A Place to Call Home

A Place to Call Home

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:

James McKune

James came to Hammer in 1948 when he was 11 years old. He had been living in an institution in Rockford, Illinois where he had a few relatives. They stayed in contact with him throughout the years by sending letters, and gifts on holidays and for his birthday. He was very fond of his family and talked about them often.

Most of the medical advice at the time was to place children with disabilities in state institutions. It was very brave of his family to seek out and send James to a community-based home. There were other children whose families took the same bold step. In those earlier days, several children moved to Hammer from out of state because their families thought that this placement would be a more nurturing and loving environment. When James came to Hammer, he lived in the “old Hammer house,” a large farmhouse with a porch; one of his favorite spots.

James with long-time friend, Sue Walker

I first met James in 1977. We were sitting in the living room at the Annex (formerly on the Hammer property) and James wrote my name down in his notebook. He has so many fond memories of people who lived and worked at Hammer over the 75 years he has lived here. He has said it feels like home, like family. He can recall Hammer’s Family Day Picnics, women he had a crush on, details about various staff, and school and work experiences from many years ago. He loves trucks and heavy equipment, holiday decorations and fireworks, and a cold iced tea on the porch in the summer. He gets teary-eyed sometimes looking at pictures from the past. He is a treasure!

One of my favorite memories with James is going to the State Fair. James always likes to visit the KOOL 108 radio booth. He loves radio personality Johnny Rocket. One year, James got to meet him and was invited into the radio booth during a broadcast. The next year we went back, and Johnny Rocket came out to say hello. He remembered James’s name and gave him a big hug. James was just beaming.

Today, James lives at our Carlson home. He is 86 years old. He really considers Hammer his “second family.” He feels that many of the people he has lived with over all these years are his true friends. He likes all the typical daily tasks and activities that you do together as a family – meals, visiting, holiday and birthday celebrations, doing things in his community, and shopping at the local businesses. He feels that the staff who have cared for him have really provided him with a sense of security and support. The relationships are so meaningful to him.

James attending Hammer School

We sometimes don’t stop to think how significant these things are to James and the others we support at Hammer & NER. But when one doesn’t have family nearby or they have passed away, it is so important to know that others desire to have that relationship with you. James knows that he needs help to do many of those simple daily tasks and navigate social situations. He wants that support and reassurance that people care so much about him and are there for him.

What a blessing that James has been able to live and work in this community. He so appreciates his life and the people who love and support him.


Sue Walker is Chief Program Officer and joined Hammer Residences in 1977 doing direct care. She met James, our longest-supported person, and eventually became his guardian when his family were no longer available.


1 Comment

  1. Carol

    Thank you for sharing this story. Your community sounds like a good one. My brother with disabilities has lived with me for 25 years. I hope he can find a community like yours when the time comes that I cannot care for him anymore. This man has been very fortunate to be cared for and supported, and to have been in the same community all these years.


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