John E. Hammer, former News Editor of The Courier-Gazette, died June 1, 2021 at his home in Fruitland Park, FL with his wife Cheryl by his side after a lengthy battle with multiple myeloma cancer. The Camden native was 70 years old and had moved to Lake County Florida in 2006, retiring from Gannett, Inc. in 2017.
Hammer, who started working as a reporter/photographer at The Courier-Gazette as a high-school senior in 1969, became news editor of the tri-weekly in 1972, a position he held until leaving Maine in 1981 to take over as Managing Editor of The Maryland Independent, a suburban Washington, DC newspaper.
The 1969 Camden-Rockport High School graduate and University of Maine/Augusta attendee went on to a career that spanned nearly a half-century in the newspaper, publishing, and media field in multiple states.
John Elliot Hammer was born to Nelson John “Jack” Hammer and Helena D. (Gray) Hammer on Dec. 29, 1950 at the original Camden Hospital on Mountain Street. He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Cheryl (Berg) Hammer; daughter Tracey Thibault, husband Marc and granddaughter Briannah of West Gardiner, Maine; stepdaughter Stacey Beneck and husband John of Elizabeth City, NC; stepdaughter Lesley Raley, husband Chris, and granddaughters Anna and Mia Raley of North Yarmouth, Maine; and mother-in-law Beverly Berg of Fruitland Park, FL.
Hammer had an interesting and varied journey in his newspaper/publishing career travels.
After Whitney Communications merged newspaper divisions in Maryland, Hammer moved to North Central Minnesota where he was Managing Editor and then Publisher of the daily/ Sunday Pioneer Newspapers and printing operations in Bemidji, MN until the sale of the property from Scripps-Pioneer Newspapers to Park Newspapers in the late 1980s. Hammer loved the Scandinavian influence of northern Minnesota and the people he met there through the ’80s but eventually moved back to Maine and NH as Vice-President of James Newspapers, where he worked in Portland. ME and North Conway, NH to be closer to his widowed mother in Camden.
Hammer was an owner or publisher-partner in several weekly or monthly ventures: The Northern-Guide of Bemidji, MN; Senior News& Views – Minnesota; Parent & Family Monthly of Southern Maine; and The New Hampshire Times (formerly Seacoast Sunday) in Coastal NH and York County, ME with several partners, including longtime friend and former Courier-Gazette business manager, Wayne Nelson.
Upon moving to Florida, he worked for Gannett, Inc (later TEGNA and other publishing entities thereof) primarily in the Orlando and Lake County/The Villages region until retirement in 2017.
Hammer was involved with other business ventures over the years, including ownership of ITEX Maine (International Trade Exchange) a business-to-business bartering and alternative revenue system with more than 100 Maine and NH business members. He was a business broker/appraiser with V-R Business Brokers of Portland in the early ’90s. Eventually, he specialized in media property consulting, turnaround, merger & acquisitions projects while his wife was also working as a traveling nurse, which allowed them to spend time together in various other parts of the country.
Hammer was president of the Maine Press Association while at The Courier-Gazette and involved in numerous other press/media organizations over the years. In 1981-1982 he served as a member of the (Maine) Governor’s Council of Tourism.
In Minnesota, he was active in local and regional civic organizations. He was named “Employer of the Year” by the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce. He was an adjunct professor of journalism at Bemidji State University, in the University of Minnesota system, and hosted and produced “North Country Edition”, a weekly current affairs program for KAWE-TV public broadcasting.
In 1986 he received citations from both the Bemidji Police Dept. and later from the Minnesota Police Chief’s Association for his actions in saving two children from a boating accident, in a runaway boat situation in which their father was ejected and drowned, near his lakefront home.
For the last 12 or so years, Hammer was the organizer and co-host of a reunion gathering for “the old Rockland press corps and friends” during “Lobster Festival Weekend”, which was at Cobb Manor, the Camden home of the late Bangor Daily News bureau reporter, Emmet Meara. “Chef Johnny Boy” provided the lobster rolls and other seafood/ribs/etc to an appreciative crowd of former reporters, media veterans, and Friends of The Emmet. In lieu of any wake or Celebration of Life observance, Mr. Hammer simply expressed his hopes “that the Hammer-feast and Reunion” event could continue again in 2021and perhaps thereafter.
Interment will be in a private family ceremony at Evergreen Cemetery on Cape Rosier, Brooksville, Maine.
Memorial donations can be made to the John E. and Helena D. Hammer Memorial Fund at PAWS, as the former Camden-Rockport Animal Rescue League is now known: PAWS, P.O. Box 107, Rockport, ME 04856. Or follow directions at Pawsadoption.org, “If you really want to make a heartfelt donation, just go and adopt or sponsor a homeless pet there now,” Hammer quipped.