There are certain people who live life with a zest that inspires others to embrace their lives just a little more.
That describes teacher, Judy Hammer, who is retiring from Isanti Middle School after nearly 34 years.
“What I tell people all the time is that you got to have fun, you got to enjoy it; my goal always was to laugh, to really laugh every day,” Hammer said. “Life is too short to be crabby.”
Hammer brought her positive outlook to her job. She graduated from St. Cloud State with a double-major and started her career as the first full-time learning disabilities teacher at IMS in 1979.
She worked in special education for 12 years before she accepted a position as a physical education teacher. She later earned her master’s from St. Mary’s.
Hammer taught her entire career at IMS and still reminisces about her experience as a new teacher. She learned a lot about working with her co-workers and establishing friendships.
“It was the warmest staff. You felt like coming home every time you came in because it was a happy and nice place to work,” Hammer said.
Hammer, who has two sons, found her job as a teacher to be rewarding and conducive to her role as a parent.
“Being a teacher is a wonderful career and wonderful career as a mom because you do have the same time off as your kids, and that is wonderful and not too many occupations have that benefit,” she said.
Teaching middle-schoolers is not for everyone, but Hammer stayed with the grade level for the duration of her career despite opportunities to teach other grades because she enjoyed the excitement of her students once they learned something new.
“I always thought it was interesting that they could hate running and getting ready for the mile, but the vast majority of them worked so hard at the mile to get the best time that they could for themselves or to beat last year’s score,” she said.
Being able to introduce her students to something new and encouraging them to find an activity they could be passionate about is something Hammer will remember with fondness.
“What are you going to do to keep yourself healthy and be as active as you can be?” asks Hammer.
Hammer spent five years coaching volleyball and later coached track and field. Her gusto for sports — especially running — was birthed while she was in high school in Howard Lake. That was the time that Title IX legislation was just going into effect, and she played on some of her school’s first female sports teams.
“I wonder what we could have done if we would have had coaches like they do now, and not just teachers who volunteered,” she jokes.
Encouraging children to be active is not the only thing Hammer is passionate about. She finds it important to do what you can to make someone’s day just a little better. That’s why she decided to let her students know that she saw them, and acknowledged their presence in the hallway.
“I’m just going to start saying ‘hi,’ and I find that really kind of flowed over into adult life, too; unless you know each other, we are getting less comfortable just saying ‘hi’ to someone who walks past you on the street.”
Hammer is looking forward to spending her time traveling with her husband, Daniel, and spending more time with her family including her granddaughter, Nola, who lives in Chicago.
“The first thing I did (when I retired) is I started learning how to crochet; I made a sweater for my grand baby, Nola, and it even looks okay,” Hammer said.
Hammer also desires to spend some of her time volunteering and knows she has many options to do what she did as a teacher — make a difference.
“I (want to) make it worthwhile,” said Hammer who believes she has a purpose that she can fulfill though she is retired.
While she is finding plenty to do with her time, like working in her garden and caring for her cats, Hammer attests to her value of connecting with people, which is a good quality to have as a teacher, as something bittersweet in her retirement.
“I’m a people person, and I think that’s what I will miss the most is talking with a variety of people with the staff and the kids,” Hammer said.