Remembering My Sister’s Happy Life at Hammer

Remembering My Sister’s Happy Life at Hammer

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:

By Marge Barrett
Marge’s sister, Patty, was part of the Hammer family for 47 years. Marge recounts fond memories and a little Hammer history.

Patty Rogers, 1977

My eight-year-old sister, Patricia Jane Rogers, entered the Hammer family in 1961 when our family moved to St. Paul. My parents, who believed children with Down syndrome could learn to read and write and be part of a larger community, chose to place her at Hammer Residences because of its reputation. Patty stayed at Hammer the rest of her life. During those 47 years, my family never missed performances, fundraisers, Family Day Picnics, Annual Meetings, and State of the House meetings. Patty came home for weekends, holidays, and summers.

My father served on the Hammer Board of Directors when Patty was a girl, and I served on it when she was a young woman. During my tenure, I wrote The Story of Hammer, 1923-1998, marking the 75th year of the organization. I learned that in the 1920s, Alvina Hammer couldn’t forget the people with developmental disabilities she had met as a nurse at Faribault State Hospital. Rejecting the prevailing cultural attitudes of the times, that the “feeble-minded” could not be taught and should be separated from communities, she hired a teacher and rented a small house near Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis. The two of them cared for and taught four children with special needs.

In 1929, Alvina bought a large piece of land outside Wayzata so she could continue expanding programs and housing. She supervised an addition built in 1934: a dining room, more bedrooms, and a craft shop. When Patty first came to Hammer, she lived in this big house. Evelyn Carlson, who had come to Hammer in 1932, took over administrative duties when Alvina could no longer serve. Evelyn expanded numbers, programs, and properties. She built dormitories and then the Carlson house, consisting of eight double apartments, and a six-bed group home, where Patty lived for some time. In the 1980s, as Hammer began moving people to group homes in the community, Patty moved to a single-family home in Plymouth with three other housemates. Queensland Lane, overlooking a small lake, became Patty’s address for the last 20 happy years of her life.

Patty and Marge with their mother, Alice (and in photo above)

Patty enjoyed bowling, going to dances, attending church services and events, and cruising around the neighborhood on her three-wheel tandem bike. She had a smile and spirit that said, “Life is great!” In her 50s, we observed a noticeable decline as Patty descended into Alzheimer’s disease. During her last five years, our family and the Hammer family were engaged in the battle of not letting Patty slip away from us. Hammer’s wonderful nurse found a new doctor who guided us through the world of meds and changes. During Patty’s final days, her large family gathered in her cheery room, along with her kind and caring Queensland family. We hovered around her bed, singing, praying, telling stories, laughing, and crying.

Patty enriched our lives. Her life was a celebration of music, dancing, telling legendary riddles, kissing babies, and playing the harmonica. She loved cheering for Notre Dame and the Minnesota Twins and watching Baywatch and The Love Boat. She never forgot a birthday; she’d call and sing to all her friends and family on their special days.

Patty was a poet and a pray-er. Here is one of her poems:

To Make You Smile

The little bird sings a morning song
over the rainbow, to the moon, to shine
bright color tree, to climb in the mountains,
in the sky. I love you.

I sing for joy, to share the love in my heart.
I play the harmonica to you, to make you smile.
I play basketball and think of you.
You are special to me.

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 barbara.brandt@hammer.org. 

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