BIG COUNTRY, Texas ( – If 2022 could be known as anything, some might call it the ‘year of hope,’ in a post-COVID world. From celebrating an Abilene Zoo baby boom, to one mom helping another grieving mom from across West Texas; here are the 10 positive stories that got the most online attention this year.


Abilene Zoo: 5 more baby capybaras join the Abilene Zoo, Jul. 2022

Starting out strong in the number 10 spot, 2022 was a big year for births at the Abilene Zoo, especially during the month of August.

From births of giraffe calves to tiny anteater pups, it’s safe to say the zoo’s had a baby boom this year.

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Making her way to Abilene before even Dyess Air Force Base, 102-year-old Sammi Fowler has some stories to tell.

“I’ll never forget stepping out of that car… I said to my husband, I said, ‘oh stop, stop! I wanna get out,’” Fowler recalled. “When we drove in to Abilene, I looked at the sky and I just never wanted to leave… And I haven’t!”

Fowler celebrated her 102nd birthday among friends at Lyndale Abilene Senior Living in November. Her secret to a long and happy life? She said there really isn’t much of one, other than staying healthy and active.

She said she’s been tap dancing since she was three years old, and still wants to dance!

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A gay pride flag at Lockhart’s Pride Fest (KXAN Photo/Mariano Garza)

In September, Abilene held its first-ever pride parade and festival in Downtown Abilene. But it wasn’t the actual event that made this top 10 list. Instead, it was the schedule of events.

The festival included vendors, musical entertainment, a drag show, and more.

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The old Lincoln Middle School building, which will soon be known as ‘Abilene Heritage Square’ first broke ground more than two years ago. During renovations, regular vandalism and items from past students were expected to be found. What was a surprise was a name written in the cement on the roof.

In a special report by KRBC’s Annabelle Tuggle in May, it was revealed that Frank “Foo” Fujita, a 1938 graduate of Abilene High School, had made his mark on the old school by carving his name in stone.

It was discovered that, after graduation, Foo joined the Texas National Guard, and would go on to fight in World War II. By the spring of ’42, he was captured by the Japanese in the South Pacific.

Before that, a local historian said he was your average student. Not so typical, though, Foo had a knack for art. That’s what he would go on to credit getting him through his stint as a POW.

“He was so excited to be liberated that he actually, fully clothed, jumped into Sugama Bay to swim out to the ship that was coming to liberate them and nearly drowned,” a local historian explained.

One of Foo’s last living relatives told Tuggle, “His drawings were of the surroundings and what was going on in the Prisoner of War camp.”

Some 84 years later, his life, story and accomplishments continue to influence and inspire many.

A memorial with Fujita’s name on it is sitting in front of the old courthouse building, along with the names of the other lost battalion’s during World War II.

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An Abilene mom’s birth story is anything but usual after a rare situation caused her identical twins to be born three days apart.

During a routine check-up, mom found out her baby girls would be born premature. That’s enough to shake up any expecting parent. In February, her water broke but she wouldn’t give birth to baby Gabby for another week.

“I delivered Gabby, had a natural birth with her, and got wheeled right back in… I really didn’t know how to comprehend what just happened – I’m like I just had a baby and I’m still pregnant.”

This Abilene mom’s doctor called the situation very rare but explained that the more time a baby can stay in their mom’s belly, the better.

Mom said enduring the discomfort and pain for the growth of her baby was at a 100 on a scale from one to 10.

That sacrifice would prove worth it on March 10 when mom and dad said hello to 1-pound, 8-ounce Isabella.

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14-year-old David Litton was asleep in his Coleman family home when he heard a loud crash in the living room. Investigating, he found his dad having a heart attack.

While it was David’s grandmother who dialed 9-1-1 for help, it was David and the assistance of the Coleman County Sheriff’s Office dispatch agent who kept the man alive with CPR until paramedics could arrive.

“I was very terrified. I saw him face first on the ground and ran to him like, ‘oh my god, dad!”

While the community hails the teen as a hero, nobody sees him as more heroic than his mother, Kendra.

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(Courtesy: Danielle Robertson) Image of Shane Robertson, named #48 on Forbes’ list of Top Financial Security Professionals Best-In-State, shared Aug. 2022

In August, Abilene’s Shane Robertson with MassMutual was named among top in the State of Texas in Forbes’ list of Top Financial Security Professionals.

Robertson made it in the top 50 in the category, ranking in at number 48.

As a MassMutual Financial Services Representative, Robertson serves Abilene and much of West Texas through wealth protection strategies.

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Jacob Thomson Abilene

An Abilene ISD bus driver was hailed as a hero or guardian angel in February for his valiant actions in protecting a student.

“I’m neither one of those things, just a dad who was in the right place at the right time.”

This bus driver, Jacob Thomson, was on his regular route one Monday morning when he noticed a young girl walking in South Abilene. He knew she wasn’t one of his regular pick-ups, but said he had to stop when he noticed a man following closely behind her.

“I asked her if he did anything to her, and she said, ‘Yeah, he tried to kidnap me,'” Thomson recalled.

Thomson then got ahold of Abilene police, for which the young girl’s mother said she was very thankful.

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The Mills family in Abilene adopted three siblings from foster care while already raising three biological children of their own.

The 2022 year started off on the right foot for the Mills family, deciding to double their fun by adopting three through the foster system in January. That’s in addition to their three biological children.

Although dad, Jake Mills, said the change in his family’s dynamic had been a challenge, he said there was just too much love to go around.

As an infant, mom, Erin, was adopted as well. From that and the experience of adopting kids of her own, she developed a heart for foster care.

“We went just, kind of, overnight this last summer from a family of five to a family of eight,” Jake said. “[From a] family with three kids to a family of six kids.”

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Monica Villarreal and son

Coming in at number one for the Big Country’s positive stories began in July when tragedy struck the community. From that tragedy came an overwhelming amount of support for a Snyder family.

9-year-old Snyder boy, CJ Rendon, was killed on the Fourth of July in a crash. The would-be third grader was remembered as a promising young athlete, and simply ‘incredible.’

The news spread throughout West Texas, making its way to the Permian Basin. A Midland woman who once also lived in Snyder took fundraising matters into her own hands, having firsthand knowledge on how difficult life is after losing a child.

Monica Villarreal used baking as a way to process through the grief of losing her 14-year-old son, Mayes, in a boating accident two Independence Days earlier.

With her booming business, Villarreal was able to raise the funds to help CJ’s family just days after his passing.

“The light company doesn’t care if you lost your kid, you know, the electricity can still get shut off and that shouldn’t be something that she has to worry about,” Villarreal explained. “I just want to be able to give her as much money as I can to do what she needs with it and to spend where she needs.”

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Your 5 honorable mentions for 2022 Abilene’s good news

Previous Abilene top 10 positive stories:

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Stay with as we release more top 10 lists from 2022 throughout the month of December.