Living His Best Life
If you have lived in Texarkana for a while, you have probably heard the name James Bramlett. You might remember the decade he served as the Mayor of Texarkana, Texas, or have done business with him at Farmers Bank and Trust, or maybe you have attended the Bramlett Beans and Cornbread Community Fundraiser in the last 23 years and shaken his hand as he handed you a bowl of beans. His love for Texarkana runs as deep as his roots in our community.
“My family has been in Texarkana since 1884. My great-grandfather came here in July of that year to work for the Texas and Pacific Railroad. We’ve been here a long time, almost since the inception of the community. I’ve lived here most of my life, and I love this community,” Bramlett stated.
One of his favorite memories of his childhood is the 20-mile paper route he delivered for the Texarkana Gazette at 14 years old.
“When I went to the Gazette to get the paper route, I met Bobbie Eaves, who became one of my first mentors,” Bramlett recalled. “She was the District Manager for all of us young boys, and I was given 35 papers (houses per month for daily delivery). But they also needed someone to take an additional route in the Spring Lake Park area because this other young kid didn’t want it anymore. I took that job on, giving me 70 papers, and eventually worked it up to 90 papers. My route was from Texas Boulevard to Summerhill Road to College Drive to I-30. I threw the Sunday morning paper and the afternoon daily route. As a paper boy, you’re a self-contractor. I would buy the papers from the Gazette each month. Every day, they dropped the papers off at my front porch. When I got home from school, I would roll them up, put them in bags, get on my bicycle and then I’d have a 20-mile route to ride.”
“At the end of each month, I’d have to collect the money they owed for the paper that month. So instead of going to every house and knocking on the door, I decided to make a little invoice and put it in an envelope and wrap it in the paper. Then they would just mail me a check. It taught me a lot about business, inventory management, accounts payable and accounts receivable. I was in the eighth grade, making $90 a month, which was a lot of money back then. It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. It taught me so much about business that I still apply today at Farmers Bank taking care of customers. It taught me about life and people and interacting with adults as a businessperson at 14 years old. I still remember all the individuals on that route and all they did for me. There were so many special people, like Mrs. Pavey, over on Meadow Lane. She always made sure I got a Christmas gift every year.”
“A great thing about living in Texarkana is that many of the individuals who were my customers back then are still my customers today. That is over 50 years. There are several individuals who were influential in my life, and I met many of them while being their paper boy.”
Bramlett graduated from Texas High School in 1975, and met his wife, Kathy, a few years later.
“There are so many individuals who have made such a difference in my life, and one is my wife, Kathy,” Bramlett said with a grin. “We’ve been married for 44 years. I have to give her credit; I would not be where I am today without her. I asked her to marry me at Spring Lake Park, just another thing I love about this community.”
“After I got married at 20, I decided it was time to go to college. I went to Texarkana College for four years and then took seven years off. When I was 32, I decided to go back to school and went to Texas A&M University-Texarkana. Dr. Lila Walker, who is another of the individuals I credit with who I am today, encouraged me to go back to school. I graduated in December 2000 with a BAAS (Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences) degree. It was a long road of working and raising our son, J.W. I had to make sure I graduated college before he started going to college!”
While Bramlett pursued an education and was raising a family, he got involved helping one of his best friends, John Jarvis, run for mayor. Previously, Bramlett had never had a desire to hold a public office. After years of being friends with Jarvis, it sparked an interest in serving the community, and he ran for city council.
“In 1998, John (Jarvis) decided it was time for him to go home, and he told someone I was going to run for mayor. He told the Texarkana Gazette that before he even told me!” Bramlett chuckled. “I served as Mayor of Texarkana, Texas, for ten years (1998-2008).”
During his decade of service, Bramlett is most proud of helping bring the new Texas A&M University-Texarkana campus to its current Bringle Lake location, and for helping allocate millions of dollars to the redevelopment of the Rose Hill Community, the area where he grew up with his parents and grandparents.
“To be able to redevelop Rose Hill was really neat, especially to do something south of the Interstate. Most of the development has been to the north, so we were most proud of the fact that we were investing millions and millions of dollars south of the interstate for the first time since the mid-1960s,” beamed Bramlett.
“I miss being mayor because of the people. We have such a giving community, and everyone gives back to make sure Texarkana is the greatest place in the country. There is nowhere else I’d rather live. That’s why I continue to help however I can to make this community a great place to live, work and raise a family. Kids go off to college, but it is those individuals we want to move back here because they are going to take our place one day. I appreciate everyone who has ever given me and the community the support they have because we continue to grow and develop and get better each and every day.”
Bramlett has done his fair share of giving back, both professionally and as a volunteer. One of his passions is helping those in need through the annual Bramlett Beans and Cornbread Community Fundraiser.
“The idea actually started in 1991 with Paula Jeans,” Bramlett explained. “She was the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) for Texarkana Water Utilities (TWU) at that time, and it came about through her dad passing away the previous year. The staff anonymously collected five baskets of food for five families who were employees at TWU. It started there and has just grown and grown through the years.”
“Then in 1998, a city employee (Laurie Williams) came to me and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if you, as the mayor, did this as the Bramlett Beans and Cornbread Fundraiser and we invited the community?’ I always wanted to do something to give back. When we officially started the community fundraiser, it was just our staff baking the beans, baking the cornbread and baking the desserts for about four years. Then it grew so much that we had to figure out another way. So, we started getting sponsors.”
I told my son, J.W., that I’m living the best life, and it’s right here in Texarkana.” —James W. Bramlett
“Our event on December 2, 2021, will mark our twenty-third year. We missed last year because of COVID. It would not be possible without the sponsorship from Big Jake’s BBQ, Texas High donating the cornbread and Starbucks doing the coffee, desserts and drinks. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate their sponsorship all these years. And then we have the staff of volunteers who help each year, and without them coming together, it wouldn’t happen.”
“This year is the first time we will have it at the Texarkana Convention Center, and we really appreciate them for allowing us to bring Bramlett Beans and Cornbread right here near I-30, because the traffic count is going to be so much higher here than at the Southwest Center.”
“We now serve over 100 families from the community each year with food baskets that include a month’s worth of food and Christmas gifts. The agencies give us a list of families who meet the criteria of eligibility for the baskets. I’m hoping before long that we can hit 200 baskets. I really think we’re going to hit 150 this year.”
For the past 16 years, Bramlett has also served in the banking industry, drawing on the relationships he has built through the years and the business skills he developed starting as a paperboy. In March 2012, Bramlett, serving as Senior Vice President, helped Farmers Bank and Trust open a location in Texarkana on Summerhill Road. He now serves as the Texarkana Market President.
“There were only five of us originally when we started, and now we have over 85 employees. It is a fifth-generation, family-owned bank. It’s just a great place to be and a really great fit for me.”
While he was at work on a normal day in 2018, his good friend and TAMU-T Athletic Director, Michael Galvin, asked Bramlett if he could ride with him by the Spring Lake Park ball fields to show him some things they were working on. When Bramlett and Galvan arrived at the same field where Bramlett played Little League, he was surprised by his family and dozens of colleagues and community members who had gathered to surprise him with the dedication of Bramlett Field at Spring Lake Park. The field had been updated for the TAMU-T Women’s Softball team with state-of-the-art lighting and a new scoreboard with James Bramlett’s name.
“Spring Lake Park really means a lot to me because that’s where I asked Kathy to marry me, my paper route was through that area, I grew up on Park Circle and I attended Spring Lake Park Elementary school,” Bramlett shared. “I wouldn’t have ever expected that.”