It came as a complete surprise to a man who always has his finger on the pulse of his Key Biscayne Community Church family. So when during a recent filled-to-capacity Sunday service Merle Hamm was asked to stand to be recognized, he was totally unprepared.
Mary McGarrity, church member and longtime friend of Hamm’s, arranged for the well-earned recognition.
“This was to honor Merle for several decades of music service to the entire community, including the past 35 years as Minister of Music at the church,” she said.
By proclamation of the Mayor of the Village of Key Biscayne, Sunday, February 23, was declared Merle Hamm Day.
Mayor Frank Kaplan read the proclamation that stated, “Whereas, music animates occasions of all sorts, whether sacred, solemn or ordinary; and whereas, for many years Merle Hamm has contributed his beautiful tenor voice and facility for music-making to various institutions serving the Key Biscayne community; and whereas, Mr. Hamm’s longstanding service includes a remarkable tenure spanning 35 years as the Minister of Music at the Key Biscayne Community Church, a venerable institution that celebrated its 60th birthday in 2013; and whereas, Mr. Hamm’s voice in service to our American Legion imbues our community’s patriotic and ceremonial occasions with meaning and beauty through music, and honors our veterans with special dignity; and whereas, in recognition of 35 years of striking just the right note in his own distinctive voice, on February 23, 2014, the pastor and congregation of the Key Biscayne Community Church will recognize Merle Hamm for the uplifting gift of music; and whereas, as our ceremonial life has been enriched by his voice, it is fitting and proper to add mine, representing our community, to recognize with appreciation and gratitude a good and gentle man. Now, therefore, I Franklin H. Caplan, Mayor the Village of Key Biscayne, Florida, do hereby proclaim February 23, 2014 as Merle Hamm Day.”
Former Community Church Pastor Bud Schroeder and his wife Diane wrote a letter thanking Hamm for all the musical memories: “From the darkness of Lenten cantatas to the glorious brightness of sunrise Alleluias; from the joyful cantatas and anthems of Christmas music to the majestic march of the Magi – “onward, onward very, very far…” on Epiphany; from Halloween concerts with the Phantom of the Organ, to the celebration of your 39th birthday (over and over and over again); from Veterans’ Day with the lyrical singing of God Bless America, America the Beautiful and the National Anthem, with or without taped accompaniment, to the fantastic Freedom Sundays with expanded chorus and full orchestra; from Ho Ho Holy Humor Sundays with kazoos and silly songs, to a wide variety of styles of music each Sunday in worship and chimes that sometimes didn’t work, you have indeed been the Music Man of Key Biscayne. Thank you for the music in our lives.”
“The proclamation and the letter, both so beautifully written, say it all,” said McGarrity.
“I was so pleased and so surprised,” said Hamm.
Hamm and his wife, Pat, first came to Key Biscayne in 1971 as night managers at the old Key Colony Hotel. They attended the Presbyterian Church, where he was tenor soloist. He sang twice for former President Richard M. Nixon, who attended services there, and was also a soloist at the funeral of Nixon confidante Charles “Bebe” Rebozo.
Hamm started the first choir at St. Christopher’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in the early ‘70s. Over the years, he has sung for numerous events, including the 4th of July Parade as Yankee Doodle boy.
But Hamm is well-known around the Key for creating the Freedom Sunday celebration at Key Biscayne Community Church back in 2003.
“Freedom Sunday pays tribute to America and freedom, setting the stage for 4th of July enthusiasm and patriotism,” said Hamm.
Prior to 2003, Hamm had always organized a selection of patriotic music the Sunday before July 4, but 11 years ago, he decided to create a patriotic production as a special project for the church. Hamm, a former military choir director and oratorical tenor in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, has been a member of the Richard L. Cromartie American Legion Post 374 since its inception 17 years ago. The Legion participates in Freedom Sunday each year.
Thirty-five years ago, Hamm volunteered to sit in as a substitute organist after the sudden death of the former Key Biscayne Community Church organist.
“It’s been a little joke around here, because that ‘temporary’ position has lasted for 35 years,” said Hamm. “This is something I’ve really enjoyed doing. It’s not, and never has been, work for me.”
In 1993, he was named organist emeritus.
“I hope my music and playing the organ and singing has touched the hearts of people, because I’ve done it for the glory of God,” said Hamm.
Hamm was also presented with a bronze plaque that will hang in the sanctuary.
KBCC marked its 60th anniversary in 2013, making it the oldest church on the island.