If you ask Ralph Hammond a simple question – like, “What’s up?” – be prepared for an answer that may warrant an intermission.
It’s not so much that Hammond is verbose, though he certainly is effusive. It’s more about the resume, replete with commitments to Bedford and the world.
The retired teacher and Davis School principal is a Board member and volunteer with Bedford TV, instructing students in grades three through eight on video technology and written presentations. He recently joined the board of Bedford Embraces Diversity and is a trustee of the Job Lane House. Through Rotary International, he is a volunteer literacy consultant.
In recent years, Hammond has been a member of the town Arbor Resources, Bicycle Advisory, Community Media, Trails, and Transportation Advisory Committees. He is active with the League of Women Voters and represents Bedford as a steward with the Sudbury, Assabet, and Concord Wild and Scenic River Stewardship Council.
Ralph Hammond, Bedford’s Citizen of the Year in 2013, is 77 years old. What drives him to continue to seek and execute mega-involvement?
“I think it was how I was brought up,” Hammond mused.
As a child, he lived with his family in a modest house adjacent to the Clark dairy farm on Davis Road, and he helped older kids with farm chores from the time he was able to clamber onto a hay wagon. As he grew, “I just moved to the next level.”
Davis Road was the town’s agricultural enclave in the early 1950s. “Every night, we drove the cows out – and the cows went all the way up to Rand Place,” he recalled, with pastures interspersed with corn and hay fields.
The neighborhood was a giant playground.
“We played football, baseball, basketball. We bought into that cycle, but there was always something new,” he remembered. “On some hot nights, we slept out in the fields – in those days you could see the Milky Way. On weekends, we would go over and help the Lewellens pick apples – the orchard was the other playground we had.” Paula and Warren Lewellen owned a big farm on Davis Road.
When former farmland was transformed into the new streets of Putnam, Clark, and Gleason roads, Hammond and his friends sold soft drinks to the construction crews.
A single daily school bus traversed all of Davis Road, and then rumbled the length of Hartwell Road to pick up kids on South Road and the brand-new Bedford Gardens duplexes.
“Bedford grew and we learned the new things,” he said. Indeed, the town was growing so fast that fifth and sixth graders were relocated into the new junior-senior high school before construction was complete, he said. “We were told not to touch the paint.”
The brick wing – now Kids Club – added to the old Union School building “was supposed to solve everything,” he laughed.
In high school, Hammond learned that “my eye muscles did not function correctly. Years later as a teacher, I was diagnosed with severe dyslexia.”
As a student at BHS, “all the staff was very supportive. My success in sports, music, and art was a huge help. Most importantly, the love, kindness, and care from some very special friends were what saved me from dropping out of school.”
Hammond graduated from BHS in 1963 and proceeded to earn an associate’s degree from Dean Junior College, a B.S. in education from Framingham State College, and an M.S. in education and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) from Lesley College.
Hammond said in high school, “I had great success with math. I thought I’d like to be a math teacher. In college I said, ‘Gee, I kind of like everything.’ So, I became an elementary school teacher, focusing on child development.”
“I have served the Bedford Public Schools from 1969 to 1995, first as a classroom teacher, vice principal, director of computer education, [and] finally as elementary school principal,” he related.
Hammond enumerated some of the highlights of those years. In 1974, he introduced sixth graders in Bedford to the Nature’s Classroom, a week-long camping experience. Beginning in 1978, “with much help from community volunteers, we launched the first computer education program at the elementary level.” Davis School became the first in the system to have Internet access in every classroom in 1994, he said.
Hammond also recounted his bringing the Invent America program to Lane School – a program that “inspired creative thinking and fantastic inventions by students.”
In 1990 he joined the Rotary Club of Bedford, and that has been a major part of his life since. Hammond said his involvement in Rotary’s community service and education projects in Bedford and worldwide represent “opportunities to grow and promote world peace and understanding.”
He was club president, helped to establish an Interact Club at BHS, and served as international service director. He served a one-year term as governor of Rotary International District 7910, and was a member of a Rotary International literacy/numeracy task force.
Indeed, “International involvement is key to learning,” Hammond asserted. “My travel to 20 nations, and serving on the board of Hands in Outreach for the education of Tibetan and Nepalese children, launched many opportunities.” He trained teachers as a lecturer at two universities in Nepal in 1996 and 1997.
“Learning through sharing and teamwork is what makes learning and life fun, effective and meaningful,” he said, recalling a principal exchange program between Davis School and Nepal that “helped to build a deeper and more meaningful awareness of how involvement with developing countries can become a rewarding and enriching opportunity for many.”
“Just this year I was appointed to the Rotary Action Group for Clubfoot,” he related. “My involvement with inclusion of disabled students began in my second year as a teacher, and continues to this day.” Hammond has been honored as the club’s Rotarian of the Year four times, including this year.
In November 2020, Hammond said he and a fellow Rotarian from the Merrimack Valley Rotary Club established the Rotary Club of World Disability Advocacy with representatives from 11 different countries each member with a severe disability.
In 2017, Hammond said his involvement with a program at MIT called the MIT Ideas Global Challenge led to the concept being applied to Bedford. It became known as the Bedford Rotary Ideas Community Challenge (BRIC2). In partnership with Bedford TV, this activity has become what is “perhaps my most meaning, enjoyable contribution to Bedford since I volunteered for five years, four days each week at the VA Hospital.”
“Assisting with the hospice team and working with veterans as a volunteer gave me an entirely new and very meaningful understanding of life, and, most importantly, the lives of others,” Hammond testified. “Some of those veterans have been at our VA since they returned from the Korean War when I was in elementary school, as well as Vietnam when I was in college and beginning to teach in Bedford.” Hammond was named Department of Veterans Affairs Volunteer of the Year in 2010.
For 10 years, Hammond and his wife Jean participated in the Pan-Mass Challenge, a two-day, 200-mile bicycling fundraiser to benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “One of those years I did the event while undergoing chemo and radiation treatment,” he said.
Now with Bedford TV, “My passion is with the education program. There are wonderful opportunities, especially for middle school kids, to learn the skills necessary to do video production.” A major focus, he said, is “to help students develop writing skills. Building a writing culture is my ultimate dream.” Hammond was named Bedford TV Volunteer of the Year 2020.
Editor’s Note: This is Mike Rosenberg’s 1,000th story for The Bedford Citizen since he started in the summer of 2020. Mike, in thinking about what to do for this occasion, said he wanted this milestone story “to be something that would inspire the community.” He certainly does that with this story. We look forward to reading Mike’s next 1,000 stories for The Bedford Citizen.