Hundreds of community members gathered Tuesday and Wednesday to remember and celebrate the life of businessman and Brazos County Precinct 2 Commissioner Sammy Catalena, who died in his Bryan home on May 19 at age 72.
For more than six hours Tuesday at Hillier Funeral Home in Bryan, area residents and family members streamed through to pay respects to Catalena, who opened Catalena Hatters with his wife, Carolyn, in 1983 and was elected county commissioner in 2011. With markers, mourners wrote down short memories and notes of remembrance and looked at photographs chronicling Catalena’s life and myriad endeavors.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mass was celebrated at St. Joseph Catholic Church. Family members filled the first rows of the church, and members of the community — spaced out throughout the pews to ensure social distancing — listened and prayed. Hymns including How Great Thou Art and Ave Maria rang from the chancel from singers Anita Kapchinski, Larry Whitlock and Johnny Saculla.
Catalena, born July 6, 1947, 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.
During the Mass, Monsignor John McCaffrey spoke about Catalena’s life, faith and love of family.
“Nothing was more important to Sammy than his vocation of being a husband and a father,” McCaffrey said after listing many of Catalena’s community roles. “Sammy was dedicated to his family. That was obvious. And this commitment was evidenced not by the material things that he provided for his family, but rather through the abiding love and the moral example that he left — and that, my friends, no one can buy and no one can take away.”
McCaffrey and the Rev. Steve Sauser officiated, and James Deatherage and JJ Ruffino delivered readings.
More than 100 people viewed the livestream of the Mass, which was hosted by Hillier Funeral Home. Throughout the Mass for Catalena, friends and family members watching online posted tributes and condolences.
One of the people watching online Wednesday was Phil Shackelford, who serves as board chair of the Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce. Shackelford said after the Mass that evidence of Catalena’s legacy could be found throughout Brazos County, from rodeos to the Brazos County Expo and beyond.
“Sammy has left his footprint all across town and was an absolute model for what public service and friendship — and, frankly, service with a smile — looks like,” Shackelford said. “He always had a good attitude and a quick wit and kept things light, but at the same time, he was always respectful and always did things so well.”
Catalena owned Texas Rose Boutique and the Sammy Catalena Rodeo and Livestock Co. He also was a charter member of the Bryan Breakfast Lions Club, and Sammy Catalena Rodeo Co. has produced the Lions Club PRCA Rodeo since the 1970s. Additionally, in 1990, he founded the Catalena Cowgirls, a renowned precision horseback drill team.
Brazos County Sheriff Chief Deputy Jim Stewart said Wednesday that his interactions with Catalena ranged from banter about hats — Stewart bought hats from Catalena Hatters — to annual county budget negotiations.
“I felt like he was always sensitive to the needs of the sheriff’s office. We had a lot of conversations about the relevance of things that we were wanting to do, how that would impact the county — and he was always willing to engage with me and have those discussions,” Stewart said. “He was just a really solid guy — down to earth, not full of himself and not negative.”
Also honoring Catalena this week was Ron Crozier, who works as director of community relations and development at Twin City Mission. Crozier said that he and Catalena met in the 1990s when Crozier was a radio host in the area. He added that Catalena was a strong supporter of Twin City Mission’s work.
“His personality was such that when he spoke — which was not often — when he spoke, people listened. He had a tremendous sense of community and of people. It wasn’t about what you did or what you drove, but how you composed yourself and how you presented yourself,” Crozier said. “The name Sammy Catalena is synonymous with the spirit of the Brazos Valley.”