Hamers establish Professorship in Music at MU


Dr. John Hamer ’48 and Esther Rinehart ’50 Hamer made their mark in medical careers. Now their largest and perhaps most enduring legacy at Manchester honors another passion with a $1.5 million estate gift to establish the John L. and Esther L. Rinehart Hamer Professorship in Music.

“I knew that, even though my career would be in the medical field, I enjoyed music and it would always be an important part of my life,” says Esther, who graduated from Manchester with degrees in biology and music (piano performance) and earned her nursing degree from Case Western Reserve University. “Music has given balance to my life.”

It has been a full and meaningful life.

Beyond northeast Indiana, the Hamers are best known for helping to identify Lassa fever while working as medical missionaries in Nigeria.

John Hamer, a physician, and Esther married in 1952 and served in the Church of the Brethren’s Nigeria ministry from 1953 to 1969. They performed most of their work at Lassa Hospital, named for the remote village where they cared for people suffering from leprosy, malaria, dysentery, dehydration, parasites and more.

Laura Wine, an American nurse, was working with the Hamers at the hospital in 1969 when she contracted a critical illness and died. The Hamers insisted that blood be drawn for bacterial and viral cultures and that an autopsy be performed. That critical evidence provided information that researchers needed to identify what is now known as Lassa fever, an infectious, contagious disease that causes massive internal bleeding and is often fatal.

Shortly after, the Hamers returned to the United States and settled in Fort Wayne, where John practiced family medicine for many years. They retired to the Timbercrest Senior Living Community in North Manchester, where John died in 2019 at age 95.

Esther still lives at Timbercrest, a short walk from the Manchester campus where both Hamers enjoyed the college music program as undergraduates. John sang in the Chapel Choir, while Esther sang in A Cappella Choir and played violin in the Symphony and Strings Orchestra. Both the Hamers’ daughters enjoyed music at Manchester, too, participating in Chorale and playing the harp. Today, Dr. Harriet Hamer ’80 is a physician in South Bend and Krista Hamer-Schweer ’82 is an asset servicing investment fund accountant in Frankfurt, Germany.

“Even in this era, while science and medicine remain important, John and I hoped that Manchester would continue to have a strong music program,” says Esther about the endowed professorship. “It is important not only for students who major in music, but also for other students who want to enjoy music. So we decided that one way MU could maintain a strong music department in the years to come would be through a professorship in music.”

Esther says the COVID-19 pandemic also has strengthened her appreciation for music in worship. “We want to maintain singing and instrumental music as we return to worship in our sanctuaries. I hope the Music Department will also enhance worship experiences.”

The Hamers’ gift is designed to help other Manchester students find balance and enjoyment through music. It also reflects their commitment to the liberal arts. “We value a liberal arts education because it supports a mentality that many things in the world are important and we shouldn’t narrow our thinking and our lives to one specific area.”

That, she adds, is precisely why the Church of the Brethren founded Manchester, along with its other colleges. “They wanted students exposed to comprehensive ideas while at the same time thinking about how faith impacted these ideas.”

Now the Hamers’ generosity will strengthen the liberal arts at Manchester, music specifically, for years to come.

“The Hamer family has a rich history of philanthropy that spans many years at Manchester,” says Melanie Harmon, vice president of advancement. “Their generous bequest will have a lasting impact on our outstanding music program and enrich the lives of current and future students for generations.”

By Melinda Lantz ’81