A Legacy of Excellence

A Legacy of Excellence

by Steve Gamel

Four years ago, Yvonne Estes had no clue what the Texas Leadership Salute was or anything about its history. All she knew was her son, Joe, was in line to win a college scholarship and received a professional photo shoot out of the deal.

Today, Estes not only is the driving force behind the program, but she has selflessly taken ownership of what was once a small concept graciously operated and passed down over the last 34 years by area photographers to showcase the good deeds and amazing accomplishments of area high school students.

“When I go to bed at night, I’m usually thinking about what made me happy that day,” Estes said. “This makes me happy.”

The mission of the Texas Leadership Salute is to celebrate and showcase high school leaders in the North Texas area with their families, educators, peers, and others who may not know them in the community. TLS aims to recognize one or more outstanding students with a scholarship and a portrait display as a tangible acknowledgment of their high school leadership and academic achievements.

All scholarship and portrait dollars are raised and made available from area businesses and various donors. The program, which was started in 1984 by photographer Don Barnes and wife, Dee, originally awarded one $500 scholarship. Estes has expanded the program to $1,500 split between two first-place winners and two runner-ups.

This year’s winners were Nathan Hardwick from Flower Mound High School and Swastika Sah from Denton High School. Jackson Crandall of Frisco Reedy and Abbey Harrison from Lake Dallas were the two runner-ups. Estes, the proud owner of Yvonne Estes Photography in Hickory Creek, said there were a total of 280 applicants this year. That list was whittled down to 98 before final selections were made.

“It’s hard work, but I wanted to do more,” Estes said. “I get more pleasure from doing things for people and seeing that smile and getting the thank yous than I do when they pay money.”
That servant attitude is what makes Estes the perfect person to carry on such a long-standing tradition. From its humble beginnings under the direction of Mr. Barnes, the program has grown from servicing only Denton High School to as many as 12, including Lake Dallas, Guyer, and Argyle.

Estes took the reins this year, following in the footsteps of her photography mentor Peter Horn. He and wife, Marla, had operated TLS for approximately 10 years, and Peter helped guide Estes – a former educator of 20 years – as she looked to chase her passion for photography. When Mrs. Horn mentioned that they were thinking about passing the TLS torch to a new photographer, Estes was their obvious choice.

“I remember telling them that I didn’t have any money to buy it, but they wanted to give it to me,” Estes said.”

Estes said the next step is to continue expanding the program as a 501c3, which would allow bigger companies to jump on as sponsors in the coming years. After all, the students she acknowledges have proven the sky is the limit when it comes to what they can do with their future. Why not reach for the stars with Texas Leadership Salute?

“This is important to me, and it obviously drives me,” Estes said. “I don’t think I’d be doing it if it didn’t.”


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