Stephanie Hammitt, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College’s first female president, dies at 60
The longtime finance administrator led the school since 2018.
CLOQUET — Stephanie Hammitt, a finance administrator by trade and the first female president of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, died Monday of cancer. She was 60 .
Minnesota State’s board of trustees named Hammitt, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the college’s president in 2019.
Her legacy at the college will include her smash through the glass ceiling and the plaudits that came with it, but Hammitt’s family members indicated it extends well beyond that. Hammitt helped secure the school’s first four-year degree and get its nursing program reaccredited; was instrumental in getting its new outdoor classroom built; and she led the college during the earliest and most fraught waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She was a quiet leader,” Brian Hammitt, Stephanie’s husband, told the News Tribune on Tuesday afternoon.
More broadly, Stephanie also enjoyed promoting American Indian culture at the college and in the Northland. She was proud of the school’s dual-role as a community college and a tribal one, according to her family.
“She was just a proud Fond du Lac Band member,” son Matt Hammitt said.
In a group interview on Tuesday, the Hammitt family characterized Stephanie as a loving and involved mother and wife whose face would light up when she’d see her grandchildren or betray how nervous she was when she watched her children race stock cars in Proctor.
“I know she would have wanted to continue to be there for the college,” Matt Hammitt said of his mother, “but I think she would trust that the college is in a good place and is in good hands moving forward ... there’s a solid foundation there.”
Stephanie was first hired at the college in 1990, serving as chief financial officer until 1996. She then spent more than a decade managing the Fond du Lac Band's finances before returning to the college to do the same in 2008. She was FDLTCC’s chief financial officer and then its vice president of finance and administrator until 2018, when she was named interim president.
College communications staff told the News Tribune on Tuesday that they could not connect a reporter with someone to interview so soon after Stephanie's death. They did, however, put forth a statement that reads in part: “President Hammitt loved this unique and special college. She was especially proud of the students at FDLTCC, along with the support and guidance…provided by the staff and faculty.”
Stephanie's father, Peter Defoe, and grandfather, Peter DuFault, were instrumental in laying the foundation for the college, according to Robert “Sonny” Peacock, the Fond du Lac Band's former chairman and current director of tribal college American Indian programs.
In the wake of the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, DuFault, a part of the Ojibwe band’s government, helped establish the first service contracts between it and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which had previously administered education and other programs itself. Defoe then served on the multi-government task force that considered and ultimately succeeded in establishing the college.
“Listening to her father, listening to her grandfather, I mean, she brought all that wealth of information with her that you don’t get in school,” Peacock said Tuesday.
She was also simply a nice person, Peacock added.
“One would think…that she wouldn't have time for people, but she cared about people and she cared about Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. And that came through," Peacock said. "That came through above and beyond pretty much anything.”
In addition to her husband, Brian, and son, Matt, Stephanie is survived by sons Christopher Hammitt and Jonathon Hammit and daughter Annika Hammitt, as well as five grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 5-8 p.m. Thursday at Nelson Funeral Care in Cloquet, with a prayer service scheduled for 7 p.m. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Cloquet. Interment will follow at Holy Family Cemetery. A lunch reception will be held afterward at the Fond du Lac Head Start Gymnasium.
A scholarship fund is being organized by Stephanie's family in her honor. Donations are encouraged in lieu of flowers, according to her obituary.