Clare County Review & Marion Press

Faces in the Crowd: Mark and Deb Hammer

Stay busy, stay positive, and enjoy all of life’s blessings. That’s more or less how Winterfield Township residents Mark and Deb Hammer live life these days.
After spending much of their careers working for Michigan Gas Storage, the couple has spent the last 8 years enjoying retirement. Which means spending time with the kids and grandkids. Traveling the world. Hosting cider parties. And tending to their little farm and garden on their Winterfield slice of heaven.
But just because they’re retired, it doesn’t mean they’re not busy. Mark works as the Winterfield Township Supervisor, and keeps busy woodworking, doing metal-work, and fixing and creating just about anything for family and friends. Originally a woodshop, foundry and welding teacher, Mark has been a lifelong learner, and enjoys a new project every now and again.
Deb keeps busy with the township as well, as deputy clerk. She volunteers with the local Grub 2 Go school food program, and Versiti Blood – an organization dedicated to blood donation, research, and saving lives. And they both enjoy spending time with their Chapel Hill Wesleyan Church community.
But life hasn’t always been easy for the Hammer’s. In 1998, Mark lost his son Lucas in a car accident. And shortly after the couple was married in 2004, Deb was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Those tragedies gave the couple a different perspective on life. And it helped them enjoy the good times that much more.
These days, those good times often center around their family. Whether it’s taking the grandkids – all 14 of them, including one great grandchild – on horse rides or vacations, or playing cards just up the road at Deb’s mom’s, they enjoy every moment spent with family and friends.
We caught up with Mark and Deb recently, and learned just a little bit about where they’ve been, and where they’re going. We learned that Mark and Deb Hammer are certainly more than just a couple of faces in the crowd.
Marion Press: Where were you born and raised? What kept you busy growing up?
Deb: [*Looks at the farmhouse just north of her current home] Right here. Our whole thing centered around dairy farming. From the time I was old enough to carry milk pails, Kathy – my younger sister – and I would be out feeding the calves, and the older ones would be milking the cows. My older brother would be feeding the cows. Summers were spent haying, or hauling silage. There wasn’t a whole lot of time to go swimming, so I can’t swim. None of us are good swimmers at all.
But in the summers, when the haying and [chores] were done, we’d all say, “Let’s go to the lake, let’s go to the lake – it’s so hot!” So we’d go up to Dyer Lake in Falmouth, and mom and dad – neither one could swim – they’d be like, “Don’t go over your knees, because we won’t be able to save ya!” Hard to learn to swim when you can’t go in over your knees!
We were busy on the farm all the time, but we also had a lot of fun. In the evenings, after the chores were done, there were a lot of neighbors that would come over. The adults would play cards, and the kids would play up in the barn, swing on the rope, play in the cornfield, hide and seek… sometimes everybody would get a ballgame going out in the yard. So it wasn’t all bad either.
MP: What kept you busy in school?
Deb: You know, I didn’t have time to play sports… It was, “Can we play sports?” “No, you’ve got chores to do!”
But when I got into my junior year, I went to CTC/vocational, and I got into the distributive education program, so in my senior year I did co-op. Just went to school for government class basically, and then worked up at Grant’s [shopping center] the rest of the day. I graduated from Marion in 1975.
MP: Mark, what about you? Where were you born and raised?
Mark: Tustin area. I forget what year it was, but my dad was on the school board when the K-12 bill come through from Lansing, that said your school district has to offer school from kindergarten through 12th grade. So the small school [Sherman Number 6] annexed to Marion, because Pine River didn’t exist at that time. I came over here in about the 7th grade and graduated from Marion.
MP: Did you grow up on a farm?
Mark: My dad raised beef cattle, and then we always had horses. He worked at a factory in Cadillac and was also a mail carrier. We loaded out hay to horses in Kentucky on the railroad cars there in Tustin every summer. He would go around and buy hay everywhere, and bale hay, and those railroad cars could hold about 1000 bales, and they all had a [tiny] window, and it was hot work. But we did pretty good.
I graduated from Marion in ‘70, and then went to Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti for a couple of years. Then I decided to go into teaching instead of chemistry and transferred to Central in Mt. Pleasant. I graduated from there, and when I graduated, I subbed at Marion for a half a year.
I met [Deb] at that time, but I didn’t know who she was!
MP: Good thing you didn’t know who she was!
Deb: In our yearbook, I see him as a student teacher in there, and I thought, “Wow, you were really hot back then!”
MP: So you grew up with horses, and you’ve still got horses.
Mark: [As kids] we had horses, and we rode them a lot. All over the county pretty much.
Deb: They were chasing girls! Our horses are more pulling horses than riding horses – and Mark experienced that this weekend. We had Michael’s kids [the grandkids] and they always want to ride the horses. So the one day, we saddled up the one horse, and took the kids for a ride. The next day, they wanted to ride the big horse, Norm, so we did the same thing. We got back up to the barn there, and Mark goes, “Let me jump on him, I haven’t rode him all year.”
So he jumps on, and he might’ve been showing off just a little bit. He got him in a trot, then he got him in a gallop, then turned him around to come back towards us. He kicked him again to go a little faster, but Norm was feeling his oats, and gave him a little buck, and Mark ended up on the ground.
MP: That can hurt!
Deb: Oh yeah, he’s all bruised. His hind end is all bruised up.
Mark: When you’re younger and you fall off, you can kind of bounce, but now you just crush!
MP: How’d you end up working for Michigan Gas Storage? What was that like?
Mark: I kept pestering the guys at Michigan Gas Storage at the time, I could see that that would be a much better long-term arrangement, if I could get in there. I think everybody wants to live in the area they want to, with a decent job. After almost a year and a half of stopping out there every other week or so, I did get hired in. I worked out in the fields for about two years, then transferred over to the compressor station – and I was over there for 29 years. That was excellent. It was an excellent job, with excellent retirement, and I got to live right where I wanted to.
Deb: I started out there in ’90, and the only reason I ever got a job out there, is because they were looking to hire more women and minorities, and [diversify] the workforce. That’s the only reason I got in, but I wasn’t afraid of hard work. I was the first woman to work on the crew for Michigan Gas Storage. I retired as a mechanic.
MP: And that’s where you two met?
Mark: We worked there for a few years, and Deb and I met there.
Deb: We were married in ’04, but we had been together since ’95, and we knew each other from work.
Mark: I did know her name there back in 1970 [as a student-teacher when Deb was a student].
Deb: No, you didn’t! You didn’t pay any attention. I think you were told, “Do not look at any of the girls while you are teaching!” That is a no-no.
MP: What did you enjoy the most about working at Michigan Gas Storage?
Deb: My biggest thing is that I was able to do manual labor, without having to be stuck in a factory, or stuck behind a desk. I could be outside, and that was the biggest thing.
Deb: What about you Mark, what was your favorite thing about working there – besides me?
MP: It was your coworker!
Mark: Retirement! No, it was an opportunity to live in an excellent place, and have good enough means to [enjoy] it. We’ve been to Italy, and Ireland, and Hawaii, and we just got back from Alaska.
Deb: We have spent a lot of time with Michelle and her family traveling. We’ve been to Italy, and Paris. We’ve been to St. Thomas with them twice. They lived in Hawaii, so we got to spend a lot of time with them out there. They live in D.C. now. We’ve taken a bunch of the grandkids out there. There’s so much to see out there, and we try to see something different each time.
MP: You’re not completely retired. How long have you been the Winterfield Township Supervisor?
Mark: 13, 14 years. Our good friend, Richard Blackledge, he had come to a couple of our cider parties, and I asked him, “You’re on the planning board, why would you wanna be on the planning board?” And he said, “I just wanna know what’s going on.”
So I talked to [Winterfield Supervisor] Bob Daugherty at one time, and he told me I should run for trustee. I had [filled] a trustee spot, and about a year later, Bob had passed away. So then I ended up being supervisor, and got reelected a few times.
MP: What has working for the township been like?
Mark: Actually, it’s been excellent, because when I took the job over, there was quite a lot of money in the coffers. They had been collecting money for road repair, but not really doing much with it. So I got to meet a lot of people through the county, and through Osceola County, and through Reith & Riley. And we’ve had a big change in the roads in Winterfield, they’re some of the nicest roads around.
Things are changing all the time, and it’s been a great run because we know what’s going on. You can whine and complain about D.C. but you can’t do anything about it. But you can here. Do you want gypsy moths sprayed in your area? Do you want the roads fixed? What about the zoning, and the ordinances? If you’re local, you can make something happen. So that’s been a pretty good run, and we’ve both enjoyed the people that we’ve worked with through that.
MP: You two have been through some really rough times, how has that changed your perspective?
Mark: When you have those rough times, it makes you look at difficult times, and good times a lot different… My wife and I have a saying that fits us the best, “Life is short, make haste to be kind.”
Which really is the truth. All this doesn’t mean nothing unless you make time with the grandkids, and make friends, and [have your health]. All this is going to be gone someday.
I think everybody sees dark times to a certain point, and if they use them in a positive way that’s the best. I think that’s the reason why you have the dark times – so that you know the good when it’s there.
MP: What have you enjoyed the most about living in this community?
Deb: For me, probably because my family is in the area. When it comes down to it, we’re kind of homebodies when we’re not traveling. Being around family. We are a close family. At least once a week, we all meet down to mom’s and play cards. She’s still able to do that, and it’s a good opportunity. Now we’ve got the grandkids, and they’re learning all the games too. And having a piece of my family’s farm that’s been here for 100 years is pretty darn nice.
MP: What’s the best advice you’ve been given? Who have been your role models?
Deb: My mom and dad instilling hard work. With hard work you can do anything. You can do something, even if you don’t think you can – you’ve just got to try, and you’ve got to work at it.

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