Published: Sept. 1, 2011 By

bruce bensonCU’s four campuses boast nearly 350,000 alumni around the world. While their stories are diverse, a common thread is they make a difference in lives, communities and professions.

While there is certainly no typical story of a CU alum, one came to my attention recently that is emblematic of graduates of our university. The family of Zipporah Hammond (Nurs’46), affectionately known as “Zippy” to friends and family, contacted my office to ask if I would provide some thoughts to be read at her funeral service. She passed away in Longmont, Colo., in July at age 87.

I did not know her but found myself struck by the story of her life and the many ways she exemplified the best of what CU alums can be. She came to CU in 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, to fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. We believe she was the first African-American to earn a nursing degree from CU.

A young African-American woman in the 1940s faced many challenges in pursuing her degree. But Zippy showed a determination that would be a hallmark of her life. After earning her nursing degree, she served as chief surgical nurse at John Andrews Hospital Infantile Polio Paralysis Unit at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Her career was cut short when she contracted tuberculosis, a scourge at the time.

Zippy came home to Denver to convalesce at National Jewish Hospital. She made many lifelong friends among her fellow patients, including her future husband of more than 50 years, Sheldon Hammond. Tuberculosis forced her to abandon nursing, but it didn’t dampen her ambition to help people.

She returned to CU and earned her certification as a medical records librarian. Her second career spanned some 30 years, many of which she spent working at University of Colorado Hospital.

After retirement, she spent considerable time volunteering with the Denver Public Library’s renowned Western History Department. She helped to identify, catalog and archive photographs and other artifacts that documented the rich history of the primarily African-American population in the Five Points area of northeast Denver. The chronicle will provide value to community members and researchers for years to come.

Zippy Hammond dedicated herself to her family, her careers and her community. She was proud of her association with CU and exemplified the best of what our alumni can be. Her story provides insight into the kind of people who pass through CU on their way to making a difference.