Jill Wagner: Famous Winston-Salemites

Winston-Salem is one of the greatest small cities in the world. Famous Winston-Salemites will feature some accomplished people that lived in Winston-Salem and now have moved on to do great things. All of the questions will be about their time in the Twin City.

Jill Wagner was born in Winston-Salem in 1979 at Forsyth Hospital and lived here her entire childhood. After she graduated Cum Laude from North Carolina State (business major and marketing minor) in 2001, she made the decision to move to Los Angeles to pursue modeling, and instead a very successful acting career followed. She is known for her “All-American charm and magnetic sense of humor.”


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“Acting found me, I wasn’t looking for it,” said Wagner. “I had no previous training in college or high school and it wasn’t something I was familiar with. I went out to L.A. more to experience a different ‘world,’ so to speak.”

Wagner caught a break soon after she arrived in California and was hired on the MTV hit series, Punk’d with Ashton Kutcher. She has also been a regular on MTV’s Teen Wolf and Spike’s Blade: The Series. Wagner earned the nickname, “The Mercury Girl,” for her television ads for Ford Motor Company’s Mercury. She also starred in Junebug, which was filmed here in Winston, in Splinter, and appeared in episodes of Bones and Monk.


Wagner had a long stint as the host of ABC’s hit show, Wipeout. Currently, she is the host of Handcrafted America, which comes on Friday nights at 9:00. Wagner will star with Jason Momoa in the upcoming movie, Braven, and an upcoming Christmas Hallmark film, Christmas Cookies. 

Her modeling work includes graduating from the Barbizon Modeling school, where she was awarded as “Miss Barbizon.” She has been featured in magazines like FHM and Stuff, and she has been named as one of the 100 most attractive women several times by Maxim.

She grew up with her dad, David Wagner, her brother Brandon, and her grandmother. Her dad is a former Marine and owned Wagner Tire Company off of Waughtown Street. She went to Wallburg Elementary School and Ledford High School in Davidson County.

Along with her acting, Wagner also does a lot of charitable work for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She loves to regularly visit home and was very recently engaged.

Learn about her favorite things about her hometown, Winston-Salem, below:

Winston-Salem Questions:

When you are away from NC, what do you miss the most?
I miss my family … I miss just being able to get in the car and see my Grandma in ten minutes. I miss walking around in my dad’s backyard, throwing the ball to his Newfoundland, Elvis. I miss all of the simple things.


What are your favorite local Winston-Salem restaurants?
Village Tavern, Olive Garden, and Cagney’s

If you were on a stranded island and could just have one breakfast for the rest of your life, which Winston-Salem treat would you choose: Moravian sugar cake, a Bojangles biscuit, or a Krispy Kreme doughnut?
Krispy Kreme forever!!!

Jill Wagner mug

If you were to move back to the area, where do you think you would want to live?
Funny you should ask, as I am currently looking to do just that. Not sure of the area yet, but I am into old historical houses. I’m on the hunt!

What is your favorite place to go in Winston?
My Grandma’s house.


What is your favorite North Carolina Beach? Place in the mountains?
Hilton Head and Boone.

Did you ever go to Ziggy’s?
I can’t remember who I saw there, but I got stuck in the middle of the mosh-pit and decided to never go back after that! Haha!

Where all did you have jobs in the area growing up?
My first job was as a sales associate at Abercrombie and Fitch.

Do you have any highlights so far this season on Handcrafted America?
My highlights so far for season two have been making a kayak and getting to take it out on the water, and meeting an Artisan that made her own yarn from sheep’s wool. Obviously, I love playing with the animals, throughout the day… Lots of great things happening this season…. I am trying not to break anything in my guest’s workshops this season!!!!



Laurel Holloman-Notable North Carolinian

Writing about famous Winston-Salemites and local difference makers has been a great experience. Now I am ready to expand the blog to the great state of North Carolina to talk to some North Carolinians who have gone on to do extraordinary things. Notable North Carolinians will focus on these individuals favorite parts of the Tar Heel State.


Laurel Holloman (website) grew up in Greenville, NC and attended school in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, before going on to become a very successful actress and artist. Her most notable roles include a six-year stint starring with Jennifer Beals on Showtime’s The L Word and in the hit movie, Boogie Nights.

Holloman went to St. Peter’s Catholic School in Greenville, and then to EB Aycock for middle school, and Rose for high school for a year. She finished high school at St. Mary’s boarding school to in Raleigh. “I liked boarding school and wanted to go even though it was a tougher school,” said Holloman. “I thrived there and it made college seem easier.”



She went on to study at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she took an improv class during her freshman year. She took summer school at UCLA, and through those two classes she realized she wanted to pursue acting.

She also got into art during her time at UNC. “I took a sculpture class and made an A and the art teacher said, ‘you really think out of the box,’ maybe consider switching your major,” said Holloman. She was very focused on acting, and art was more on the back burner.


Holloman started painting more when she moved to California.  She painted to keep herself “sane” when she wasn’t acting.  “Painting made me feel more in control,” said Holloman. “Acting is all about getting hired to be creative and painting is basically having complete control of your creativity everyday.”

She has starred in several additional shows and movies (full list), and her art is now featured all over the world. She is known for her “vibrant use of color and large scale pieces,” which often capture “stirring emotions with movement in three dimensional effect.” She has an upcoming exhibit at the Museum Jan van der Togt coming this summer.


Holloman currently lives in Los Angeles with her two daughters, Nala and Lola. Below she answers questions about her favorite things about North Carolina:

North Carolina Questions:

Do you still have family in NC? 
Yes, both my parents and my two brothers and many cousins!!

Do your two children get to visit North Carolina very often? 
About once a year.  I love the beaches there and I love Asheville, NC.  It is a really great state.

Do you prefer Eastern NC barbecue or Western NC barbecue? 


Do you have a favorite museum in North Carolina?
Yes, the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.

What is your favorite beach of North Carolina?
Cape Hatteras because it is so natural still and untouched. I have gone every summer as a child and I  really love Ocracoke Island (I have camped there), and Beaufort. Oriental is another favorite, which is really sleepy, but fun.  I took my kids to Oriental last summer and they loved it. We went fishing and wake boarding. We caught a puppy drum and a local restaurant cooked it for us. We caught a Red Drum but he was huge so we put him back.


What about a favorite place in the mountains of NC? 
I love Asheville for the friendly people and the food. One of my  best friends just got married there.

What are your top three all-time restaurants in North Carolina?
Crooks Corner in Chapel  Hill  (I was a waitress there in college!!).  Fearrington House is another favorite for something special.  My dad loves ON THE SQUARE in Tarboro, NC and is a regular there, where he drives over from Greenville and it is really a special place for wine and food. I also like any oyster bar anywhere!! I love oysters and  grew up eating them because we had a second home on the Pamlico Sound and it had an oyster bed. Most people don’t know that they are a really healthy and a nutrient dense food.  I love Parker’s BBQ. Okay, I have to stop!


What do you miss most about living in North Carolina?
I miss the friendly people and how time slows down a bit. I love the beaches in the summer because the Pacific in California is so cold to me, and I miss the Atlantic Ocean. I also had a horse there, so I miss riding through the woods on a cold day!
I would say I miss North Carolina more than than ever now that I am raising kids. I remember wanting so badly in college to get out and get to NY or LA, but now that I live a very busy urban life, I appreciate what my North Carolina childhood offered. It offered me such an appreciation of nature and also the appreciation of family. My dad worked in apparel (and real estate investments), and he had summers off so we spent time at our house on the Pamlico Sound. We were free to run around and catch snakes, catch crabs from a crab pot, go skiing or tubing, and play with all with any of the kids nearby. There was no such thing as a scheduled play-date, we just walked over and played with nearby kids.
We all learned to drive cars or trucks on country roads at an early age. My brothers  and I could drive the two boats we had once we were old enough.  We also mostly ate what we caught. If we were in Greenville, we were at my brothers baseball games…… always  as a family.
As I got older, the summers were filled with horse shows. I showed North Carolina Hunter Jumper and Eastern Hunter Association.   My mom learned how to pull a double horse trailer for all of this.
This is what I miss the most as I raise kids that sit in LA traffic and have phones and iPads and scheduled play-dates and sleepovers.  I live near the beach in Los Angeles now, and I am very lucky in that regard, but I still live in a very large city. I miss the small town feeling  the most, and the friendly people that come with it.

Do you have a favorite concert you saw growing up in North Carolina? 
I dated a musician all through college so there were a lot! He took me to Neil Young, and I remember seeing Joe Satriani at the Rialto in Raleigh. I basically watched The Connells and Superchunk on a regular bases because most of the bands knew each other.  Frank, my college sweetheart played in Mary on the Dash. Chapel Hill was a big music scene at the time and full of lots of creative people. It was a fun time. I also went to  see Echo and the  Bunnymen at Duke and remember that being a really great concert. I think I wrote a paper on “The Killing Moon,” one of their songs. I really loved Chapel Hill and the  professors  I had. I credit that time in my life as a big creative exploration.

If you could only have one for the rest of your life, which would you prefer: a Bojangles biscuit or a Krispy Kreme doughnut? 
I’m a savory girl, so a Bojangles biscuit with ham.


What about sweet NC iced tea or Cheerwine? 
I’m addicted to iced tea, but I don’t like it sweet. I think I did when I was about nine though.

Did you grow up a UNC fan? Who are your favorite UNC athletes of all time? 
Yes I did!!! I would say Michael Jordan and of course Mia Hamm for soccer. They are examples of amazing athletes.

Famous Winston-Salemites-Austin Highsmith

Winston-Salem is one of the greatest small cities in the world. Famous Winston-Salemites will feature some accomplished people that lived in Winston-Salem and now have moved on to do great things. All of the questions will be about their time in the Twin City.

Austin Highsmith spent her first nineteen years in Winston-Salem, where she was one of the nicest people ever to attend R.J. Reynolds High School.  She left Winston to major in Political Science/Studio Arts at UNC-Chapel Hill. Highsmith currently lives in Los Angeles, CA where she is an actress and improv comedian. She has over 12,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter.


She has starred in such movies as Dolphin Tale (1 and 2) and Gangster Squad alongside such famous actors as Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, and Ryan Gosling. Highsmith won the Crystal Reel Award for Supporting Actress in Dolphin Tale. She has also had television roles on such shows as Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Criminal Minds, and Castle. She is currently working on the upcoming films: The Unwilling, Open Roads, and The Bone Box.


All About Winston-Salem:
What years did you live in Winston-Salem?

I lived in Winston from 1981 (when I was born) until I left for college in 1999.

If you were on a stranded island and could just have one breakfast for the rest of your life, which would you choose: Moravian Sugar Cake, Bojangles Bo-Berry Biscuit, Krispy Kreme Hot and Now Doughnut?
Oh man, this is a really tough question! I have to go with the Moravian Sugar Cake. I’m actually really surprised that I just said that because I can CRUSH a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts in mere seconds.

Which Winston-Salem neighborhoods did you live in?
I don’t even know the names of the neighborhoods I lived in! It’s around the intersection of Country Club and Peacehaven. And then we moved further down Peacehaven just past the 421 entrance/exit. Both (thankfully) are in the Reynolds High School district.

What different schools did you go to?
I went to Sherwood Forest Elementary and then Cook Middle School. I don’t think Cook exists anymore. And then I went to RJ Reynolds High School.

Who were your favorite teachers at each school?
Mr. Smith at Sherwood Forest was one of my absolute favorites along with Mrs. McCabe. I loved Mr. Clauset and Mr. Holbrook at Cook. And then there were so many that I loved at RJR like Mr. Michel for chemistry for sure, Mrs. Laning for art, Mrs. Storch for English, Mrs. Jenkins for Latin. This list could go on forever. I loved Reynolds!

Where all did you have jobs in Winston-Salem?
I had so many jobs! My first job was at Old Navy at Hanes Mall. Then I worked at the Juice Shop in Thruway for about four seconds. Then I worked at what used to be the Soda Shop across from Thruway. Then I worked at what used to be Lucky 32 (now 5 Points I think). During the summers, I was a lifeguard/swim coach/swim instructor at Jonestown Pool. I also babysat non-stop. Clearly I was a tiny work-a-holic.

What were your top three local Winston-Salem restaurants?
Village Tavern is the clear #1. I love that place so much! I go every time I’m in town. They have the best menu and the food is just amazing every time I go. #2 recently would have to be 4th Street Filling Station. I really love how much time has been put into building up the downtown area. It is super cute now, which I can say was not the case growing up. My family & I love going to 4th street during the summer and sitting on the patio. There are so many awesome restaurants in Winston, so for my #3, I’ll go with my favorite “cheat” meal which is Pulliam’s hot dogs. They also have BBQ sandwiches and you can have a bottle of Cheerwine and chat with the owner Mark. It’s always a super fun trip.

If you were to move back to the area, where do you think you would want to live?
If I moved back, I would probably like to live around Reynolda Gardens. I love how green and quaint the neighborhoods are around there. And also being able to hop over to the Village at Reynolda or just run around the Gardens….that would be awesome.

What is your favorite nickname of our minor league baseball team: Spirits, Warthogs, or Dash?
I’ll have to go with the Spirits, because that is what they were when I was a kid. My dad used to bribe me with the promise of a hot dog and a soda to go to the games, but we always had a blast while we were there. We went to many games as a family growing up, and of course the fireworks on the 4th were always a great time.

Were you more of a Hanes Mall or Thruway fan?
Growing up I was a Hanes Mall girl. I LIVED there on the weekends. But now whenever I’m in town, my mom & I always end up at Thruway and spend the whole day there.

What was your favorite place to go in Winston?
This is tough because I love Reynolda Gardens and all of the stuff to do around there. But my favorite place would have to be Jonestown Pool. I spent most of my childhood summers there from when I was four until I was twenty years old. My memories of my time there are some of my most fond and I just always remember being so happy there. I also made friends there that have lasted a lifetime.

Where was your favorite day trip outside of Winston?
As a kid, my parents would take us up to Pilot Mountain or Blowing Rock for the day. Both of those places were so much fun. I have two brothers and we could just run around the mountain and climb on stuff. I loved that fun little getaways were so close. It allowed my family to have a lot of fun for not a lot of money.

What was your favorite North Carolina Beach?

Oh, that is tough. Carolina beaches are my favorite. I live in California now and I hardly ever go to the beach because they aren’t Carolina beaches! My family always goes to Oak Island every summer (still!), so that is probably my favorite. But Wrightsville will always hold a special place in my heart. My buddies from high school & I spent tons of time on Wrightsville beach and had an absolute blast. Trolly Stop hot dogs and a pink lemonade on a hot summer day…..there’s nothing like it.

austin dolphin tales

Where is your favorite place in the mountains in North Carolina?
Boone. There is so much charm in Boone. Both of my brothers went to App and so I visited often. There is so much to do in Boone and great restaurants. Although how can I not also mention Asheville?! I went to the Biltmore Estate a lot as a kid on school trips. Asheville is just gorgeous and I love how they have so many little artist communities!

Did you ever go to Ziggy’s?
Oh yeah. It feels like I was at Ziggy’s every weekend in high school.

What was your favorite concert there?
I can’t pick one! One of my favorite experiences was having Dave Matthews pop up and play out of the blue. That was pretty awesome. But there were so many great concerts at Ziggy’s that I just can’t choose. I love that Ziggy’s provided a place for emerging artists to gain a following. Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill is like that too. It is so vital for up and coming musicians to be able to play venues like Ziggy’s.

Who is your favorite ACC team?
Well this question is going to drive my dad nuts! We grew up going to pretty much every Wake event that happened. My dad graduated from Wake Forest (both the University and the Business School), so we were always at Wake growing up. But then I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill… So I’ll probably have to stick with my alma mater and go with UNC. Sorry dad.

Are there any special memories you have of Winston-Salem?
I could write an entire book on all of my fond memories of Winston. Growing up at Calvary Baptist Church and all of the friends I made there. Playing on many sports teams, be it soccer or swimming. I had a wonderful childhood growing up in Winston and I love that my parents are still there so I can visit several times a year. I can’t wait till I have kids of my own and can share all the Winston has to offer with them too!

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