Illinois native Tracie Hicks found her way to eastern Wake by way of a Louisiana swamp, and she never looked back.
Q: You stay busy helping your husband operate the family landscaping business, along with assisting to plan town events like the Harvest Festival. But even in school, you were never afraid of a little hard work, correct?
A: Yes. I am originally from southern Illinois and when I graduated high school, I attended Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill., one of only six colleges in the country that is a work program school.
Q: And what exactly is a work program school?
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A: Well, Blackburn is a private school but the students offset tuition by working at the college – they can cut grass, work in the school’s cafeteria, mop floors – whatever needs to be done. Every student has to work between 15-20 hours a week. The students help take care of everything. And it also helps the college cut down on costs. It was really great. You get a private education in a small setting and you are also working at keeping your tuition down.
Q: As you were doing these jobs around your college, what was your favorite task, and which did you like the least? Did you ever have to clean toilets?
A: No, but I would have to say my least favorite was doing data entry in the accounting department. My favorite job was working in the college book store. I did the pricing and I shelved the books. I was the book store manager – I really liked that job.
Q: So how did you find your way to North Carolina?
A: I wanted to teach history and when I graduated college, I had never seen the ocean and I wanted to be somewhere that I could get to the ocean so I interviewed for a job at Roanoke Rapids High School and I took the job. That was 1998.
Q: What led you to eastern Wake?
A: I wanted to get my masters – I wanted to become a principal so to move closer to Raleigh and N.C. State, I took a job at East Wake High School. In addition to teaching history, I coached softball and cheerleading. I never did go back to get my masters. After teaching here for a couple of years, I wanted to move closer to my family so I moved to Nashville, Tenn. Well, while I had been in Wendell, I got to know and make friends with Mark and Kim Vardy. Not long after I arrived in Nashville, I got this call from Mark asking me to join their team to take part in the Atchafalaya 24-hour eco challenge race in Louisiana.
Q: What exactly is that?
A: It is a 24-hour race that includes running, biking, canoeing, stuff like that. It starts at noon and ends at noon. So I went to the swamps of Louisiana and (husband) Scott was also on the team – that is how we met.
Q: So with such a long race, you really got to know each other.
A: Exactly – we talked about life, our goals, our life experience. You hear people talking about things clicking with a person. Well, we just clicked. I truly knew then what people were referring to. I moved to this area fairly soon after that. I taught at Wake Forest-Rolesville High the last semester of 2002. My husband wanted me to come and help him with his landscaping business and I really liked it. My parents were farmers and I came from a farming community so I have always enjoyed it. We were married in June, 2003, on a Friday the 13th.
Q: Weren’t you scared Friday the 13th would be bad luck?
A: I figured if we could make it through the swamps of Louisiana together, we were meant to be (laughing).
Q: How do you find time while running a family business and raising two children to help organize Wendell’s Harvest Festival?
A: I got involved assisting with chamber events while my husband was chamber president because you know, behind every good man, is a good woman. I just love planning events. With the Harvest Festival, I try to take it a notch further – make it more inviting to people. I am a people pleaser. I just want to have a nice, cohesive event. To see kids smile and people having fun. The whole thing is fun to me.
Q: Was there anything about moving to the South that took an adjustment period?
A: When I first got here, I was not used to the ‘yes sirs’ and ‘yes ma’ams.’ We just didn’t say it where I was from but now I think it is one of the best things about living here. We teach our kids to say it. I like the respect that it gives people, and I want my kids to be respectful.
Correspondent Dena Coward