Tim Hammer has left his work at Oak Grove Cemetery, but he’ll be back.
Hammer, who has been the cemetery caretaker for three decades, retired last week.
He has a family plot, overlooking Anderson Arena on the Bowling Green State University campus, which the cemetery sits in the middle of.
“We bought that spot because I’ve had basketball tickets for the Falcons for 45 years,” Hammer said.
He and his late wife, Sara, picked out the final resting spot close to where the Falcons used to take the court; they’ve since moved to the Stroh Center for games.
His father, Carl Hammer and Sara, are also buried at the cemetery.
“I’ve got lots for my kids, too,” Hammer said.
Hammer, who is 61, started with the city 35 years ago, working part-time jobs, trying to get a full-time position, which he was offered about 18 months later.
“At that time, back then, when you were hired in, you got pretty much put on the trash route. And that was when we did everything by hand,” said Hammer, who is a 1980 graduate of Bowling Green High School. “That was the job that new hires got.”
His next city job was in recycling. Then he started coming to the cemetery for two weeks out of a month, to do maintenance work.
“It wasn’t overly well-maintained at that point,” he said of Oak Grove. “When they had some free guys, they would try and get them over here.”
The city superintendent approached him about taking over the cemetery work permanently in 1996.
“I said I would, as long as I got the help,” Hammer said.
That help came in the form of part-time, seasonal workers and a big volunteer crew from adjacent Bowling Green State University.
“A lot of football players and basketball players, guys that were on campus all year and didn’t have sports going on at that time, they’d come over and help maintain the cemetery. They did a lot of weeding and mowing with me,” Hammer said.
There is nothing creepy about working at a cemetery, he said.
“Not to me,” Hammer said, adding that he loves being outside.
As part of the job, he also sold lots, opened and closed graves for burials and poured the foundations for the headstones.
The cemetery encompasses 23 acres and there are more than 15,000 graves — in his estimation.
“Not a lot left to sell,” Hammer said. “And being landlocked like this, we really don’t have anywhere to expand to.”
The most popular question posed to him: Why was a cemetery put in the middle of a university?
“Well, this was here about 30, 40 years before the university was ever established,” Hammer said.
The cemetery opened in April 1873. The first lot was sold Aug. 9 of that year.
One of the biggest changes in recent times at the cemetery was moving the entrance to Merry Avenue and totally fencing the property in, where it runs along Ridge Street.
“There used to be a stone wall, some chain link fence, and we had no problem with the students cutting through. But they didn’t stay on the roads and started making paths going through the graves,” Hammer said. “That’s when they decided they’d like to enclose it.”
A wrought iron fence was built, and the entrance moved.
Hammer has most of the cemetery layout and names stored in his head. He also prefers flipping through a binder and index cards for reference, then looking at a computer.
“A lot of times, people will say, ‘I’m looking for so-and-so,’” Hammer said, adding that often his reply is “just follow me.”
His busiest time at the cemetery was preparing for the annual Memorial Day parade.
“That’s a big thing here. Memorial Day, there’s a lot of people here,” Hammer said. “That’s the most hectic two weeks I have here. I try to make it as nice 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 is committed, especially to cardio.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “There’s days you don’t want to do it, but when you leave, you’re like, ‘man, I’m glad I did it.’”
The workouts may be on hold in retirement, as he spends more time at his cottage on a lake in Canada.
“It’s an older fishing cottage and I’d like to remove it and build a new one, build larger so all the family can come up. I have four grandkids,” Hammer said. “I’d like to spend more time fishing. I fish a lot. It’s just so quiet up there.”