In 2019, Hammer’s Communication team was doing some research on Alvina Hammer, founder of Hammer School, which later became Hammer Residences, and was interested in locating the resting place of our founder, who passed away in 1965. We discovered that her ashes were buried in her husband’s (Herman Rutzen) family plot at Elmhurst Cemetery in St. Paul. While there was a stone “foot marker” for Herman, there was nothing for Alvina. When we learned of this, we were shocked by the irony of it all—the resting place of such a remarkable woman, with a pioneering vision, remaining unmarked all these years. Now, as we celebrate Hammer Residences’ 100th anniversary, it seemed fitting to properly mark the resting place of a truly remarkable woman.
We worked with Elmhurst Cemetery to have a stone marker placed at her grave and on Monday (Sept. 25), we held a dedication service at Elmhurst Cemetery, led by Hammer & NER CEO, John Estrem. Alvina’s great-nephew traveled from Ontario, Canada and spoke about his aunt’s legacy and was also joined by another of Alvina’s great nephews and a niece from Albert Lea. (Alvina never had children of her own.)
Alvina was a visionary, a pioneer, in creating not just a school, but a combined residence, for developmentally disabled children in an era when families were told to hide away their “feeble-minded” children or place them in cold, harsh, state-run institutions. As a former nurse at the Faribault State Hospital, Alvina established not just a school for these children, but a home where they were cared for, loved, and encouraged to strive to the greatest of their individual abilities. Hers is a legacy for the disability services community that today, 100 years later, is STILL innovating, still advocating for, and working hard to ensure that people with disabilities have every chance to live life to the fullest.
Alvina’s founding of Hammer School in 1923 has impacted the lives of thousands of people living with intellectual and other disabilities. Some 57 years after her death, Alvina remains a revered visionary in the disability services field. We are honored and humbled to mark her final resting place.