We all have one time to live and one legacy to leave on this earth. For Corban alumni Matt Hammer, who died in this summer – just three months after graduating – his time on earth was short, but it’s clear that the way he lived spoke louder than words. The friends he left behind say he was a man of character and authenticity.
Hammer died Aug. 5 in a helicopter crash in northern California. He and the nine other Oregonians killed in the crash were all summer firefighters. He was 23.
He was a great friend to many at Corban. It is here where he went to school. It is here where he dated his wife. It is here where he made the friends who will never forget him.
“Matt was prankster. He liked to make me laugh, and he had the ability to calm me down, and see reason,” recalls his widow, Monica (Crumley) Hammer. “He was thoughtful.… He was serious when he needed to be, rational when he needed to be. He was honest, loving, and respectful… Most of all, Matt loved the Lord.
After living with Hammer for three years and fighting fires with him for two summers, Corban student John Traut has much to say about the legacy left by his friend.
After becoming friends with Hammer during their freshman year, Traut quickly began to look up to Matt as a role model. Because Hammer was a man of few words, Traut found himself “perking his ears” every time he did speak. He knew that it would be something important, something to consider. This encouraged Traut to be careful about the words that came out of his own mouth.
“Matt was a man deep down,” Traut says. “This was shown not only in his physical appearance, but in his integrity of character.”
Hammer played a huge part in Traut developing his heart for the Lord, he adds, explaining that his friend was a “back of the line leader,” and a “leader by example.” The humble way in which he lived and the consistency of sticking to his convictions in all circumstances testified to his solid faith in God. He never sought to gain favor but, because of his humility, was put on a “pedestal of integrity,” he says.
When Traut found out about the crash, he was in such utter shock that he passed out. Later, he had to work through feelings of anger, and the nagging question “Why Matt?”
As time passed, Traut realized that the last month of Hammer’s life was the best month of his life, as he’d married the woman of his dreams after four years of dating. He also realized that Hammer’s departure from earth is something that those closest to him will never get over, but will get through.
“When I think of the legacy that Matt left, it makes me so incredibly proud to be his friend. This was more of a victory than a loss. He is home now. The angels in heaven are rejoicing over him. He is doing better than all of us put together.”
Another Corban student, Shawn Mayo, roomed Hammer during their freshman year. Mayo fondly remembers having much in common with Hammer. The two quickly became friends.
“Matt was like a brother to me. I still can’t believe he’s gone,” he says. “We both loved sports, food and slacking off. We joined forces with a couple of redneck cousins that lived down the hall and we all became a band of brothers.”
Mayo also remembers egging on Hammer to ask Monica out at the end of their freshman year.
“I asked him, ‘Why don’t you just ask her out?’ and his response was ‘Girls are expensive!” Mayo says. “Later, he wised up and asked her out. Then he fell in love. Monica was his world. He spoke of her as if she were an angel. He loved her so much.”
Rick Kappler, also a good friend to Hammer, remembers him as “not without passion” and being a man of character who was not shy showing about showing his weakness.”
Corban student Martin Phillips was also a close friend of Hammer’s. He noted that Hammer was an honest person who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind when he thought it appropriate.
“My impressions of Matt came about from realizing how much I looked up to him,” said Phillips.
He admired Hammer’s mature handling of his relationship with his fiancée Monica (Crumley) and his careful use of words.
“I admire guys who don’t have to talk,” Phillips comments. Reflecting on the value of words, he adds, “You never know if what you say to a person is going to be the last thing you say to them.”
After his friend’s death, Phillips was floored by the amount of support he received from his friends and from people who knew that he had been affected. By the time he called a few people to ask them to pray for Hammer’s family, he was surprised to realize that they already were.