ClearWater Conservancy lost a great friend and an inspiring leader when Don Hamer died on July 12, 2016, at the age of 90.
The founder and chairman of State of the Art, Inc., the State College company known internationally for manufacturing highly reliable microelectronic components, Don served for 20 years on the ClearWater Conservancy board of directors and was the board president from 1992 to 95. He brought both a passion for conservation and the practical sensibilities of an engineer and businessman to his work with ClearWater, and his leadership and support was instrumental in protecting and conserving such local treasures as Millbrook Marsh and Spring Creek Canyon.
“Don was of the mind that conservation was good business, that the apparent divide between business and conservation could be bridged,” says former ClearWater Executive Director Jennifer Shuey. “I think his influence is why ClearWater today is still so centrist—and so successful–as an organization: he helped us recognize the need to draw people into conversation who might not seem, at first, to share a common goal.”
ClearWater board member Dan Crust agrees. “In the early days ClearWater was mostly reacting against proposed developments,” he says. “Don saw a bigger vision: to work constructively with government agencies and private developers, to realize you can’t save everything, and to commit to protecting the most important things.”
Don Hamer grew up in Illinois and was the first in his family to earn a college degree. After serving in the Navy, he came to State College in 1963 for a job with Erie Technological Products, and stayed, making Central Pennsylvania his home for the rest of his life. The business he launched in 1969 was extremely successful—State of the Art today is the leading American supplier of the high reliability resistors used in the biomedical, communications, and the aerospace and defense industries.
With success, Don continued to live modestly and made philanthropy a priority. He created the Hamer Foundation, which supported not just ClearWater but dozens of organizations, mostly conservation and education causes. In a 2015 interview with the Centre Daily Times, he said “It’s a way of making me feel good. If you’ve got this much money, do something good with it, rather than just keep it.
If a practical, realistic approach to conservation is one of Don’s main legacies to ClearWater, another is how he moved the organization to focus on protecting Spring Creek. “In the 1990s he funded two landmark studies of the Spring Creek Watershed, identifying the things that need to be saved,” says Barbara Fisher, one of ClearWater’s founding members. “Those studies still guide ClearWater’s work today.”
A third legacy to ClearWater is the Don Hamer Land Conservation Fund—and here, as elsewhere, Don was thinking strategically. “He emphatically did not want to fund staff time or endowments,” Shuey remembers. “He wanted to see us carry out important projects. And he would challenge us to leverage his support–he was always thinking of the organization’s growth and development and how he could help make us stronger along the way.
Friends say one of Hamer’s proudest achievements is that resistors from State of the Art were used in NASA’s Voyager Spacecraft, launched in 1977…and are still going strong nearly 40 years (and 20 billion kilometers of space travel) later.
Here at ClearWater, we’re deeply grateful for Don’s vision, leadership, drive, and support. We are proud of the accomplishments in conservation he has helped to make possible. We’ve been around almost as long as Voyager (35 years), we’re in the process of planning for the next 35. . . and we’re certain that Don Hamer’s contributions to conservation here in Central Pennsylvania will be even more spectacularly enduring.
Past ClearWater Conservancy board presidents at a 2004 board retreat–Don Hamer with Walt Ebaugh, Brian McCullough and Barb Fisher.