The last time they watched at football game at the University of Florida, the Gators had never played the Seminoles, J. Wayne Reitz was the president, and the only television set they knew of was in the laundry room at the Florida Veterans Village (also known as Flavet). And just like this year’s Gator Growl, that old laundry room was the place to be on a Friday night.
But this weekend, Vern and Betty Hammond attended a bigger party. The Gator Engineering Tailgate Reunion hosted 500 alums in an orange-and-blue celebration that led up to Saturday’s football game. It was homecoming for everyone, but for the Hammonds, that return trip was 58 years in the making.
“Next time, don’t wait so long,” joked the dean, Cammy Abernathy, as she introduced the couple to the tailgate crowd.
Retired from a career at Tennessee Eastman Company, Vern Hammond once helped design the die for a groundbreaking high-speed wire-coating extrusion process. He and his wife of 63 years sat on the North Lawn Saturday afternoon, in a section of tables reserved for mechanical engineers (who tied with the electrical engineers for being the loudest cheering section). From 1951 to 1956, Vern Hammond studied mechanical engineering at UF – after serving in the U.S. Air Force – while Betty Hammond worked part time for the athletic association. On game days she would give the stadium ushers their row assignments and paychecks, so she never got to see the first half.
This past weekend, the Hammond’s youngest son, David, brought them back to Gainesville to cheer for their Gators – from kickoff to the final. At 84 years old, the Hammonds were the life of the party, the undisputed King and Queen.
“It’s so exciting to be part of all this . . . the Gator Engineering Tailgate Reunion,” said Betty Hammond. “I hope we get invited back!”