Mike Hamer was one of our first and always one of our best supporters. He performed at RAF many times, as a solo and with various friends and ensembles, including his beloved Lemon Sisters & Rutabaga Brothers.
Michael John Hamer, born June 6, 1948, was Aline Fortine and Bill Hamer’s second child. He and his sister, Joan M. Hamer, grew up on their family dairy farm about five miles from Newport Center, Vermont.
Mike graduated from Sacred Heart High School in Newport Center in 1966, where he was active in the school band as a drummer. That summer, he secured his first job away from the family farm, as a dishwasher at the music camp in Stowe, Vermont run by the Von Trapp family, who were the subjects of The Sound of Music.
He then studied for the priesthood at Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Essex, NY. He was living in Tewskbury, MA when the family farm’s barn burned and he returned then to Newport to assist his father in its operations until his father died.
Mike attended Johnson State College in Johnson, VT and the University of Vermont, where he became known for performing and earned a B.A. in English in 1973 and, after coming to Greenville, a Master’s, also in English, from ECU.
He joined the VISTA anti-poverty program, serving first in New Orleans and then Greenville, NC, where he settled in the mid-1970s. In Greenville, he became active in the local music scene as well as in the volunteer community. He was among the first volunteers in 1983 for Witness for Peace, the faith-based human rights organization that brought U.S. citizens to Nicaragua in opposition to the ruling Contras.
In 1984, Mike was injured in a diving accident that left him a quadriplegic. After rehab at Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville, he joined the English faculty at East Carolina University, where he taught freshman composition and honor’s and songwriting classes until 2004.
Despite being confined to a wheelchair for 33 years, Mike remained active as a singer-songwriter-band leader and as an active community volunteer in many organizations, including Greenville’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation; STARS, a support team for active recreation for spinal injury survivors; FROGGS, the Friends of Greenville’s Greenways; ReLeaf, which has planted over 1,500 trees in Greenville; and the Pamlico Tar River Foundation.
During the 1980s, his band the Lemon Sisters and Rutabaga Brothers was among the most popular in the region, regularly performing to crowds at the New Deli that spilled out onto Cotanche Street in search of more room to dance. He also organized the big band, the Rhinoceroses and Angelic Chorus [correct band name?], to perform his original songs, including “Rhinos Doin’ the Wild Thing.” In recent years, he enjoyed performing solo shows and with the Nu Clear Twins, Nathan and Melody Maxwell.
Mike was a talented and prolific songwriter who won several state and regional grants to perform, write and produce CDs, which he also distributed from his home. With ECU dance professor Boni Boswell, he produced in 1989 a 15-mintute video “Shake, Rattle, and Roll: Wheelchair Dancing,” in which he joyously dances with others in wheelchairs. That video and several of the Lemons & Rutabagas performing are available on the YouTube channel maintained by local documentarian Jake Postma as “videoman909.”
Mike was renowned for his positive spirit, love of nature, and the delight he took in all of his many friends. He was also known for his big smile, his delight in good books, his annual Christmas cards and his talent for gathering friends together.
Mike lived for many years on Woodlawn Avenue in Greenville, where his home was a music and cultural center and the site of many songwriting sessions, music jams, and other celebrations that centered around good food, music and his huge cast of friends.
He died peacefully in his sleep at 12:11 a.m. on December 10, 2017, with his long-time friend Amy Hazzard by his side.
He is survived by many former girlfriends, his sister Joan, who lives at their Woodlawn Street home, and several cousins.