already the National Advisor to the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers. What makes her different (and gaining her national attention) is her approach to poverty.
    “So much of the ways our services have been built in our country are the short-term fixes. We want to go the distance with people. We don’t want transactional relationships; we want to be transformational. Gone is the day for us where we just hand out money,” Heather said.
    In 2012, CCFW partnered with United Way to teach 900 Fort Worth families financial literacy so they could move out of poverty. Later that year they partnered with American Red Cross to provide more than 6,000 one-way trips a month. That’s a big jump from the 250 rides a month that they previously provided.
    “Transportation is so important for their clients. Us giving them a simple ride can change their life,” Heather said.
    You may even find her riding along with her clients, reaffirming her perspective on how important her work is.
    Not only has she been working closely with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan on how to approach poverty in this country, but last summer this Fort Worthian testified on how to move families from government dependency to self-sufficiency before the House Committee on the Budget.
    Heather has gained national attention in 2014 for the respect she has for her clients, and the respect she feels they deserve.


Fritz Rahr
If founder and CEO of Rahr & Sons, Frederick “Fritz” Rahr, were a beer, he would be the Winter Warmer. “It’s laid back, easy to drink, yet bold and full of spice and cheer,” Fritz said.
   But his favorite is his Rahr’s Blonde. Their blonde was the first beer made by Rahr & Sons and also the most difficult to make, hence his favorite. Not only that, but it has his bombshell beauty of a mother—a Julliard graduate and opera singer—on the label.
    He owes his success to his family’s deep roots in the beer business. They had a brewery from the 1830s until Prohibition. They eventually jumped back into the family business dragging young Fritz to beer conventions and brewery tastings.
    He cultivated a palate at a young age, but his road to success was brutal. After attending the “world brewing academy,” Siebel Institute in Chicago, Fritz struggled to find brewing work in Fort Worth. He went back to school to get his MBA at TCU and changed careers, but in 2003 he tried again. It wasn’t easy, but it seems things changed in the last few years.  
    This year the regionally famous brewery celebrates its 10-year anniversary, and 2014 has been a big year for Fritz and his beloved employees. In 2014 Rahr received awards that he considers “a huge deal.” Like a national grand champion at the summer U.S. Beer Tasting Championship for their blonde. The World Beer Cup awarded Rahr & Sons the bronze for the Storm Cloud, which is their English-style IPA. At the Great American Beer festival, they won a bronze for the Regulator, which is a German-style doppelbock. In November they won the gold medal for the same beer in the Brussels Beer Challenge.
    No wonder some refer to him as the “Godfather of the North Texas beer world.”

 


Brian Luenser
As a little boy, Brian Luenser remembers watching his father’s friend, a photography pioneer, take pictures. He was so intrigued but not with the subjects being photographed. Brian studied the photographer. He remembers thinking: What did he see when he looked through that lens? He never forgot that feeling.
    Brian continued to live an arid, ho-hum life. He never really drank beer or partied in college. He never even made friends. He would say his only friend was his wife, Bettie, whom he married 32 years ago.
    He received an accounting degree from UTA and found success as the cofounder and director of finance for Aquasana. Still, mediocrity oppressively ruled his life.
    But that was before everything changed.
    “I didn’t realize I could love life until I was 50, so I woke up and started living,” he said.
    Now at 58 years old, he is considered a local hero and famous photographer. Two and a half years ago, he had two Facebook friends. He now has 10,100 followers on Facebook, which grows by the hundreds every week. In 2014 alone, he gained 6,000 Facebook followers.
    Brian is now anything but boring. The minute he leaves his office, he roams historic neighborhoods and downtown, capturing the essence of Fort Worth—its fickle and strange weather, funky and friendly people, beautiful skyline and rich history.
    With a child-like wonder few possess at his age, he can hardly hold a conversation because something beautiful might flash in his peripheral vision. He runs over to get the shot.
    He’s also changing lives and gets countless letters from fans that tell him just that. In November one woman wrote him an email for her dying sister.
    “You have truly made her smile this last year through her journey with your photography. I thank you so much. She doesn’t know I am sending you an email.”
    “Some, like today’s letter, give me the energy of a rocket,” Brian said.
    Brian and his wife never could have children, so he hopes his pictures will be his enduring legacy.