Students pass by a nondescript parking lot on their way to west campus nearly every day at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. A gift of more than $27,000 from Fred E. Hammer to the University of Nebraska Foundation will make that parking lot a place for students to gather.
The area occupies the location of the former Hammer Motel, a business venture that Hammer’s parents, Nina and the late John K. Hammer, undertook in 1947. The motel, a Kearney landmark, is gone and the area it occupied is now utilized for campus parking.
Hammer’s gift will fund landscaping that includes trees and plants as well as the addition of benches, tables and columns reminiscent of the columns that marked the entrance to the old Hammer Motel. A plaque that commemorates the motel as a historic Kearney site will also be mounted on a column at the student gathering area.
Hammer hopes his gift will create a place for students to stop and visit, maybe relax a little and get to know one another better.
“We wanted something that was useful as a park and as a place for students,” Hammer said. “This way, students can have a place to take a break, sit down and rest, study, contemplate and meet their fellow students as they traverse campus.”
The project will make aesthetic and architectural improvements to a busy corner along Highway 30. “The parking lot will still be functional,” Hammer said, “but now it will be pretty as well.”
The Hammer family have been long-time supporters of UNK and the city of Kearney. Fred Hammer had been looking for ways to support the university for some time, not only to carry on in the family tradition but also to commemorate the motel and its role as a local landmark.
The family sold the motel in the ‘60s and the motel ceased operation in 1987, allowing it to be acquired by UNK to be used as student housing. Known among students as Hammer Hall, the facility was razed in 1995 to create additional campus parking.
“This project was made possible, in large part, by the support and encouragement shown by Roger Jones and Stephanie Hueftle in the foundation’s Kearney office and Dr. Randal Haack, vice-chancellor of business and finance at UNK,” Hammer said. “It has been a pleasure to work with these people.”
Hammer – who is retired from a job with the federal government, including a stint with NATO as chief of information systems – currently lives in Parker, Colo., with his wife, Marie-Claire. His interests include real estate, foreign travel and following Husker and UNK sports. He maintains close ties with his hometown where he is a member of the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce and the Museum of Nebraska Art.
The University of Nebraska Foundation is a private, nonprofit corporation supplementing support for each of the four campuses of the University of Nebraska since 1936. The foundation bridges relationships with alumni, friends, corporations and other foundations interested in enhancing the university.
Generations of college students remember the Hammer Motel, as do travelers and Kearney residents. Perhaps most impressive was the motel’s sign: a hammer. “Anybody who was there in Kearney for any length of time remembers the sign very well,” said Fred E. Hammer. “You can go to any city in the country and the stores don’t change that much, all the signs are the same. Back in this era, the signs were unique and they reflected the creativity of the proprietor. This one caught on for some reason.”
The sign served as a beacon to travelers with its neon and bright lights. The brightness of the sign depended on the amount of business the motel had. “If it started to look like it was going to be a weak night, then we’d have all the lights flashing. You’d see it for at least a mile in either direction,” he said. “When we didn’t have vacant rooms, then we’d turn off the flashing lights and the electricity bill would go way down.