I’m pretty picky about my heroes. Tights and capes don’t impress me much.  Multi-million dollar movie stars or athletes are okay for some, but not for me. I’ve never watched Survivor. Ever.

I prefer my heroes to be real people I can hug every once in a while.

I’d like to introduce you to two of my heroes: Floyd and Kathy Hammer.  They’re very easy to hug.  Five minutes with them and you won’t be wearing any socks because they will have charmed them right off your feet.

Apparently I’m not the only one that considers them worthy of hero status. President Obama and former President Bush (41) had them stop by the White House yesterday so they could honor them as the recipients of the 5,000th Points of Light Award. You can watch them receive the award.

I wrote about them in my book, Hunger Bites: Bite Sized Stories of Inspiration.  The following is an excerpt.


Floyd and Kathy Hammer: From Retirement to Repurposing

 A geriatric study asked, “If you had life to live over, what would you do differently?”  Three basic answers were given:

      • People would have risked more-
      • People would have reflected more- more pauses for self-inventory
      • To have invested themselves in something that would live on after they were gone

For their retirement, Floyd and Kathy Hammer built a farmhouse in rural Iowa so they could wake up each morning surrounded by aged oak trees snuggling their home between rolling corn fields and pasture land.  With the morning’s brew cradled in their hands, they walk out their bedroom onto a deck and overlook a pond nestled in the undulating hills. Dozens of goslings toddle in single file into the water splashing with an abundance of bass and crappie.

However, they are seldom there.

Floyd was a successful businessman in a variety of endeavors from farming to construction to plastic recycling.  Their dream was to retire, buy a sailboat, and travel the world.

They never bought the boat.  Furthermore, they haven’t spent one day on a sailboat since they supposedly retired.  They’re usually in Africa.

Ten years ago a friend invited them to Tanzania, Africa. A new hospital was being constructed in the remote village of Nkungi (n-koongi) and they needed Floyd’s expertise.   The village of Nkungi was created to keep lepers segregated from society. However, it continued to grow because the families of the lepers had to move nearby to feed them. If you are admitted to a hospital in Tanzania, your family have to supply you with food if you want to eat.

The new hospital was for AIDs patients, but Floyd and Kathy became aware of a greater need: starving children.  Scores of children in the village, as well as their parents, were severely malnourished and starving.  Floyd and Kathy hauled in a truckload of grain and asked the villagers to trade anything of value for the grain.

When Floyd and Kathy opened the door the first morning after the grain arrived, women and children were lined up as far as they could see.  The mamas had beautiful, hand-woven baskets to trade!

Kathy asked what they could do to further assist and the women responded with four requests: food, water, medicine, and education.  Therefore, the Hammers have spent the first ten years of their retirement fulfilling the promises they made to the mamas of Nkungi village.

They soon started their own non-profit in the states called, Outreach, which began to develop those four promises into four programs: food, water, medicine, and education. They also established Outreach as an NGO (non-governmental organization) in Tanzania.

Food – I first met Floyd in 2007 after Lyle Mullins of Heaven Sent Ministries gave me his contact information as the go-to guy to buy all the equipment and supplies I needed to start my own meal-packaging program. I drove to Union, Iowa, a little town of 397 souls northeast of Des Moines.  Floyd uniquely carved Outreach out as a supplier of ingredients and equipment for meal packagers.  In the first six months of 2010, Outreach provided me all the commodities and equipment to package 20 million meals for Haiti relief.  I could never have done it without Floyd, Kathy, and Matt Hamilton – Kathy’s son.  They also package meals under the Outreach brand as well. To date, Outreach has facilitated the packaging of over 232 million meals!

Water – In many African areas, there is often plenty of water but it is filled with all sorts of creepy crawly creatures that wreak mayhem to a person’s insides. Therefore, purification is a major need so Outreach designed purification systems that decontaminate the water 99.9% pure.

Medicine – I traveled to Tanzania on Outreach’s Medical Team with doctors and medical professionals from all over the United States. In the last ten years, they’ve had over 850 medical professionals and support staff visit Tanzania. They perform surgeries, offer healthcare, provide medical education, and supply the hospital with equipment and technology.

EducationWhen the mamas asked Kathy for a secondary school, she sold the baskets in the States and used the proceeds to build a school.  The village already had a primary school, but for the children to go on to secondary school, they had to travel too far.  Inspired by the village leader- Zephaniah Gunda- Outreach built the Gunda Secondary School. On my recent trip, over 700 students populated the Secondary School with a teacher/student ratio of one teacher per 77 students.

They’ve also built a Children’s Center in Singida and are building another one two hours away in Manyoni. President Kitweke’s wife visited the Children Center and requested twelve more. Outreach feeds street children at these centers, but in order for them to get fed, they have to go to school first.  In order to go to school, they have to have school uniforms that cost one month’s wages ($40 US Dollars) per child.

Most recent development: Shalom Farm – As if they didn’t have anything else to do, they just bought an 8,000 acre ranch and farm in Tanzania with an eye on the future as an agriculture training and research facility for livestock and grain production. They understand the people need work and education so they can move towards independence. While Floyd and Kathy were in DC receiving the award at the White House, there was a conference going on in our office in Des Moines with leading scientists from as far away as Kenya and England talking about sustainability on Shalom Farm.

All of these things they started in their “retirement.” I’m twenty years younger than Floyd and, after spending nearly three weeks with him in Africa, I feel like a little kid running ten steps trying to keep up for each step he takes.

Floyd and Kathy didn’t retire: they repurposed.

And they built a legacy that will live on long after their gone.

I hope you get to hug them sometime.

And hear Floyd repeat, as you leave, an African saying, “Well, I’ll see you when I look at  you.”