Kathy Jo “Toni” Hammer, 1960-2020

A lifelong tenderheart and lover of fun, Kathy Jo “Toni” Hammer was just weeks away from her sixtieth birthday when she died of heart failure November 3, 2020. She leaves behind a heartbroken partner, two beloved (i.e., spoiled) cats, and many loved ones who will miss her unique blend of fierce and gentle and her ability to find humor in everything.

She renamed herself “Toni” not long after high school. On Facebook, she called herself “Wolfie” and “Cat Daddy.” She told her grandchildren-by-heart to call her “Uncle Toni.” Her younger sister, Melody, still called her Kathy mostly out of habit, but to most people who knew her, she was simply “Toni.”

She wasn’t particular about pronouns; it wasn’t something that mattered to her. She was proud of being accepted as an Aerie member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles when the organization allowed women to become members. The men accepted her, and she liked that.

Growing up, Toni preferred to play the games the boys played. When her family moved to a farm just outside of Dinuba, California, where she grew up, she was the one who volunteered to give sick animals injections and to nurture the runts, bottle-feeding baby piglets and calves. Toni quickly showed an affinity for caring for and communicating with animals of all kinds. She participated in the local 4-H Club and studied animal husbandry in high school. The only thing that kept her from becoming a veterinarian was that she couldn’t bear to see animals in pain. The idea of putting an animal down was just too painful.

Melody (now Camarillo) referred to her as her “Sis-Bro,” and Toni loved that designation. Like a lot of siblings, the two were close but fought. Toni played pranks on Melody, like telling her to go inside because their mom needed her and then taking her place on the swing. Ultimately, though, Toni wouldn’t let anyone else hurt her little sister. “She was my biggest defender,” Melody says.

Toni graduated from Dinuba High School in 1979. She went on to do police training and attended community college and trade schools in California.

She worked as a recruit with the Orange Cove Police Dept., in electronic manufacturing, was a vehicle detailer for U-Haul, a courier for auto part stores, and a bartender.

As capable as she was at many things, work was never the center of Toni’s life. The people she cared for most were always her focus. She made friends easily and was the kind of person who could fix your car alternator, who would weep for lost or hurt animals, and whose phone was full of photos she’d taken of lightning storms.

Toni loved horses. In high school, she proudly rode her half-thoroughbred horse in the Dinuba Raisin Day Parade.

Toni’s interests included: fishing, camping, and road trips; video games and slot machines; jigsaw puzzles, fantasy, and dragons; the Washington Redskins; Snoopy; the beach; stormy weather and thunderstorms; oil painting and drawing; the music of Janet Jackson, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, and Amy Winehouse. She was great at working the New York Times crossword puzzle. She was proud of her Sioux ancestry.

Tony was a talented artist. In the early nineties, she wrote and illustrated a children’s story about dragons, “Sosha’s Adventures.”

One night when Toni was in her early thirties and tending bar at Choices in Portland, she served a Zima to a pretty and charismatic forty-four-year-old named Cynthia St. Claire. They flirted, and a date followed. The two were together for seven years; they both had that wanderlust and loved getting in the car and going at a moment’s notice, ending up in Seattle or at the coast or camping by a reservoir. They played slot machines at casinos or loaded up the boat with sandwiches and chips and beer and fished all day.

Although their romantic relationship changed, they remained close companions. When Cindy became sick with throat cancer, the two reunited and lived happily for nearly two years in an apartment in Eugene with their two cats. When she died, Toni had recently quit smoking and was committed to taking better care of herself so she could be there for Cindy and Cindy’s family.

Toni was specific about the ways she wanted to be remembered after her death. She asked her closest loved ones to gather on the Oregon Coast, take shots of tequila, put her ashes in the tequila bottle, and throw it in the ocean.

Donations in Toni’s memory may be made to Cascades Raptor Center.

Toni is survived by her long-time partner, Cynthia St. Claire; her sister, Melody Camarillo; brother, Dan Hammer; two children and two grandchildren “by heart;” four nieces; three nephews; and numerous great-nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her mother, Eva Hammer-Schuerman; stepfather, Hank Schuerman; and her brother, Jim Hammer.

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