For those that know Sammy Catalena, there’s one thing they don’t often see – the top of his head.
Not because the longtime Bryan resident is tall, but because it’s always covered by a cowboy hat.
And fittingly so; it’s been a major part of his life.
“I dealt with the hat business a little bit when I was in college. There was an old hat store down on Texas Avenue called Whitten Hatters,” Catalena said. “So we decided that we were going to be in the hat business one way or another. But it’s really tough to get in this business because they don’t make this type of hat equipment any more. To get in this business, you have to find this equipment somewhere else or somebody has to be going out of business or a death to be able to get it.”
Catalena spent his days in the early 1980’s in the farming and ranching industry, but the thought of starting a hat business never escaped his mind. And then in 1983 while selling alfalfa cubes for a company, a friend of his made a call that would change his life: there was a hat-making business going out of business in Tampa, Florida.
“I jumped on a plane, went down there and found a man, Mr. Russell and his wife, who had a western store. And they had put together a complete hat factory, which was exactly what we wanted to do,” Catalena said. “And all the big hat companies had been there to try and buy the equipment. But he didn’t sell it to them because he didn’t want to piece it out.”
After trucking back the equipment to Texas, Catalena rented out the space in on Main Street in Downtown Bryan, where his store still currently sits. And he started making hats. Lots of them. In fact, there sits a world map in Catalena’s store, where he sticks a push-pin each time a hat is shipped to another country. And almost 30 years into the hat-making business, the map is nearly full of push-pins.
But Sammy isn’t just all about the hats. He and his brother started running a rodeo company as well, expanding it to the point that they were traveling not only across the United States, but also overseas to places like Aruba. And from his days of the rodeo business, another popular item has emerged with his name on it – the Catalena Cowgirls.
“The Catalena Cowgirls was started as part of our rodeo business in the 1990’s. In some of the rodeos we were at, we always seemed to have a problem going to find a girl in the crowd or a contestant to carry the American and Texas flag. So we just decided to find some girls to do it all the time so we didn’t have to look for them,” Catalena said. “And really the Cowgirls have gotten to be pretty famous. In fact, sometimes it’s disheartening that the rodeo company doesn’t get near the exposure that the Catalena Cowgirls get.”
Catalena has also added another feather to his hat – Commissioner for Brazos County Precinct 2. In 2010, he was elected to take over Duane Peter’s role serving the people of the county.
“I had given it thought for a lot of years, but wouldn’t have done it if Duane had decided to run for commissioner again instead of judge. And it’s a very interesting job. In fact, that’s where I spend a majority of my time,” Catalena said.
But in the end, when Catalena’s role as commissioner ends, long after his involvement in the rodeos fades, there will always be one signature thing found across the world with his name on it: his cowboy hats.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” Catalena said. “We’ve enjoyed everything we’ve done in life. We’ve been in business here our entire life, and I don’t think we’d do anything over again.”