Cemetery Service Ends: Hammer has been caretaker of BG’s Oak Grove since 1996

Tim Hammer, who worked for the City of Bowling Green for nearly 35 years, retired last week.

JD Pooley | Sentinel-Tribune

Tim Hammer quit his job at Oak Grove Cemetery, but he’ll be back.

Hammer, who served as the cemetery caretaker for three decades, retired last week.

He has a family lot, overlooking Anderson Arena on the campus of Bowling Green State University, in the middle of which is the cemetery.

“We bought this place because I had Falcons basketball tickets for 45 years,” Hammer said.

He and his late wife, Sara, chose the final resting place near where the Falcons used to take to the field; they have since moved to the Stroh Center for the games.

Her father, Carl Hammer and Sara, are also buried at the cemetery.

“I have a lot for my kids too,” Hammer said.

Hammer, 61, started with the city 35 years ago, working part-time, trying to secure a full-time position, which was offered to him about 18 months later.

“At that time, back then, when you were hired, you were pretty much put on the garbage road. And that’s when we were doing everything by hand,” said Hammer, a 1980 graduate of Bowling Green High School. “That was the job the new recruits got.”

His next job in the city was in recycling. Then he started coming to the cemetery for two weeks out of a month, to do maintenance work.

“It wasn’t too well maintained at the time,” he said of Oak Grove. “When they had guys free, they tried to get them here.”

The city superintendent approached him to permanently resume work on the cemetery in 1996.

“I said I would, as long as I had help,” Hammer said.

This help came in the form of part-time seasonal workers and a large team of volunteers from the adjacent Bowling Green State University.

“A lot of football and basketball players, guys who were on campus all year and didn’t have sports at the time, they would come in and help maintain the cemetery. They did a lot of weeding and mowing with me,” Hammer said.

There’s nothing scary about working in a cemetery, he says.

“Not for me,” Hammer said, adding that he likes being outdoors.

As part of his job, he also sold lots, opened and closed graves for burials, and poured foundations for headstones.

The cemetery covers 23 acres and there are over 15,000 graves – according to his estimate.

“There’s not much left to sell,” Hammer said. “And being landlocked like that, we really have nowhere to grow.”

The most popular question was asked to him: Why was a cemetery put in the middle of a university?

“Well, it was here about 30, 40 years before the university was founded,” Hammer said.

The cemetery opened in April 1873. The first lot was sold on August 9 of the same year.

One of the biggest recent changes to the cemetery has been to move the entrance from Merry Avenue and completely fence off the property where it runs along Ridge Street.

“Before, there was a stone wall, a chain-link fence, and we had no problem with students cutting. But they didn’t stay on the roads and started making paths through the graves,” Hammer said. “That’s when they decided they’d like to lock him up.”

A wrought iron fence was built, and the entrance was moved.

Hammer has most of the graveyard layout and names stored in his head. He also prefers to flip through a binder and index cards for reference, then look at a computer.

“A lot of times people will say, ‘I’m looking for so-and-so,'” Hammer said, adding that often his answer is, ‘just follow me.’

His busiest time at the cemetery was preparing for the annual Memorial Day Parade.

“It’s a big thing here. Memorial Day, it’s really crowded here,” Hammer said. “It’s been the busiest two weeks I’ve had here. I try to make it as pleasant as possible.

He and his wife Lori Dunn-Hammer have four children between them.

Hammer can be found most days, pumping hard on an elliptical machine at St. Julian’s Fitness in the Woodland Mall. He started exercising 20 years ago and got involved, especially in cardio.

“I really like it,” he said. “There are days when you don’t want to do it, but when you leave, you’re like, ‘man, I’m glad I did it.'”

Workouts may be put on hold in retirement as he spends more time at his lakeside cabin in Canada.

“It’s an old fishing lodge and I’d like to take it down and build a new, bigger one for the whole family to come. I have four grandchildren,” Hammer said. “I would like to spend more time fishing. I fish a lot. It’s so quiet up there.

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