By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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A man of joy, activist Bill Hammaker, at 100, simply loves his life

Photo by Joseph A. Garcia: Former county YMCA Director Bill Hammaker, a longtime and outspoken advocate for peace, turned 100 on June 5.

Professor of Peace

Ventura County Star/
Sunday, July 20, 2008

At 100 years old, Bill Hammaker reflects on his life with the words that appear on one of his T-shirts: "God put me on this Earth to accomplish a certain number of things, and right now I'm so far behind, I'll never die."

Such is the life of the Camarillo centenarian, who has spent most of his time on the planet advocating peace and who remains an activist in every sense of the word.

As he continues his cause throughout Ventura County and beyond, he believes that, in this country, "we have some very, very serious problems," said Hammaker, who has been called The Professor of Peace for his staunch position.

"We have the largest building in the world devoted to military affairs — they call it the Pentagon — and we now have a Defense Department," he said. "But we do not have a Peace Department. We don't need war; we need peace. We need to do everything possible to work for peace to win peace. Nothing else would matter."

A great-grandfather of 13, Hammaker is a man with no superiority complex and no boundaries, said Qazi Uddin of Ventura, who befriended him last year and attended his 99th birthday celebration as well as this year's Big 1-0-0 party on June 5.

When he met Hammaker, Uddin recalled, "he told me of his philosophy of life, his passion and his association with the international organization Fellowship of Reconciliation, which he joined more than seven decades ago."

Uddin, 65, also learned some interesting and diverse facts of Hammaker's life, including that in 1936 he gave a speech for peace and against war at Johns Hopkins University, he served for 23 years as director of the Ventura County YMCA and he was president of the Rotary Club of Ventura East in 1963.

Hammaker was a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an international interfaith peace organization founded in 1915, before its current executive director, Mark Johnson, was born in 1947.

"Bill promotes FOR through communications and word of mouth; he walks the talk and encourages membership and commitment," said Johnson of Nyack, N.Y, the national headquarters of FORUSA. "He draws our attention to other organizations equally important in the cause of peace in the world."

Hammaker has been an unabashed enthusiast of the fellowship throughout his life, but with amazing and much appreciated energy and effectiveness the closer to 100 years he has become, Johnson said.

"He inspires all of us to understand that FOR's message and purpose is important to everyone, no matter their age or location," Johnson said. "He is a pure joy."

Among his other honors, Hammaker received the Earth Charter Award for Respect and Care for the Community of Life in 2006, from the Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions.

Today, Hammaker remains actively involved with the Camarillo Democratic Club, FOOD Share, Camarillo United Methodist Church, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Amnesty International USA, Wider Quaker Fellowship, AARP and the Go-See-Ask Tours of Ventura County.

At his 100th birthday party at the Democratic Club of Camarillo, he got a letter from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger honoring his work for peace.

One member of a growing group

Hammaker is in rare company — and not just based on the movers and shakers he knows.

He is one in a small but growing population of centenarians in the world; in the U.S., there are about 55,000 people at least 100 years old.

Ultimately, though, it's not about age.

"He wants to reach out to every single human being on this planet," Uddin said."He belongs to a country of diverse human beings and that inspires him to live for 100 years and beyond, so he can meet and hug everyone."

The peace-loving man was born William Lecrone Hammaker on June 5, 1908 — perhaps not surprisingly in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.

He credits his parents, Leslie Meacham and Mary Gwin Zimmerman Hammaker, and all his loving family for his positive, peaceful outlook.

"No question about it, I have lived a very happy life," he said.

Most of it included the love of his life and the mother of his three daughters. Her name was Twila.

Twila began her first job in January 1934 at Penn State University, in an office across the hall from Hammaker. By March of that year, they were engaged.

The two were wed soon afterward in Oklahoma City, in the backyard of her parents' home. The honeymoon to Colorado Springs and the trip home to State College, Pa., were taken in a 1928 Ford that cost $85, Hammaker recalled. One repair on the trip cost 50 cents.

Making a life

In the years that followed, Hammaker was typically active, working on the Penn State freshman yearbook, taking students to conferences and managing YMCA activities, among other things.

In the fall of 1935, the couple left Penn State for the Teacher's College of Columbia University, where Hammaker spent a year working on his master's degree in religious education while his wife took on several jobs, including typing books for religious authors.

Hammaker's next job was at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, as executive secretary of Levering Hall, a YMCA-supervised building. Twila stayed home, kept house and helped organize her husband's papers.

A few years later, Hammaker was invited to move to Pittsburgh and work as YMCA secretary, a job that came with his own staff, more money and a move into a brand new house.

In 1943, he made his next move, to Phoenix. Under the auspices of the International YMCA, he was assigned to the USO Industrial Division, which covered all of Maricopa County around Phoenix.

As a result of his YMCA and USO work, Hammaker received a classification that exempted him from the draft.

Over the years, he has worked as an associate for the Penn State Christian Association and as an executive at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the University of Pittsburgh and the USO for war production workers and their families in Phoenix.

His final career involved moving to Ventura in 1946 to take a job as executive secretary of the Ventura County YMCA.

After his retirement in 1969, he and his wife became involved in real estate investments through a man named Noble Johnson, a YMCA president who acquired the first-ever YMCA property. Through him, the Hammakers bought a one-acre parcel on the Colorado River as well as property in the Ventura hills of Ondulando.

They ultimately owned properties, many on large acreage, in Idaho, Colorado, Arizona and California.

In 1980, the Hammakers bought a mobile home near Diamond Springs, east of Sacramento. This was their main base for 10 years, until they moved to Camarillo in 1990 to live with their daughter Sue.

'I'm really fortunate'

So many grand memories. So much love.

"I'm really fortunate," Hammaker said. "I have always had a deep feeling about family. Family has been so important in my development."

Over the many years, he said, "every so often I say to myself, Oh man, what a good time you are having.'"

That is not to say that he has not struggled through life's tougher times.

"There have been some spots, of course, that have been the opposite," said Hammaker, who lost Twila in 2002 after 68 years of marriage.

Hammaker's daughter Carol Stoughton praised her father as an amazing man and "a wonderful role model for me and everyone he meets."

"His standards are high and have been all his life," she said. "He is passionate about peace. He has a sense of humor that keeps one laughing. He has the ability and desire to make friends with everyone he meets."

He has the most fun watching people guess how old he is, Stoughton added — "but, of course, they never guess right."

Sue Hammaker added that "people trust him."

"He's been promoting peace all his life and helping other people," she said. "He always sees good in people."

He's still looking ahead

When asked his opinion on the meaning of life, Hammaker pointed to the words of a plaque on his den wall: The years skip along easily; it's the days that are tough.

"That's the way that I see it, too," he said. "I hope to be around a little longer — that's one of the unknowns — but I'm in good health."

He's happy to say that he only takes one medicinal pill a day for his heart.

"At my age, it's kind of nice to have just one," said Hammaker, who has had several pacemakers throughout his life and wears hearing aids.

He is preparing to give a talk at a retirement home in Santa Paula on "How to Make Retirement Worthwhile."

"Retirement is an opportunity to try new things and not keep up in the same old way," he said. "Find something new. Visit the library. Visit the shut-ins. Visit some stores down the street. Keep an eye open for something that's new and different."

When it comes to wisdom at his age, "well, I suppose I have some," said Hammaker, "but I'm no different from anyone else, except I do tend to look at the positive and the bright side and I don't give up easily."

As far as his future is concerned, he hopes to live at least an additional 15 years.

"I am so blessed and grateful I'm as able as I am to carry on."

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