Pioneering Salem principal celebrates 90th birthday at namesake school

Geraldine Hammond got a warm welcome Wednesday at the northeast Salem school bearing her name.

Hundreds of children and educators assembled to celebrate Hammond’s 90th birthday, applauding the retied educator as she made her way to the school gym for a birthday assembly. Many were clad in pink, her favorite color, and flamingo decorations featured prominantly.

The birthday celebration is an annual tradition at Hammond, though it was suspended for the past few years due to Covid, said Susan Solis, a special education instructional assistant at Hammond who helped organize the event.

“Every time she comes, she loves it,” Solis said, noting that in her younger years, Hammond would sometimes visit classrooms to say hi to students. “She just absolutely adores being around the children, that’s her passion.”

Hammond blazed trails in Salem as a dedicated educator and principal, and became the district’s first Black woman to lead a district school in 1976. She retired after serving as principal of Rosedale and Pringle elementary schools, and helping coordinate Salem-Keizer’s multicultural program.

Hammond Elementary School, built in 2001, was named in recognition of her contributions to the district.

Because the celebration was her 90th, it included a special guest – Mark Anderson, Hammond’s first principal, who flew in from North Carolina to attend.

“He flew in to surprise her, she was very excited to see him,” Solis said.

Former Salem school principal Geraldine Hammond laughs while visiting Hammond Elementary School for a celebration in honor of her 90th birthday on Wednesday, Oct. 12. Hammond Elementary School was named for Hammond, a longtime school principal in the Salem School District. Hammond was the first Black woman to be a principal in the Salem-Keizer School District. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Wearing her signature cowboy hat with sequined headband, Geraldine Hammond is surrounded by family, friends, and Hammond Elementary School staff celebrating Hammond’s 90th birthday. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Geraldine Hammond walks to the gymnasium at Hammond Elementary School with Mark Anderson, the first principal at Hammond Elementary School. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Hammond Elementary School students applaud Geraldine Hammond as she walks to the gymnasium. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Geraldine Hammond high fives a student at Hammond elementary School during her walk to the gymnasium. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Geraldine Hammond reaches out to a student. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Hammond Elementary School students sing “Happy Birthday” to Geraldine Hammond as the school celebrated Hammond’s 90th birthday on Wednesday, Oct. 12. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett was the featured speaker at Hammond Elementary School during a celebration of Geraldine Hammond’s 90th birthday on Wednesday, Oct. 12. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
Geraldine Hammond cuts her birthday cake. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

STORY TIP OR IDEA? Send an email to Salem Reporter’s news team: [email protected].

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter. Click I want to subscribe!

Photographer Ron Cooper and his wife Penny moved to Salem in 1969 to take a job as photographer at the Oregon Statesman (later the Statesman Journal). Their three children, Monica, Kimberly, and Christopher, attended and graduated from Salem public schools. Cooper retired from the Statesman Journal in 2001 but, has continued his passion for photography in many ways, including as a photographer for the Salem Reporter.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.