Sammy Catalena, Precinct 2 commissioner and a well-known local business owner, died Tuesday at his home at the age of 72.
Catalena, a Bryan native, owned Catalena Hatters, Texas Rose Boutique and the Sammy Catalena Rodeo and Livestock Co. He had been county commissioner of Precinct 2 since 2011. Catalena also was a charter member of the Bryan Breakfast Lions Club, and his Sammy Catalena Rodeo Co. has produced the Lions Club PRCA Rodeo since the 1970s.
“He did a lot of things and was involved a lot of community things and was well-liked and well-respected throughout the community,” Brazos County Judge Duane Peters said. “Everybody’s heard of Sammy Catalena.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Steve Aldrich said he appreciated and respected Catalena’s commitment to his constituents and to the county as a whole.
“I have always admired Commissioner Catalena for his common-sense pragmatism and his wit,” Aldrich said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “He was involved with doing things in this community long before I got here even as a student.
“I so respected the way he made decisions, gathered facts and information, talked to his constituents and came up with best ways to serve Precinct 2 constituents and all of Brazos County. He was never afraid to crack a joke or hit you with that signature smile, that knowing grin that he had.”
Catalena graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School in Bryan and was a 1972 graduate of Texas A&M. He served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam as a medic in the 9th Infantry Division.
Rodeo had been a part of Catalena’s life from a young age. He rode broncos competitively as a youth and later in high school and college. He was once knocked out after being kicked in the head by a bull at a Fourth of July rodeo in McGregor. Years later, his thumb was nearly severed when a bull threw its head back while Catalena was on top of a chute.
After graduating from A&M, Catalena began producing rodeos with his uncle, traveling with four to five horses and 11 bulls in the beginning. Later, his uncle quit and Catalena took over.
Catalena started Sammy Catalena Rodeo Co. in 1975 and headquartered the company in Bryan. The company became a stock contractor of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 1987 and has raised many bucking animals, including 165 horses and 80 bulls.
In 1990, he founded the Catalena Cowgirls, a precision horseback drill team of women on Catalena’s paint horses. The Catalena Cowgirls performed not only at rodeos around the state, but nationwide and internationally when the Sammy Catalena Rodeo Co. hosted eight shows in 1996 on the “Caribbean Wild West Tour” on the islands of Aruba and Curacao.
Locally, Catalena also was a businessman. He opened a feed store called Bryan Farm and Ranch Center in 1974. In 1983, he and his wife, Carolyn, opened Catalena Hatters in Bryan. He had hat requests from around the world and once had a man from East Germany pay him in rubies. Years later, the couple opened Texas Rose Boutique, which sits next to Catalena Hatters in Downtown Bryan.
Peters, a fellow Bryan native, said he’s known Catalena for years dating back to their days at Stephen F. Austin High School, but added the two didn’t become close friends until Catalena was elected commissioner. Then, the two grew close, sharing a background in ranching and farming.
“We’ve had a lot of laughs together,” Peters said. “I wouldn’t want to repeat some of them, but he’s always full of a lot of jokes.”
Catalena is survived by Carolyn, his wife of over 40 years, and their sons Travis, Scott and Clay, as well as several grandchildren.
“He’s been good for the community,” Peters said. “He was involved in lots of things and he’s really been a good commissioner. He’s been here. He’s been involved with everything that we’ve done, so he’s going to be missed.”
Eagle staff reporter Kenny Wiley contributed to this report.