'The Hammers with a Heart' Visit the South Side

Volunteer construction group the Silver Hammers consider aiding a project for Veterans

The 20th century ’70s saw the emergence of the Gray Panthers, an activist outfit that many saw as the senior-citizen version of the militant Black Panthers. The Gray Panthers’ platform included points against the Vietnam War and the statutory retirement age.

In the 21st century ’10s the Greater Syracuse area saw the emergence of the Silver Hammers, an organization made up of retirees who feel in their prime in their 60s and 70s, and who say they need to continue working to foster a sense of camaraderie among themselves and with the beneficiaries of their projects. Paul Mabe,  a leader of the Silver Hammers, said, “In short, what we want to build is a community.”
Although both the Gray Panthers and the Silver Hammers agree in not considering the retirement age as a barrier to doing hard work, they diverge on one important  aspect.

“We don’t do politics,” Mabe added. “If it gets political, we leave it up to some other entity to handle that.”

In late January, 11 out of the 12 certified charter members of the Silver Hammers, walked leisurely into the Brady Faith Center, a South Side landmark, and sat at four tables to explain their group philosophy and to explore that possibility of doing construction work in the southern quadrant of Syracuse.

Some of them were wearing T-shirts or sweatshirts with a logo saying “Silver Hammers, the Hammers with a Heart.”

The meeting was hosted by Andrew Lunetta, board representative to the executive committee of the Brady Center, who said that he hopes that the Silver Hammers could use their skills to build homes at 112 Rose Ave., a block away from Dr. King Magnet Elementary School.

“These houses would be geared toward military veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and who are facing homelessness,” he explained.

The Silver Hammers come from a variety of backgrounds: Jack Hennessey retired from National Grid; Gordon Eyer retired from Carrier Corporation. These different paths have led to specialties.

“All these guys have a distinct set of skills,” Mabe said. He takes care of the cabinetry; Eyer and Harry Anderson are in charge of heating; Judy Flint prefers roofing, they added.

“A broke my collarbone a couple of years ago, but still I really like roofs,” Flint said. “I can do a whole roof all by myself.”

Mabe, Hennessey, Eyer, Anderson, Flint and the other seven current Silver Hammers met while volunteering for the local chapter of the non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity. They worked on its projects on the Near West Side, such as the ones on Marcellus Street. After becoming disappointed with the course of action of the chapter, the Silver Hammers donated their time to Operation Northern Comfort until they also severed their ties with this charity.

“We lost generators on the Near West Side. Even heavy equipment ended up with loose hinges,” one of the Silver Hammers, who identified himself only as
George, said. “That was because the equipment was not stored overnight in a warehouse.”

In December Mabe heard that Laura Serway and Cindy Seymour, owners of a eatery on the Near North Side, were thinking of building six houses in the vicinity of their business.

“I called Serway and Seymour at their restaurant,” Mabe said. “They never called me back.”

Despite having experienced these disenchantments, the Silver Hammers exuded excitement to have a chance to put their talents to use for a good cause on the South Side.

“We know what we’re doing,” Mabe said. “We’re looking forward to doing a pretty good job building houses on the South Side, which could be put under a microscope.”

Eyer added, “We’re ready to put the shovel in the ground.”


– Article by Miguel Balbuena, The Stand community correspondent