During my first year at Lawrence, Susan Hammes was often sitting at the front desk of Andrew Commons when I swiped my card to get a meal. She worked in the Commons for seven years before resigning in September 2022; she recalls leaving abruptly, as it would have been too difficult to leave otherwise.
Hammes left in part because she felt that Bon Appétit’s new management had made her job less student-oriented, and in part because she felt overworked. Due to her sudden departure, many students didn’t have the chance to say goodbye, so senior Shae Erlandson put together a list of parting words to Hammes from Lawrence students, which Erlandson turned into a book and delivered to Hammes. Hammes said that she still reads the book and showed it to her family.
“That was a very special gift, because I’m gone now,” said Hammes. “You didn’t have to remember me.”
Hammes was born and raised in Appleton with seven siblings and is a first–generation college student who graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with a degree in social work. Hammes got married after college and was a social worker for 27 years, first in Wausau, Wis. and Saint Louis, Mo. She then separated from her husband, moved to Florida and worked in Child Protective Services. Social work became increasingly difficult for her as the years progressed, so she left the field after a final position in adoption services.
After her children graduated from college, Hammes moved back to Appleton, where she worked at TJ Maxx running the jewelry department. After that, she managed the Darboy Goodwill store in Southeast Appleton for 10 years, which she found more akin to social work than management, since Goodwill intentionally employs former prison inmates and people with mental disabilities. However, when Goodwill began raising prices, Hammes grew disillusioned with the nonprofit and planned to retire.
However, her plans were foiled when a former Goodwill coworker who worked at Lawrence encouraged Hammes to join him. She started working in Kaplan’s Café where she learned to be a barista but was soon moved to the Commons. Though she loved working as a barista, she found the Commons was a great fit for her because she enjoyed interacting with all the students who came through. She did a lot of social work at the front desk of the Commons, since there is a lot going on with students who are stressed and far from home.
“There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of you students,” Hammes said.
Hammes leans more conservative in her political opinions and personal life and is a devout Christian. However, she recognizes the value of diversity, having met many Lawrence students from a variety of backgrounds. She recalls wondering why Lawrence had a disproportionate number of queer students when she first came here and then realizing that it’s because Lawrence provides an environment where young people can be themselves comfortably and without fear.
“I am so thankful that I have that appreciation for…diversity,” said Hammes.
At the end of the last school year, Hammes won the Babcock Award, in which seniors vote for the faculty or staff member who has had the greatest impact on them. Winning the Babcock Award is one of the “neatest” things that’s ever happened to her, she recounted, and she believes she won simply by being interested in, talking to and being kind to students.
After leaving Lawrence, Hammes got a job doing similar work but with younger kids in the Appleton Area School District (AASD). She said that a lot of them see her as their “Nana.”
“I like working with little kids, but I miss this [Lawrence], I miss it a lot,” Hammes said.
Hammes said that at her new job, some of the kids are beginning to question their gender identity, so she doesn’t make assumptions anymore. Older generations need to understand that you can learn a lot from kids and young people, and she learns something new every day, she declared. She described a lesson she learned from her own daughter, who landed a job in pharmaceuticals for $150,000 per year, but then quit that job to become a teacher. Hammes was upset with her daughter at first but has since realized that it’s more important to do what makes you happy than to make as much money as possible. She added that understanding this includes accepting people who are different from you because they deserve to be happy too.
“When you stop learning and stop accepting diversity and uniqueness, you might as well just stop living,” Hammes concluded.