In honor of Hammer’s 100th anniversary and NER’s 50th anniversary, we have published Legacies, a special anniversary magazine, celebrating our history, the people we have supported, and those who have made our mission possible all these years. Here is one of the featured stories:
Two changemakers of their time
Alvina Hammer – A pioneering woman
As a nurse at the Faribault State Hospital, Alvina was impacted by the plight of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. In 1923, Alvina rented a home near Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis. She hired a teacher and began caring for and teaching four children with special needs. She added three more children and moved to a larger home on Dupont Avenue South. There were few classes available anywhere for children society deemed “feeble-minded.” As the news of the new Hammer School spread, families began bringing their children to Alvina and placing them in her capable hands.
Alvina married Herman Rutzen, a long-time friend. The Rutzens worked together to continue Alvina’s steadfast commitment of caring for the developmentally disabled. They purchased a piece of property in Wayzata with a large farmhouse to house Hammer School and the growing number of children it was serving.
Alvina retired in 1947 as her health was declining but continued to stay involved. She suffered a heart attack in 1959 and passed away in 1965.
Alvina’s great nephew, John Barnett, says, “Alvina was a pioneer. Her approach became the model for Minnesota. She devoted her life to that cause. The small seed Alvina planted in 1923 has grown into a huge organization in 2023. She would be totally amazed how her humble start to help a few children has grown into such a large organization helping so many.
Evelyn Carlson – A visionary woman
Evelyn came to Hammer School in 1932 as a teacher. She had been a teacher in a lumber camp in Manitoba, Canada under very harsh conditions that greatly impacted her health. She came to Minneapolis to stay with her parents. She visited an employment agency and heard about Hammer School. She interviewed and despite having no experience teaching children with developmental disabilities, she was hired and was paid $50 a month, plus room and board.
The early years were filled with hard work and little pay, but Evelyn loved her job. She assumed the role of Director and Proprietor of Hammer School in 1947. Under her guidance, Hammer expanded, acquiring additional property, and implementing new programs. By 1960, Hammer School was outgrowing the property’s original home which was also in need of extensive repairs. Groundbreaking soon took place for Hammer School’s first dormitory. A second dormitory was built in 1966. In 1974, the final building on the Hammer Campus was built—the Carlson House, named for Evelyn Carlson.
As a teacher of 15 years, Evelyn was a pioneer in the field of developmental disabilities and gave 42 years of extraordinary service, retiring in 1974. In addition, Evelyn influenced the growth of developmental disabilities services across the state. She was involved with Friends of the Mentally Retarded (which later became MARC) and played a part in the founding of ARC Minnesota, the Day Activity Center Council of Hennepin County (DACA), and ARRM (Association of Residences for Retarded in Minnesota).
Evelyn Carlson passed away March 18, 2000, at the age of 92. Tim Nelson, Hammer’s CEO at the time recalled that, “Her faith, her skills, her stamina, were all tried through adversity, and she came out refined like gold.”
The Legacies magazine is being distributed to all those on our Discoveries mailing list. If you would like to receive a copy of Legacies and/or be added to our Discoveries distribution list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.