Marvin Gammage, Sr. had to quit school to help take care of his family after his father lost an arm in a tragic incident. So, at the young age of 13, he was hired as a delivery boy at a hat company in Houston, Texas. He was a reliable and hard worker, which gained him a place as an apprentice hatter later on.
Despite his eighth grade education, he was a mathematical genius, which led to his other career in the chemical industry as a chemical engineer’s apprentice, or stillman, as I’m told he was called. This career moved him and family a few times and so the hat shop moved also.
Too often a move meant a new name for the shop; Houston Hatters, Pasadena Hatters, Abilene Hatters, Top Hatters and Marvin E. Gammage Hatters. It was in 1965 that he finally settled on Texas Hatters after his son, Marvin Jr., better known as Manny, made the statement, “You’re never gonna move outside of Texas Dad. So, why don’t you just call it Texas Hatters and you’ll never have to change it again.”
Manny had grown up in the hat business, as both of his older sisters, Alice and Sally, and younger brother, Gerry, had done, but for Manny, hat making was a calling not unlike the priesthood for some. He spent as much time as he could at his father’s shop watching and learning from his father and his mother.
Leonora, Manny’s mother, had taken millinery and business classes in college and she was always working with Marvin, also as the saleswoman and bookkeeper. She loved to talk to the customers. Manny learned, or inherited, her talent with talk, and then some.
After graduating high school, enrolling in the University of Houston and getting a second job at a service station, Manny met Norma at a friend’s house and it was love-at-first-sight. University would have to wait, they were married in November of 1956 and he enlisted in the Armed Forces shortly thereafter.
Eight years of service, one year in Vietnam with the scars to prove it, several years leading his sales office at John Hancock Insurance in Waco and three children later; Manny re-joined his father in the hat business after helping him move it to Austin. Manny settled back into the hat business very quickly. He drew flyers, made copies and posted them at every grocery store, night club and honky-tonk he could get to. His talents, and Norma’s talent with a needle and thread, also convinced his parents that his wife would be an excellent help in the business, and he was right. They had to help the business grow to support his family, as well as his mom and dad.
Manny and Norma worked tirelessly, both at the shop and out promoting the hat shop. A few years after helping establish the shop in Austin, they struck a business deal to purchase it from his parents and keep them on as consultants until they were sure of themselves. Within a few short years, they had things well in hand and Marvin and Leonora moved away and let Manny and Norma take full control.
As each of their three children, Glenn, Phyllis and Joella, came of an age they were ready; they were each taught various parts of the business and worked with their parents for a time.
Glenn, a.k.a. Tex, joined the Navy and spent a very distinguished 25 years in the service of our country, with many awards and commendations. He retired briefly, but soon found that he couldn't be idle and returned to government service and has been hard at work since. His wife, Mary, who has a stellar career in meeting planning and travel. also spent some time helping at the hat shop. His two children also spent time helping out at the shop as well, before moving away as adults.
Phyllis became a registered nurse and has been well recognized in her career as well. Her oldest three children have all worked at least a summer job at the hat shop. The younger two are not yet of age. Her now ex-husband, Pete, was instrumental in moving the heavy equipment from Buda to Lockhart in 2006, and continues to be a help when he can, as he is also David's cousin.
Joella never really left. A whirlwind, two year, marriage left her with a baby boy to raise alone, except for the help of Manny and Norma. Growing up and raising her son in the back room of the hat shop seemed the most normal thing to do. She learned every aspect of the hat making process, as well as bookkeeping, leather working, computer and internet skills. In 1998 she and her father's apprentice of eight years, David A. Torres, were married. Two and five years later they had two daughters, who are also growing up in the back room when not in school. Together, Joella and David have kept the legacy of Texas Hatters going on, and continue to build and nurture it for the next generation.
Joella's son, Joel, changed his name in 2010, to honor his Papa, Manny Gammage. Joel Aaron Gammage has set himself apart as a car show and event organizer, music promoter and world class dancer, aside from his hat making and salesmanship skills. Since his first Hot Rods and Hatters car show and concert in 2011, he has been concentrating his energies toward building his company, Hat Rod Productions. He also married his longtime sweetheart, Catrin Bennett, in June of 2014. In August of 2015 she was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia, while they were on vacation in Florida. Since then, his time is split between her treatments, planning for his next Hat Rod Productions event and selling hats, in that order. We are all praying for the both of them. UPDATE - Catrin is now in complete remission and hopes to stay that way. If that status remains for 5 years, she'll be considered "cured". PTL!
On July 23, 2016, Manny's wife Norma, rather suddenly bid this world farewell. We had no real warning of her pending departure. She retired as head trimmer/seamstress November of 2015, due to failing eyesight. Not having a job to go to was a strange thing for her, since she'd worked, more or less full time, from the age of 12. She served popcorn at the OST Theater in Houston, worked in an insurance office with her mother, sang with her father, babysat on weekends and worked at the cosmetic counter of a drugstore, before marrying Manny. After they married, she worked at a BBQ restaurant, at a glass plant and in a factory that made church furniture, before she and Manny bought the hat shop from his parents. All the while, she raised their three children into fine adults. She will be missed by all who knew her.