Hammerman, portrayer of Petaluma’s past, dies

Bill Hammerman, a longtime educator who became an active community volunteer after moving to Petaluma, died of complications from cancer on Tuesday morning. He was 88.

Hammerman taught at the high school and college levels for 40 years. He retired in 1992 after teaching for 32 years as a professor of education at San Francisco State University. He and his wife, Connie, moved to Petaluma in 1993 after coming here to visit a friend.

“The town was so accepting,” Hammerman said in a recent interview. “It became our favorite river town. We never regretted it.”

The Hammermans bought a house and he immediately plunged into community service.

“He had no intention of doing nothing when he retired,” his wife said.

Hammerman launched projects that promoted greater use of telecommunications and computer technology, especially to local schools. In the mid-1990s, the Internet and e-mail was in its infancy, but Hammerman had a vision.

“I just thought that every kid should know how to use a computer,” he said. “Teachers gradually learned how to adapt to use computers for their curriculum and it has just taken off.”

Hammerman reached out to leaders of Petaluma’s telecommunications companies and formed the CyberCity Roundtable, which met monthly. Participants discussed how they could help schools and other community organizations.

“He would ask corporations and business for their old computers after they had upgraded their systems, and would donate them to schools, libraries and community places,” his wife said.

He organized Petaluma’s first computer fair to introduce the devices to the community.

Hammerman taught basic computer classes to seniors at the Petaluma campus of Santa Rosa Junior College and he was an instructor for the Petaluma Adult School’s “History of Petaluma” series. He founded the Petaluma Electronic Network and referred to himself as a “volunteer cybernaut.”

He formed the Sages of Petaluma, a group that gathered and held informal conversations about Petaluma history, and joined the Petalumans of Yesteryear, a dozen seniors who adopted the identities and attire of local residents from the 1800s for downtown walking tours and other events.

As one of the Petalumans of Yesteryear, Hammerman portrayed William Howard Pepper, who started a kindergarten school in 1894. It was a good match, since Hammerman’s academic focus was early childhood education.

From 2001 to 2007, he was a volunteer for neighborhood-centered emergency preparedness programs. He was instrumental in creating a neighborhood HAM watch, with a network of 30 certified amateur radio operators who continue to test their system monthly and are ready to help share information with public safety agencies in the event of an emergency.

“We were one of the first communities in the country that formed a neighborhood HAM watch,” he said. “It wouldn’t have happened without the interest and enthusiasm of HAM operators.”

During the holidays, Hammerman would don a Santa Claus suit and make the rounds at the hospital and nursing homes.

“But Bill didn’t just go where he was supposed to go,” his wife said. “He would go to City Hall, the police department and fire department. The city even gave him a driver’s license with Santa’s photo.”

Hammerman set up the Argus-Courier’s first website and e-mail address in 1997 and became one of the newspaper’s most prolific bloggers on, writing more than 600 blog posts.

He was named Petaluma’s Citizen of the Year in 2002, was awarded the Good Egg award in 2005 and was the grand marshal of the 2013 Butter & Egg Days Parade.

A native of Boston, Hammerman earned degrees from Towson State Teacher’s College and the University of Maryland. He served in the U.S. Army and taught at Ball State Teacher’s College and Northern Illinois University before coming to San Francisco State University in 1960.

Over the years, he served on various national, regional and local boards involved in camping and outdoor education. He is the author or co-author of five books on outdoor education and environmental education.

He is survived by his wife, four stepchildren and several step-grandchildren.

A celebration of his life is pending.

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