Woman waves at Fresno traffic for hours each day. She gives joy and happy hallelujahs

Waving woman hopes to bring joy to the world with her simple gesture

Cheryl "Monique" Turks, 47, of Fresno, who suffered a stroke at 16 and remains disabled, found her purpose in waving to passing drivers on Highway 41 to help brighten their day.
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Cheryl "Monique" Turks, 47, of Fresno, who suffered a stroke at 16 and remains disabled, found her purpose in waving to passing drivers on Highway 41 to help brighten their day.

Cheryl “Monique” Turks stands on a Fresno overpass above Highway 41 for hours most every day waving, praying and singing.

She periodically points to the sky in a “hallelujah!” then crosses her arms across her chest in a hugging gesture. She clasps her hands together and bows her head. She prays that people’s “eyes, ears and mouth” be open to Jesus Christ’s love, then blows a kiss.

A car driving on the highway below sees her and honks.

“Hallelujah! See!?” she exclaims Wednesday with joyful, excited enthusiasm. “They got it! That one just got it! That was cool.”

A big, satisfied smile brightens her face. She’s wearing a pink “flowy angel-type sweater” that makes her feel like she has wings, and a large green elf hat that a relative gave her for Christmas. She says she used to wear a red Santa hat because “Santa is supposed to be a symbol of joy,” then she starts singing “Joy to the world!”

“A symbol of joy, that’s what I want to be! I want to be like that cup of joe everybody have to get every morning! … Honey, here it is! Let me be that cup of joe.”

Cheryl “Monique” Turks, 47, of Fresno, smiles during one of hers sessions of waving to drivers on Highway 41 from the Belmont Avenue overpass on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

The 47-year-old mother and grandmother said her waving is to “give hope.”

“If I just affect one person, I’ve done a lot.”

This joyful woman has been waving at traffic for more than 15 years. It’s usually a morning exercise, except on rare occasions when she can’t make it out. The waving started one day while walking across the Barstow overpass in north Fresno on the way to a grocery store with her two daughters, Miracle and Faith.

“Something just told me to wave, so I waved, and they started waving back,” Turks said. “And I was like, ‘Wow! They’re waving back!’ And so all of us started waving, and it made me feel so good that I couldn’t stop after that, and that was like 2002, I think.”

Cheryl “Monique” Turks, 47, of Fresno, waves from a freeway overpass as she has been doing nearly everyday for about 15 or more years. She has waved from the various overpasses along Highway 41 from Barstow Avenue to Dakota and others but now finds the Belmont Avenue a good one because she sees drivers from all the area freeways. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

She’s graced many Fresno overpasses since then, but for the past eight years, she’s been at Belmont Avenue between First and Fresno streets. From this perch, she has spacious views of Fresno’s main traffic artery – Highway 41’s connection to Highway 180 in the center of the city, which leads to Highway 99 in the west, and Highway 168 in the east. She alternates between facing northbound and southbound traffic depending on the light. She likes seeing drivers’ faces.

A driver waves back at Cheryl “Monique” Turks, 47, of Fresno, whose shadow appears on the ground below the Belmont Avenue overpass at Highway 41 in Fresno on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Her waving earned her a following. There was a fan page on Facebook, and “waving lady on 41” was among Fresno celebrities in the running to be made into a bobblehead via the Fresno Grizzlies’ annual contest.

The attention is appreciated but hasn’t changed Turks’ motivation. More people now wave, smile and honk back than they used to, though, and that’s nice. Fewer people also call the police thinking she’s suicidal.

She likes to move her right arm up and down when she sees semi-trucks, encouraging them to honk, and spends a lot of time pointing at vehicles, too.

“I am pointing at them to let them know that I recognize them and they are blessed, they are loved.”

She speaks “positive words over them.”

“We need to speak blessings over each other, not curses.”

Safety is also important to her. Turks hears a screech Wednesday from a car’s tires peeling out and exclaims, “Lord have mercy!”

“Come on now people. Normally when they do that stuff, I start praying for them. I pray for them because they need prayer, you know. You gotta focus, man. You’re doing something.”

She’s fortunately never seen an accident linked to her waving.

Turks has a good feeling about 2019.

“2019 is going to be a good year. … We’re going to be OK.”

Overcoming obstacles

Turks said a lot of people looked angry when she first started waving. One man once stuck up his middle finger at her and her daughters.

“I said, ‘Don’t pay no attention to that,’ ” Turks told her daughters. “God bless them.”

She named her eldest daughter Miracle because she didn’t think she could have children. At age 16, Turks had a brain aneurism and stroke while at a Fresno concert. She describes it feeling like five buildings in downtown Los Angeles, where she was born, falling on her head. She was in a coma for two and a half weeks.

“The doctor told my mom that I was going to die or be a vegetable.”

But Turks would survive that, and later, a now-ex-husband who she describes as physically and mentally abusive.

She said she’s not looking for a new relationship, “but if God has someone out there, have enough courage – it’s time to get courageous.”

Turks walks and takes two buses to get to the Belmont overpass. It’s no easy journey since her stroke affected the left side of her body. She drags her left leg, supported by a brace and white sneaker with Velco straps, across snarls of traffic, wishing she had a car. She’s unemployed and lives on a fixed income. Turks said she would like to work but has had a hard time finding a job because of her disability. Waving at motorists, along with volunteering at her church, is her way of giving back.

She said knowing God gives her strength.

“It’s like the vitamin you take in the morning that helps you, that gives you energy. I have God for that – but I do take vitamins too though,” she adds with a giggle.

Cheryl “Monique” Turks, 47, of Fresno, waves from the Belmont Avenue overpass at Highway 41 in Fresno on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Blessing a city

Her pastor, the Rev. Jason Locke at College Church of Christ, calls her waving a blessing. He describes her as a “jolt of energy in any group of people” and “a very sharp and intelligent person.”

“It sounds kind of crazy, just waving to people on the freeway,” Locke said. “The first time we met, I thought maybe she was crazy, but she’s just trying to be a genuinely friendly, positive presence in our city.”

He said Turks has helped their church become more diverse.

“She will call out during worship, ‘Thank you Jesus!’ and traditionally we’re not a black church,” Locke said. “It’s mind-stretching for some people. … I feel like she’s being authentic. She’s being genuine.”

Turks started going to College Church of Christ because that’s where one of her doctors went. Turks met Dr. Terry Hutchison, a neurologist at UCSF Fresno, when he previously worked at Valley Children’s Hospital.

“There’s always opportunities, even when people have disabilities, to make something good out of it, and she’s done that pretty well,” Hutchison said. “She’s an example to us in that regard.”

Some favorite Bible passages inspire her, including “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” That encourages her to be a leader and her “own person.” Another, “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” she interprets as “don’t let everybody in your business – sometimes everybody that says they’re for you; they’re not for you.”

Cheryl “Monique” Turks, 47, of Fresno, waves from the Belmont Avenue overpass at Highway 41 in Fresno on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

She waves to drivers anywhere from one to six hours a day. She said the duration is up to God and “the spirit he puts in me, you see!?”

“And I’m going to continue to do it as long as I have breath that God gives me.”

She’d love to have people join her in the waving. One person once approached to ask, “Why are you so happy?”

“I told them that I loved Jesus.”

She shared the Lord’s Prayer with that person that day. Another told her someone they knew decided not to kill themselves because of her waving. And one year, on Turks’ birthday, an admirer gave her a bouquet of sunflowers.

Grace Pendleton, a friend from church, said Turks’ waving is no small thing.

“She is a woman who has a heart for God and a heart for serving him and whatever she can do to bring encouragement to others,” Pendleton said. “That’s why she goes out there and waves, to encourage people. To help them start their day in a way that will bring a smile to their face.”

Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.