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Sound of change: Downtown hearing aid center closing as doctor retires

by Lori Dunn | June 4, 2022 at 10:45 p.m. | Updated June 7, 2022 at 9:25 a.m.
Norma Broomfield, Dr. Tom Burns and Betty Waldrep are retiring after a long career at Acousticon Audiology & Hearing Aid Center at 214 West Third St. in downtown Texarkana, Texas. (Staff photo by Lori Dunn)

TEXARKANA, Texas -- It's the end of an era on West Third Street.

Dr. Tom Burns, who has been an audiologist since the mid-1970s, is retiring. He has been at the same downtown location his entire career, fitting people with hearing aids and helping them hear more clearly.

"Missing the people will be the hardest part about retirement, those relationships you make along the way," he said

Burns started working for his father at Acousticon Audiology & Hearing Aid Center while still in college. He later earned a master's and doctorate degrees while working full-time.

Burns holds a certificate of clinical competency from the American Speech Language and Hearing Association and is a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology.

Helping people with hearing aids has been a family business.

In 1948, Tom's grandfather, Andrew L. Burns, and father, A.L. Burns, saw an ad for a hearing aid office in Little Rock, and it sparked their idea of opening an office in Texarkana. After 12 years of renting office space in Texarkana National Bank, they purchased their own building in 1960 at 214 W. Third St.

"We have worked out of this location ever since," Burns said.

When he was in high school, Burns worked at Wadley Hospital as an orderly and had aspirations of entering the health care profession.

A struggle with chemistry one semester in college had him rethinking his decision, so he turned to his father for advice.

"My dad invited me to work that summer in the hearing aid office and see what I thought of it," he said.

While working that summer, Burns studied to become a licensed hearing aid dispenser. Returning to school in the fall, he decided to major in speech pathology/audiology and worked summers at the office until completing his degree.

Burns graduated from Baylor University with a Bachelor of Science. Realizing the hearing aid industry was shifting to the field of audiology, he began working toward a Master of Science in audiology in the summer of 1979.

"I traveled back and forth to Commerce, Texas, for Saturday classes," he said.

He finished his master's in 1983, and 16 years later, had the opportunity to pursue a doctorate in audiology through the University of Florida's distance-learning program.

Burns and his father remained business partners for 28 years, until A.L.'s retirement in 2003.

When Tom Burns retired this week, two longtime office employees also retired. Bookkeeper Norma Broomfield has worked in the office for 60 years and Betty Waldrep for 50 years.

Broomfield started while she was a student at Texas High. Waldrep had been a long-time patient, wearing hearing aids since she was 16. She does the clerical work for the office. Both women worked with A.L. Burns and watched Tom grow up.

The field of audiology and hearing aid technology has progressed a lot since Burns started working in the field.

"In 1974, it was inconceivable that we could use computers to fit hearing aids," Tom said. "At that time, computers would fill an entire room, and now I have a laptop computer to fit hearing aids wherever I travel. I can test someone's hearing and then turn around and have the computer fit the hearing aid."

Hearing aids can now be charged like a cellphone. They can also be compatible with a person's cellphone, so anything that streams through the phone can also be streamed through the hearing aid.

Hearing aids today also come in all sizes, shapes and even colors in order to match hair and skin color.

Burns plans to travel in retirement, work in the yard and participate in activities at First Baptist Church on Moores Lane.

Dr. Kelly Pack with Professional Hearing Services in Texarkana is acquiring Burn's patients.

"I know they are in good hands," he said.


Print Headline: Sound of change: Downtown hearing aid center closing as doctor retires

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