Most fascinating Houstonians of 2016

2016-12-24 | Houston Chronicle

Dec. 24--It's been quite a year, and we're not even talking about the presidential election. Plenty of Houstonians, including a few athletes, have made headlines in 2016. Here are the people we couldn't stop talking -- or reading -- about.

Simone Biles

The 19-year-old is the most decorated American gymnast of all time with a combined total of 19 medals from the Olympics and World Championships. This year Biles won the hearts of millions during her Olympic debut at the 2016 Rio Games, where she won a total of five medals (four gold, one bronze).

Simone Manuel

The Sugar Land native set both an Olympic and an American record for the 100-meter freestyle swim and became the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold for an individual swimming event.

Lindsay McCormick

Native Houstonian and sports broadcaster Lindsay McCormick has attended seven Super Bowls, covering three. The upcoming Super Bowl LI in her hometown will make eight. She was a Showtime guest correspondent for the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight, a sideline reporter for ESPN's The Basketball Tournament, and she hit the road in 2013 as social host of NBC's "Sunday Night Football." McCormick also is diving into acting. She plays a talk-show host in the movie "The Bounce Back," with actor Shemar Moore, opening soon in theaters.

Whitney Mercilus

The Houston Texans' outside linebacker launched a charitable foundation, WithMerci, in September. The organization provides advocate services and support to families of children with disabilities and special needs. He also recently announced a partnership with James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd as a major investor in One Fifth. The ambitious restaurant will change culinary concepts annually over the next five years.

Adeeb Barqawi

The former Teach for America educator created ProsUnitas, an ecosystem of support for inner city children. After realizing that the poverty-related problems his Kashmere High School students faced were greater than any one teacher or school district could solve, he launched the non-profit to provide healthcare, juvenile justice assistance, early childhood education, after-school programs and food to disadvantaged youth. Thanks to seed money from a generous donor, Barqawi has been running the organization full time in 2016.

Bertie Simmons

At age 82, Bertie Simmons is one of the best principals in the state. She came out of retirement to take over the position at Furr High School, one of the most gang-plagued and economically-challenged schools in the city, more than 15 years ago. Last fall, Furr became one of 10 schools to win the first ever "super school" contest sponsored by Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and the XQ Institute. The prize? A $10 million grant to help Simmons meet Furr's gang-related challenges.

DeAndre Hopkins

The Houston Texans' wide receiver admittedly has a thing for man bags, Yorkies, skinny jeans and David Yurman. Earlier this year Hopkins was fined $6,076 for wearing improper cleats. Turns out, they were Yeezy 350 Boosts cleats designed by Kanye West. He recently treated kids from Houston Children's Charity to a shopping spree at Champs Sports in Memorial City Mall.

Charles-Louis Yoshiyama

In June, the Japan native became Houston Ballet's newest principal dancer. Artistic director Stanton Welch promoted him onstage directly after Yoshiyama's performance in "Giselle." He joined the Houston Ballet in 2008 as an apprentice. This holiday season, he stars in "The Nutcracker."

Cary Fagan

Cary Fagan was hand-picked by Kanye West to photograph the rapper-turned-fashion designer's collection shown at New York Fashion Week. And it's all thanks to Instagram -- well, kind of. A mutual friend introduced West to Fagan's work, but the Houston photographer's popular Instagram feed played a big part. Fagan's new book "Naked" is available for purchase on this website, caryfagan.com. Look for an upcoming exhibit at Esperson Gallery.

"Married to Medicine Houston" cast

After years of speculation, Houston finally got a juicy reality show, Bravo Media's "Married to Medicine Houston." The show documents the drama of four female physicians, one doctor's wife and a slew of scene-stealing characters including Cindi Rose and sassy live-in mother-in-law, Maribel Henderson.

Jordan Fein and Lauren Elie

Houston's social calendar is a rigorous one. What happens to all of those leftover flowers and centerpieces? Lauren Elie and Jordan Fein, both 13, answered that question by founding Flower Power Gives. The service organization rescues would-be discarded floral arrangements from charitable events and repurposes them for distribution at DeBakey Veterans Hospital, Covenant House, Salvation Army, Star of Hope and Interfaith Ministries.

Dave Ward

The KRTK-13 news anchor is hanging up his hat after 50 years at the station. The distinction earned the veteran broadcaster a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for longest tenure. His commitment to reporting will be immortalized at the Dave Ward Crime Stoppers Building, named in his honor. Ward is recuperating from heart surgery.

Chita Craft

The KHOU-11 meteorologist celebrated several milestones in 2016. Her June marriage to Lane Craft at St. Luke's at the River Oaks Country Club was hailed as "the wedding of the year." With cameos by Slim Thug, Bun B and Paul Wall, who could argue? The couple later announced they are expecting their first child, a son, in the spring.

Sallie Sargent

As president and CEO of the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee, she has the best job in town. But it didn't come easy. Committee chairman Ric Campo asked her to find 11 major sponsors to finish a $25 million fundraising project before he'd consider her application. With the big game just a few weeks away, Sargent admits that her biggest challenges are sorting out the city's traffic and transportation problems.

Noe Marmolejo

This native of Alice, Texas, has been teaching jazz at the University of Houston for more than 26 years. He's currently the associate professor of music and director of jazz ensembles, but moonlights as the director of the Jazz Institute of the Texas Music Festival.

Tiffany Masterson

The mother of four -- who lives in West University -- launched her Drunk Elephant line with six core products in summer 2013. The line, which features several different non-toxic skin care items is now one of Sephora's hottest skin care lines.

Daniel Peña

The assistant English professor at the University of Houston, Downtown won a Pushcart Prize in November for his story "Safe Home." The story is about a young undocumented man who's deported from Texas to Mexico and is drawn into the Juarez cartel as a drug pilot. His work is set to appear in the 2017 Pushcart Prize Anthology.

Richard Tapia

The director of the Center for Excellence and Equity in Education at Rice University and professor of applied and computational mathematics recently received a Public Engagement with Science Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, joining the ranks of other notables like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson. He's also the first Latino to receive all three of the United States' most prestigious science and engineering awards.

David Keck

During his stint at Camerata at Paulie's, this former opera singer -- yes, you read that correctly -- earned master sommelier status, making him one of three master sommeliers in Houston. There are only eight in Texas. Keck prepared for over seven years to pass the reportedly grueling test of wine expertise.

Travis Scott

This has been a big year for the Houston native and rapper. He debuted a new album in September and it quickly rose to the No. 1 spot in the Billboard 200. His pop-up shop merchandise stores have shown up in Los Angeles, New York and, of course, Houston. He recently headlined Houston's Day for Night festival.

Joyce Echols

The Houston designer has a line of luxury shoes that are made in Italy and sold locally at Katia and Tootsies. Echols' shoe designs are touted as "designed in Texas and made in Italy." Country music star Miranda Lambert turned heads on the Country Music Awards red carpet in a pair of Echols' hot pink heels complete with a toy gun and holster.

Pierre Alexandre

The Haiti-born actor played the role of Frank N. Furter in the production of "The Rocky Horror Show" at the Hobby Center. His performance has been described as "suitably sexually aggressive." The actor and musician also is heavily involved in helping LGBT youth in Houston.

Kealia Ohai

The Houston Dash forward's name popped up in headlines after rumors spread she and Texans star J.J. Watt were dating. She confirmed the rumors during a 2 Up Front podcast, officially taking Houston's most wanted bachelor off the market. The two may have met because she's the sister-in-law to Watt's teammate, Brian Cushing.

Felix Florez

Love the carnivorous offerings on the menu at Brennan's of Houston, Benjy's and Pappas restaurants? Thank Florez. As the owner of Black Hill Meats, which supplies humanely raised meats to the city's top chefs and restaurateurs, he's been called "butcher to the stars." This year Florez opened Ritual, a hot spot in the Heights, and received the Legends of Houston Restaurant Award at the Houston Culinary Awards.