The “brain drain” is a constant complaint heard in Abilene. Bright young people graduate from a local high school and maybe college, leave town, and never are heard from again except for holiday visits. But there are some notable exceptions. This issue of Abilene Scene is highlighting four of them, including one married couple. What made them come back home — hopefully for good — after leaving for college and having the world to choose from?
Here are the stories of Dr. Talmadge Trammell, Callie Morris Harris, Evan Harris, and Lisa Gore Etter.
Dr. Talmadge Trammell
High School: Cooper, 1991
Family: Wife, Dr. Sara Trammell, a hospice physician; children, Maggie, 6; Claire, 4; Elizabeth, 2
Current: Physician, Neurosurgery Associates of West Texas.
Not many people have the opportunity to “give back” to the community to the degree that Talmadge Trammell does. After graduating from Cooper High School in 1991, Talmadge earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Washington and Lee University in Virginia and a medical degree from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
He then went to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas to specialize in neurosurgery. He was offered a teaching position in Dallas, but he got a better offer — the opportunity to come home.
“I thought it would be really special, in a small way,” he said, “to repay those opportunities that had been given to me.”
Most Abilenians would say he is paying back in a big way, not a small one. He is one of only three neurosurgeons serving Abilene and the surrounding area. And, to top it off, his wife,
Sara, also is a physician. The two met in medical school in Lubbock. Sara is from Plano, and Talmadge wasn’t sure whether she would be happy living in a smaller city.
Turns out he didn’t have anything to worry about. Sara not only is a physician, she also is active with local organizations such as the Alliance for Women and Children and the United Way.
“She really fell in love with Abilene,” Talmadge said.
That same feeling came to Talmadge years ago. He grew up with a single mom, Dawn Trammell, a stockbroker. Along the way, he got help from people like Steve Suttle, a local attorney.
In fact, Suttle had so much influence on his life that Talmadge chose to attend the same college — Washington and Lee — as Suttle and two of his sons. Talmadge’s family had gone to Abilene Christian University, but Talmadge decided he wanted to leave town for the college experience. He always knew, though, that someday he would return.
“I always felt like this would be a great place to come back and raise my family,” he said.
That opportunity came in 2007, when he returned to Abilene and founded Neurosurgery Associates of West Texas. Even with his busy practice, he somehow found time to co-author a textbook titled, “Intracranial Aneurysm Surgery: Basic Principles and Techniques.”
Back in the day when Talmadge was a student at Cooper High School, he enjoyed typical high school activities. He was on the varsity tennis team and was president his senior year of the Student Council.
In those days, Talmadge didn’t think much about what Abilene had to offer outside the usual things that high school kids enjoy. But when he chose to come back, he saw his hometown in a different light.
He saw some old photos of downtown Abilene before restoration started in the mid-1980s. It was bleak, with nothing to draw anyone downtown. When he returned, it was like looking at photos from a different place.
“I was struck by the downtown restoration,” he said. “There is so much vitality.”
Talmadge truly has come full circle. He was born at Hendrick Medical Center, where he now practices. He lives in the Cooper school district. Some of his patients are people he has known all his life.
He always knew Abilene would be a great place to live and raise a family. Now, his family knows that, too.
“We’ve been very happy,” he said. “My wife loves it, and my girls are happy.”
Callie Morris Harris
High School: Cooper, 2002
Family: Husband, Evan Harris; no children
Current: Communications and Media Relations Manager, City of Abilene
High School, Wylie, 2002
Wife: Callie Morris Harris: no children
Current: Vice President, Commercial Loans, First Financial Bank
It seems that Callie Morris and Evan Harris were destined to be together.
Both Callie and Evan were friends of the groom but didn’t know each other. That changed quickly. The matchmaker made sure they met at the reception.
“We didn’t spend a second talking to anyone else,” Evan recalled.
They immediately started dating, were engaged in 2009 and married July 17, 2010. And guess who read the scripture at the wedding? The matchmaker, of course.
The fact that both Callie, a 2002 Cooper graduate, and Evan, a 2002 Wylie graduate, both came back to Abilene after college wasn’t quite unlikely as their meeting at the wedding reception. Evan always wanted to return. Callie wasn’t as certain, but thought it was an option.
Callie earned a degree in speech communication, with a minor in corporate communications, from Baylor University in 2006. Evan earned a degree in agriculture and applied economics from Texas Tech University in 2006.
Evan started work with First Financial Bank in Weatherford in July 2006. A couple of years later, his boss, Ron Butler, asked if he would like to move to Abilene to another position with the bank.
“I would love to,” was Evan’s immediate response.
He moved back to Abilene in March 2008—just five months before the magical meeting at a wedding reception.
Callie had worked for Jordan Taylor while in high school and then for a while after college. After working both in the advertising and non-profit world, she took on the job of Communications and Media Relations Manager for the City of Abilene in February 2011 — quite a change from helping people pick out the right colors and fabrics.
“It’s never a dull moment,” she said.
Life in general is never dull for Callie and Evan. Living in Abilene as adults is completely different from when they were children and teens.
“It’s kind of like a different city,” Callie said.
They know different people and sometimes parents of their friends may show up in their offices. They agree that Abilene is a great place to live and raise a family. As young adults, they are impressed with the array of arts, entertainment, and sports available locally.
“There’s just a lot of different opportunities,” Evan said.
Callie and Even both said friends who moved away are beginning to see the same thing in their old hometown as they do. Like a lot of young people, some of their friends moved away after high school, vowing never to return.
But now that they’ve had their fill of big city traffic, Abilene is looking like an attractive destination, they said.
Besides the many cultural and entertainment venues in town, the Harrises said it’s great being around family and longtime friends, as well as new young couples they’ve met. Those relationships, coupled with a vibrant cultural life and friendly atmosphere, make Abilene a great choice to make their life together, Callie and Evan said.
“I feel like we have a lot of friends who love us and look out for us,” Callie said. “It just makes it a positive place to live.”
High School, Cooper, 1992
Family: Husband, Cary Etter; children, Lily, 8; Miles, 6; Chloe, 2
Current: Director and Instructor, Ballet Abilene
Lisa Gore danced all the way across the Red River and back to Abilene — to new opportunities, new friends, a husband and three children.
A 1992 Cooper graduate, Lisa earned a ballet scholarship at the University of Oklahoma and made the most of it.
“That’s what got me to cross the Red River,” she said.
And, it was a good choice — it just wasn’t home. Lisa spent her early years in Albany before moving with her family to Abilene when she was in first grade. In Albany, Lisa started ballet at age 3 under the discerning eye of the famed Margie Bray, who is now deceased.
It was an auspicious beginning for a young girl who would go on to do great things with her dance talent.
“She was the sweetest lady,” Lisa said. “I just loved it — it was so fun.”
In Abilene, Lisa’s mother, the equally well known Nancy Gore, opened Ballet Abilene, first on South 14th Street and then to the company’s well known downtown location.
Lisa did so well under her mother’s eye that she earned a scholarship to OU and thought she would be a professional performer. Although she still performs, Lisa switched her major to pedagogy in college so that she could teach.
After college, she returned to Abilene and joined her mother at Ballet Abilene, where she is now studio director. She also met her husband-to-be, Cary Etter, a graduate of Abilene High School and Abilene Christian University.
Lisa remembers her high school friends saying they couldn’t get out of Abilene fast enough once they graduated. She always wondered why — and still does.
“I’ve grown to appreciate it even more,” she said.
Lisa attributes her love of Abilene to having grown up in a happy home, being involved in school, and just enjoying life.
“I was happy and had a lot of friends,” she said.
With that happy background, Lisa was ready to return home after a couple of years in Oklahoma following graduation. She is busy daily with her ballet company, a husband and three children.
But, she finds time to do what many young Abilene women do. She’s involved with PTA and is a sustaining member of the Junior League.
Before returning to Abilene, Lisa made quite a name for herself in Norman, Okla. She performed with the Oklahoma Festival Ballet and in 1994 was crowned Miss University of Oklahoma, receiving special recognition for her dance talent.
All that was good, but coming home to Abilene was even better. One thing she noticed was that the Taco Bueno that was so popular with her high school classmates is still at its Buffalo Gap Road location. It was a favorite gathering place to decide where to go next, Lisa recalled.
That’s not the only thing familiar and comforting that Lisa found when she returned to Abilene, and still appreciates.
People who were important to her as she was growing up are still here, making Abilene more than home in just a physical sense. Whenever Lisa or a family member gets sick, she knows they will see a familiar, friendly face.
“You go to the doctor you’ve known forever,” she said.
The only slight trouble Lisa has run into since returning home is explaining her allegiance to the OU Sooners. She only attended a few football games in college, but still that’s enough for family and friends with University of Texas allegiances. And, there are many among her family and friends.
Every October, when the Big Game rolls around, Lisa knows just how to handle it.
“I just kind of keep my mouth shut,” she said.