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Charles “Chuck” Hummer Dies at 78

Chuck Hummer in 2011 during a Caribbean cruise.

Chuck Hummer in 2011 during a Caribbean cruise.

Charles W. “Chuck” Hummer died on June 25 at the age of 78. He was battling ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – and was admitted to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center with pneumonia on June 21.

Mr. Hummer was diagnosed with ALS in October 2004, and had stayed active while gradually losing ability to function. At the time of his death, his lung capacity was 25 percent, though he miraculously retained his sense of humor and cheerful attitude to the end, according to his wife Sandra.

Mr. Hummer was known in the dredging industry as the second “Mr. Dredging,” taking over as chief of the Corps of Engineers Dredging Division after William R. Murden, the first “Mr. Dredging,” retired in January 1988. He took over at a time of crisis – record low water in the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in 1988, and the beginning of budget shortfalls for dredging activities. Awards of dredging contracts were suspended in early 1989 for lack of funding, and Mr. Hummer guided the Corps and the industry through that and other crises until he retired from government service in late 1989.

He was born in Ancon, Panama Canal Zone on June 21, 1937 – a third generation Canal Zone resident.

In his own words: “I was born in the Panama Canal Zone, I was the third generation to arrive in the Hummer family. My grandfather was one of the first American employees to take part in the construction of this engineering marvel and his service went from 1904 to 1938, one of only 41 Americans to remain throughout the 10-year construction period. My father and I spent most of our careers working in and around the Panama Canal. My son, also born in Panama, started his career with the Panama Canal Company making him the fourth generation to work on this engineering marvel.”

Mr. Hummer graduated from the Canal Zone’s Balboa High School (BHS) and The University of Notre Dame, receiving a master’s degree in Chemical Engineering in 1960. He returned to Panama where he attended the Canal Zone Corrosion Laboratory under the Naval Research Laboratory. He was the first Oil Pollution Control Officer with the Panama Canal Company, where he oversaw cleanup of significant oil spills. He later became the first Environmental Control Officer with the office of the Canal governor/president, and finally was appointed assistant chief of the Dredging Division.

He left the Canal Zone in 1979, joining the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where he worked with Dredging Chief William R. Murden. In late 1980, he was promoted to chief of the eastern regional team of the dredging division, responsible for the dredging program in the eastern United States, and soon after was promoted to deputy chief of the  Dredging Division, under the guidance of Mr. Murden. When Mr. Murden retired in January 1988, Mr. Hummer was appointed to the position of chief of the dredging division, taking over the unofficial “Mr. Dredging” title.

After his retirement, he accompanied Sandra to her posting at the American Embassy in The Hague, The Netherlands.

Marsha Cohen, editor of Terra et Aqua, a technical dredging journal published by the International Association of Dredging Companies (IADC) in The Hague recalls:

“In the winter of 1992, Chuck contacted Peter Hamburger, secretary general of IADC, and asked what he could do for the organization. He offered to do some book reviews for Terra – a new editorial section that had lots of technical writing -- just up his alley. His first review was of the just-published PIANC book Beneficial Uses of Dredged Material. He wrote reviews for Terra et Aqua until June 1994, when he returned to the United States.”

Back in Florida, he began to fulfill a dream to establish a museum of Panama Canal memorabilia, and in 1998, brought together a group of about 20 like-minded Canal Zone former residents, the core of which were half a dozen of his fellow BHS 1955 classmates. The result was the Panama Canal Museum, which Mr. Hummer served as executive vice president, president and president emeritus during its 14-year history. The collection now resides in the University of Florida’s George A. Smathers Libraries, helping to assure the preservation of the history of the American Era of the Panama Canal.

Upon his death, the Smathers Library announced plans for a special showcase exhibit in Mr. Hummer’s name, to be placed in a prominent position in the library and funded by donations from friends who wish to memorialize him.

After he was diagnosed with ALS in 2004, Mr. Hummer became active in the Florida Chapter of the ALS Association, vowing to beat the five-year survival odds, which he did by six years. He participated in the annual fundraising walks in his wheelchair, until his health prohibited that. He and Sandra travelled to Orlando in May 2007 to visit friends at the WODCON 28 convention.

As he gradually lost movement and the ability to speak, he continued to correspond with friends by email, and used a text-to-speech software called Proloquo2go, which allowed him to communicate with Sandra. The Hummers took a number of cruises during the course of his illness, a form of travel that gave Mr. Hummer freedom to roam the decks of the ship in his wheelchair.

In December 2013, they moved from Florida to New Hampshire to be near relatives. His 21-year-old grandson Zach lived with them, and they were across the street from some of Sandra’s relatives.

Sandra said of him, “Despite an inevitable outcome, Chuck accepted his fate and woke up every morning grateful for that which he still was able to do. He was an incredibly passionate advocate for the ALS Association, his homeland, Panama, and of course his Alma Mater -- The University of Notre Dame. Chuck was selfless and his actions flawlessly represented his everlasting faith in Catholicism.”

He was preceded in death by his son, Charles W. Hummer III, and is survived by Sandra, his son Steve, and grandchildren Zach and Erica.

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