Dempsey Hamner – Strength in Numbers

Cancer can’t hold math professor back

By Leon Stevenson III

When you say his name aloud, it kind of sounds like “M.C. Hammer”, and just like his musical counterpart, Dempsey Hamner, adjunct professor of mathematics at Columbia College- Lake of the Ozarks, is equally as entertaining, according to students and faculty past and present. It must be why students from all over the state of Missouri, even those currently enrolled in other universities, seek out his math courses at the Lake of the Ozark campus – because of a one-of-a-kind man’s love for the subject he was born to teach.

Hamner has been a professor at the Lake of the Ozarks campus of Columbia College for 20 years, and his reputation of being able to teach arguably the most difficult course subject has garnered him lofty praise from student and faculty alike. Dr. John Keeney, director for the Lake of the Ozarks campus, says, “He’s been in education for 47 years; he’s the best math teacher I've ever seen. Students commute from Missouri State University and other colleges to take his class because they hear he’s that good”.

Dempsey Hammer Teaching

Yet it is a battle outside of the classroom that makes his passion for the art of math and his story that much more appealing.

He and his wife were discussing his diagnosis of cancer while in a parking lot listening to “Jesus take the Wheel” on the car stereo. “For some reason, that song gave me the inspiration to be upfront and want to fight it – I have cancer, cancer doesn’t have me.” Hamner said.

At the beginning of every course session, not only does he introduce himself to the class, he makes his status as a cancer patient known as well. “I tell my students at the start of every course that I have cancer – the only reason I do that is because I promised my wife I would so they would come to class sick.”

It’s not the only reason of course, but it does have an interesting effect on his students.

Rona Prater, a former student in four classes that Hamner has taught, says “He doesn’t let his cancer stop him at all. When he first tells the class about his diagnosis, there’s a sense of shock and awe – then we see how he teaches and it changes their attitude. He gives one hundred and ten percent every time. Everyone loves his classes.”

And making math relevant for even the most troubled students is a personal challenge he enjoys. ““I like to take those 'C' students and make them care about the subject to where they try harder.”

How does he do this? By using real life experiences. “For instance, I‘ve gone to the mall and seen items on sale, and factored all of the sale prices and told the cashier – ‘you know you’re gonna be a math problem in my class, right’? Or I talk about a former student of mine who was a nurse, and could only work a certain number of hours and go from there. If you can relate to what really happens out here in the real world, students can wrap their head around the idea that algebra can be useful.”

Despite his popularity, there had been plenty of difficulties in the past juggling treatments, doctor visits and teaching.

“There were plenty of days where I would have to go to therapy in the morning in Jeff City, drive back to teach a class, then drive back for chemo, teach an evening class and so on and so forth. It got pretty hectic at times, but it had to be done. I was going to fight it, and I have to give it my all.”

Even with this hectic schedule, Keeney says, “He’s been incredibly consistent. He’s only missed one session”

When asked what makes him continue teaching, even after his diagnosis, Hamner simply responds, “Staying active and being in front of a classroom keeps my mind off things… This was my first year attending Relay for Life [a signature fundraising event of the American Cancer Society], and I may do that again. I travel a lot, most recently to Honduras and Maine; and of course, spend time with my wife. But if I had to say what makes me love teaching, it’d be the man that taught me - Dr. George Polya, my math professor at Stanford University. The man taught till he was 90, so I figure I can at least go for 80!”

Then, a few weeks ago, his doctor gave Hamner the best words he could ask for – “…Your body’s fighting it - You’re fighting the cancer.” Hamner’s body is now fighting the cancer itself instead of having to use chemotherapy.

Hamner really is too legit to quit.

21 comments:

The Beeler Group said...

Awesome teacher & person! :)

halooten1 said...

Professor Hamner is absolutely the greatest!! I have never been able to do math and was terrified to come back 20 years later to have to take it but he really helped to make me comfortable and also successful! He is an inspiration!!!

ta_lolly said...

Hamner is BY FAR the BEST instructor I have ever had... He made algebra easy to understand and made it fun... I will NEVER forget Dempsey Hamner.. He will go down in my book as a legend!!!!!!!

Autumn said...

Hamner is BY FAR the BEST instructor I have ever had!!! I recently moved back to the lake of the ozarks just so I could take the rest of my math classes with Hamner... He is an amazing instructor and and amazing person all around... I will always remember him. He has definately made a mark in my life! He will go down in my books as My Favorite instructor EVER!!! I tell everyone I know that has to take math to take his classes.

Michael D. said...

Mr. Hamner is an awesome individual and teacher! I would recommend him to any student taking math classes.
-Michael D. (student)

Annette said...

Wow, I'm just stunned! I am definitely a "Hamner" fan and had Mr. Hamner in high school at School of the Osage for Algebra I and II and Geometry(yes dating myself, I graduated in 1990. I then had the pleasure to have him when I went back to obtain my undergrad at Columbia College at the Lake for College Algebra and Statistics in 1999. He was just as wonderful then as he was in high school. He made learning as an adult just as much fun and as easy and I obtained my undergrad in 2003. Now I'm getting my Master's. I also had his wife as a school nurse and have very fond memories of her as well. I could not imagine anyone else better suited to fight and beat this disease. He's a wonderful person, with the most upbeat, He has been an inspiration for many students and will continue to be as long as he is in a classroom. My hat goes off to him and he has my utmost respect and support!

Anonymous said...

Mr Hamner is an amazing teacher. If you ever get a chance to take his class do so. Hes a person everyone should get to meet.

Patti Haggerman said...

I still talk of Mr. Hamner to the students I work with today. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be working in a classroom when I left Columbia college with a psych degree. I now work in a Second Chance program at our local high school and one of the main subjects I have to tutor is algebra! I owe any ability I have to help these students "get it" from the man who did the same for me...thank you once again Mr. Hamner!

Quinn & Gaddy said...

tAfter being out of school cor 26 years and going back, Hamner made it easy to adjust and made my first class fun. I recommend him to everyone who comes to Columbia College, Lake Campus to take math. I got my 26 year old son to start college and there was 2 math instructors, I'm sorry but, I told him to talk Mr. Hamner and my son told me that he was happy that I suggested Hamner. Stay strong Mr. Hamner. We love you and PRAY for you!!!!!

Chelsea said...

He is such a great teacher, we all learned from him in some way, Math was never my favorite subject and he still managed to make it not as hard. My friends and I took his classes together and we say the same exact thing "I think I learned something new today." Thanks Mr Hamner... Your an amazing teacher!

Jeannine said...

I Love, Love, Love Mr Hamner!!I had been out of school for 20 years and was terrified to take it at the college level. Mr.Hamner made it fun! He has a way of taking you on a journey and if you stay on the path with him you can't fail! He has an inate ability to know where a student may struggle and is ready to help as soon as your hand goes in the air. His love for his wife and family,and his sense of adventure is endearing. I feel lucky that he was a part of my college journey!

Stephen Terrio Sr said...

So proud of him I will pray for him

angelmenefeer said...

He is one of my all time favorite teachers! I don't know what our campus will do when he retires?

angelmenefeer said...

Best teacher bar none

quinn & Gaddy said...

I just wanted to let Mr. Hamner know that alot of us students at the Lake Campus recommend him to new students or students that come from other colleges to take you for Algebra classes. We all tell the studeents that "Mr. Hamner is a 'Top level, top shelf' teacher. He is awesome." A person cannot go wrong when they have you for a teacher. God bless Mr. Hamner!!!!

Wes Laughlin said...

DH

Way to go I was diagnosed with a melanoma shortly after graduating and I am still here, hang in there!

Sincerely
Wes Laughlin
The ole sleepy head!

Jen D said...

I struggled with C's and D's in math throughout junior high and high school. I have taken ALL of my math classes with Mr. Hamner and never received less than an A. He is an amazing teacher who gets his students to actually understand what they are learning. I know a lot of students wish he taught other subjects too!

Anonymous said...

Every so often I like to go to the CC spotlight stories and look at the comments people leave, just to see if there are any new ones. I swear that every time I've come to this article there are more comments raving about how awesome Hamner is, which just goes to show how one person can influence so many people, and that is awesome. He seems like a great guy, and I'm pretty jealous that I don't know him.

Deby Spangler said...

I had Mr Hamner all thru high school and he made me understand math when I couldn't before. He is a great teacher!

Anonymous said...

He taught my father and myself at high school and we both remember him as a great teacher. Keep on fighting, Mr. Hamner.

Cheryl DeG said...

I took every class offered. Loved the stories about your time in New Orleans and just have such admiration and respect for you, Mr. Hamner. Still use math in my healthcare career and I'm successful because of your tutelage.