HARVARD — John Hamill was a man who got things done.
That’s how he was remembered by Harvard residents who packed the Harvard Historical Society July 24, standing in the building that is his lasting legacy.
Before Hamill’s massive fundraising effort to restore the old church at 215 Still River Road, the building was in a much different shape than it is today.
But along came the Harvard resident of 37 years who took over the project, leading the effort to ultimately raise $240,000 for the building’s restoration.
Hamill died in March at age 83. Although he and his wife moved out of Harvard in 2005, his family came together for a ceremony at Bellevue Cemetery.
Afterward, nearly 100 residents sat in the pews of the now restored church, remembering Hamill as a kind person who tried his hardest to recruit people to the society.
Theodore Maxant, now a HHS board member, recalled that about 15 years ago the church was overgrown with brush. One day, he was out doing some yard work with his John Deere tractor.
“Out comes this gentlemen, who says, ‘Nice tractor, John Deere?'” Maxant said. He responded ‘yes.’
“‘You like doing this, you own it?'” Maxant remembered Hamill asking. Maxant said yes.
“How would you,” Hamill asked him, “like to be on the board?”
The room erupted with laughter.
Hamill’s neighbor Rick Maiore remembered Hamill as a hard person to say no to.
“You wouldn’t be standing in this building, probably, if Jim hadn’t really picked up the issue and run with it,” he said.
Hamill was a renaissance man, Maiore said. You could discuss anything with him.
“He was interested in everything, he read a lot about anything,” he said. “When he would focus on an issue, he would do a thorough job.”
Nancy Gasser, a member of the Garden Club of Harvard who worked on the landscaping for the church during its renovation, said Hamill was really great at what he did.
“I think he did a lot of things that were very executive, like for instance finding people that had funds that could donate,” she said. “And finding people to serve on the board that had the skills that would really complement the society.”
Hamill is survived by his wife, Sarah, and two daughters, Maggie and Lizzie.
Both Hamill and his wife were interested in creating a friendly town that would be open to all people, Gasser said.
“I believe they were just beloved by a lot of people and respected,” she said.
Jared Wollaston, a former board member of the society, worked with Hamill during the restoration in 2004.
The project and the belltower, Wollaston said, are both Hamill’s legacy.
“A true gentleman,” Wollaston remembers. “He had a gentle voice, but he always got things done. He had a great ability to just make everyone feel at ease.”
Sarah Hamill said her husband was very interested in history and was very good at construction.
“He had an eye for things like that,” she said. “So he could see the decay and bad condition of this building, and he thought, ‘Well, perhaps I’ll have a go at that.'”
Hamill’s daughter, Maggie Emmanuel, said her father got involved at the society when he retired.
“I think it was a goal of his since he didn’t have time while he was working to join the Historical Society,” she said. “And then it turned out when he became president it was just wonderful.”
Emmanuel was moved by the turnout to honor her father.
“It’s a celebration,” she said, “which I think he would’ve liked.”