Watervliet man protected presidentPublished 3:45pm Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Silverbrook Manor turned to resident Norman Hammel’s brother, Ivan, as Presidents’ Day speaker Monday.
Ivan’s security work for four years at Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans involved protecting President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.
Hammel, 64, of Watervliet, would still be living in Louisiana had Hurricane Katrina not destroyed his house in 2005.
Hammel, born and raised in Benton Harbor until he dropped out and entered the Army, knew Clinton from weekly coffees when the former was a bodyguard and the latter was Arkansas governor.
“I had been telling people I knew him, and everybody thought I was pulling their leg,” Hammel said. “My job was to hold the elevators and make sure nobody got on. He (Clinton) got out of his car and said, ‘Is that you, Ivan? When your shift’s over, come talk to me.’ ”
He and Clinton shared a meal together.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and did my job right and got promoted to security supervisor. In a hotel, you’re always dealing with the public. I’ve been lucky through the years, meeting people,” he said.
Hammel blocked the way for Ed “Too Tall” Jones, who played 15 years for the Dallas Cowboys.
At Super Bowl XII, when the Cowboys defeated the Denver Broncos 27-10 on Jan. 15, 1978, for their second title at the Superdome, he was guarding the door at a $500-a-plate meal when Jones approached.
“You had to wear a big, pink Super Night at the Super Bowl button,” Hammel said, and Jones wasn’t.
Jones called his supervisor over.
“I wouldn’t let him in,” Hammel said. “I didn’t know the first thing about football, so I didn’t know he was a star player. Too Tall Jones thought it was funny.”
Guests also included Loretta Lynn, Paul Williams, Bernadette Peters and Redd Foxx.
As he circulated through the ballroom in his uniform, Billy Carter stopped him and wanted to try on his hat.
Then President Jimmy Carter’s brother wanted Hammel to sit down for a beer.
Hammel explained he couldn’t drink while on duty, so he had to summon his supervisor again.
“What did you do this time?” his supervisor began.
“I’ll tell you what,” Carter said. “If you don’t let him sit down and drink a beer with me, you won’t have a job come Monday because I’ll buy the damn company and he’ll be your boss.”
“So, I got paid on duty by the company to drink beer with Billy Carter,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of interesting things.”
The incident Hammel particularly remembers was the “doped-up, high” guy who broke into a doctors’ convention.
“I caught him coming out of the room, and he ran,” he recalled. “He would have outrun me, but he messed up because he didn’t know where he was going and he tried to go down an inside fire escape. He went all the way down to the laundry room. I was on the landing, so I jumped over the guardrail, landed on his back and we were fighting on the floor. He was so high, he bit me.”
Hammel extends his scarred hand.
“I had to get tested for AIDS every six months to make sure I didn’t have it.”
Hammel is a member of the North Berrien County Military Rites Team, belongs to the American Legion in Coloma and is a National Rifle Association member.
“The reason we go to this extent is it’s a national holiday,” owner/administrator Roger Ringenberg said. “We want our residents to connect significant events which happen in our country. We want them to be part of it and to enjoy it and give them an opportunity to share their stories about the different presidents. He made our day.”
Residents’ wheelchairs were arranged in the shape of the Oval Office.