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Marching to the beat of his band
Timberwolves Hammarstrom Educator of the Year
Sierra High School band director Rick Hammarstrom directs his band at a high school graduation. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Seven years ago, Richard Hammarstrom wrote a letter of resignation to the principal at Sierra High School where he was the band director.

But before he handed over the letter, he let his wife Eileen read it first to find out what she thought about his plan.

“You can’t do that,” was her immediate reaction.

Being forced to choose between spending more time with his family and the school band was the reason behind Hammarstrom’s desire to resign – at least, as a high school band director.

“This job is insanely busy,” he said, recounting that moment of decision seven years ago, after receiving the 2013 Educator of the Year for secondary schools during the last Board of Trustees meeting.

“It’s still just as busy,” he said during a follow-up interview a few days later.

As if to emphasize his reason for seeking a change of pace on the job seven years ago, when he was reached on the phone, he was in the San Francisco Bay Area with 46 of his band students, plus six chaperones. The long weekend field trip was an annual spring educational experience for his students. The Jazz Band was scheduled to perform at Pier 39 that evening. The following day, their next stop was at Six Flags in Vallejo where the band was going to give a performance.

High school bands have a lot of things happening on the weekends, time that encroached heavily on what he could be spending with his family, Hammarstrom explained. Balancing time between work and family was a constant challenge.

“But she talked me out of it,” he said of his wife about his resignation plan.

During his award presentation, it was noted that Hammarstrom has taken his high school band to venues in Japan, Hawaii, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, among many others, resulting in a “lifetime of memories” for his students. Last year alone, the Timberwolves band went to more than 100 events.

The band director’s sacrifice was not one-sided. Eileen was always at her husband’s side at every band trip. In the process, she also earned the students’ affection and respect. So much so that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, the students formed a Manteca Relay for Life American Cancer Society fund-raising team called Hammers for Life. The Hammers in the team’s name is not for the band director. “That’s my wife,” said Hammarstrom who said his wife is hanging in there.

“The kids are really sweet to her.”

The group has raised $1,000 in their first two years with Relay for Life.

Through the years, Hammarstorm has earned the respect not only of his students but also students’ parents and colleagues. Retired East Union High band director Jose Barron described Hammarstrom as an “outstanding and consummate music teacher.

“People like to be around him, and he likes to be around people,” added Barron who was substituting for Hammarstrom when he took his band to the San Francisco Bay Area spring trip recently.

A graduate of Brigham Young University with a bachelor’s degree in instrumental education, he completed his master’s degree in music education at California State University, Sacramento.

He grew up in Hayward and, at 19 years of age, he went to Japan as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was during that time that his family moved to Manteca where he met his wife. They have six children and four grandchildren.

As for living and working in the Family City, Hammarstrom said, “Manteca has been good to me.”