Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes this week visited Denton and the couple who hosted him as an exchange student 24 years ago.
Accompanying Paes were his wife, Cristine, their two children, Bernardo, 7, and Isabela, 5, and a nanny.
The family, who arrived in Denton on Tuesday morning, started their day with lunch at the home of residents Zack and Nancy Pannell, who hosted the then 17-year-old exchange student from January to June 1987.
He attended Denton High School during that time.
The home was just as he remembered it, he said, complete with Nancy Pannell's homemade chocolate chip cookies.
Nancy Pannell received a phone call from Paes prior to his arrival; she said she almost cried at the sound of his voice.
When Paes arrived at her home, Pannell was elated, she said. It was their first time to see one another in more than 20 years.
"He really hasn't changed," she said. "He's the same happy, gregarious, very energetic, loving [person]. ... Eduardo's always been [a] very loving person."
Paes said he's wanted to return to Denton for quite some time.
He joined his family, already on vacation in the United States, and they flew into Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Monday evening and made their way to the Pannell home the following morning.
On the ride to Denton, Paes said, he explained to his family how he came here as an exchange student to learn English but learned so much more. Paes said he learned what it meant to live in a different climate and culture, respect others and what they do, and how to take care of himself.
The Pannells and Denton itself played an important role in the man he's become, Paes said.
"I had to come back," he said. "It's nice to come back to show your kids where you learned things in life. I wanted them to see a very special place for me.
"This is one of the greatest experiences I had in my life - living here the six months I lived here. I've got good memories of Denton."
While in the Pannells' living room, he reminisced about sitting on a piano bench with Nancy Pannell listening to her play a song from The Sound of Music. Hearing it again after more than two decades brought back good memories, he said.
Paes smiled as he looked through an old family photo album that included photos of his time with the Pannells as a teen.
"The good moments I had here - it's very touching to see the room where I used to sleep … [and to see] the backyard," Paes said, trailing off.
Zack Pannell said he was honored that Paes brought his family to Denton. For several years, they had anticipated he would visit.
"He's been slightly busy," Zack Pannell said, laughing, in reference to Paes' duties as leader of a city of more than 6 million residents.
After visiting with one another, the Pannells and the Paes family loaded into a van and made their way to First Baptist Church Denton, where the Pannells attend church and where Paes attended services with them in 1987.
Paes took photos of the shuttered Piggly Wiggly grocery store on Sherman Drive, which he remembers frequenting with Nancy Pannell to buy groceries.
At the church, former pastor Wayne Blankenship and his wife, Sue, greeted them. The pair taught Paes' Sunday school class and chaperoned two youth trips he took with the church.
As he walked into the sanctuary, Paes took a long look around.
"Oh, my God," he said.
He spent some time snapping photos with family and old friends and continued to reminisce. Before dispersing, the group gathered in a circle to pray for Paes, his family and his work as mayor. He thanked them for coming to see him on his return to Denton and expressed what their presence in his life meant to him.
"It's really an honor to be here," he told the group. "You've been very special to me. I was blessed here."
At the church's Christian Life Center, where Paes attended Sunday School, he belted out a blessing song he learned as a teen.
Kathy Stockdale, a former Sunday school teacher at the church, sang along, surprised that he had remembered the song after so many years. She said it was wonderful seeing Paes, who she described as a bit more mature, but still the same wonderful guy.
Stockdale said people always seemed to have fun when Paes was around, and that it's no surprise he went on to become mayor of Rio.
"I think his time [in Denton] was just a part of God's preparing him for the great things he would do," she said.
The next stop Paes made was to Denton High School, where he attended 12th grade. He finished high school in Brazil.
Excited to be back, Paes photographed every Bronco insignia he found. Campus staff members accompanied him on a tour and gave him and his family Denton High hats, shirts and other mementoes.
Paes wrapped up his Denton visit with ice cream at Beth Marie's Old-Fashioned Ice Cream and Soda Fountain on the Square.
Summing up his trip, Paes said being in Denton was a "re-encounter."
He said he regrets not being able to see Denton Mayor Mark Burroughs, but that he wanted to spend his limited time with close friends.
Cristine Paes said she and their children were visiting Texas for the first time. It was wonderful to meet people her husband talks so fondly of, she said, and the visit was a good experience for her kids, one that she hopes "they can remember forever."
The family returned to Brazil on Wednesday.
Reflecting on the visit, the Pannells said it was a joy to again spend time with the young man they regard as a son.
"I wish I had the words to truly express what it meant to us," Nancy Pannell said."It was a perfect day, and it was perfect in the sense of being with him again and experiencing his exuberance.
"We're so glad that he brought them all and glad that his experience here was so meaningful to him that he wanted to come back."
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .