In 1942, the federal government asked Ponchatoula High School to work on a homeroom wartime guidance program. The report which Principal Will Ed Butler submitted was the basis for the national high school victory corps in which youngsters all over the country collected scrap metal and worked to add their bit to wartime efforts.
Hugs and handshakes, memories and musing, laughter and longing – the scene behind the scenes as USS Ponchatoula shipmates from across the country began their reunion in the Strawberry Room of Microtel the day before the official ceremonies at City Hall. If it hadn’t been for the bright shirts with USS Ponchatoula embroidered on them, these folks are so much a part of Ponchatoula, one couldn’t tell the shipmates from the residents in their greetings. Some said they can’t make every reunion but are sure to make every Ponchatoula reunion, that the people are so friendly, it feels more like home!
With so many compliments to the Ponchatoula Street Department for the record-breaking quick festival cleanup after the Strawberry Festival, a frequent question is “How do they do that?”
In a recent interview, Street Supervisor Charles Zweifel explained the difference between a typical day and Festival time.
“On a regular day, our crews head out at 7:00 a.m. to fill work orders from City Hall, for example, ‘A ditch needs to be cleaned out.’ Our crew that handles culverts and ditches investigates, determining whether trash has been thrown out and stopped up a culvert or dirt has filled in and needs digging out.
“Another crew is over tree and grass-cutting and as summer progresses, we often have to use men from other crews to keep up. Back in the ‘yard’, someone handles repair from the bucket truck to playground equipment saving the city money by not having to send work out.
“Someone else picks up the parks and areas around bar rooms, bringing trash to dumpsters as well as sorting through recycling materials.”
Nine years ago, the city purchased its own Mad Vac, a four-wheel vacuum cleaner designed to pick up litter five-times faster than one worker. Its daily driver, David May, is especially adept at grabbing paper with the vac’s long elephant nozzle. As Zweifel added, “These are all things we do every day.”
It Takes A Team
Then comes Strawberry Festival time and the entire city crew goes into fired-up cleanup mode! The Festival board signs a contract with a garbage company and the two groups meet with the mayor, the chief of police and Zweifel to make plans. Mayor Bob Zabbia, ever litter-conscious, contracts a private company to have a huge street sweeper scheduled to clean the city streets each night of the Festival instead of just at the end as many festivals in the parish do.
Hours are immediately increased for all the yard guys. Festival weekend, the crews leave their regular work to start Friday at noon opening time and work until 11:30 p.m., Saturday from 8:00 a.m. until 1:30 a.m., and Sunday 8:00 a.m. until 12:00 midnight, putting in some 42-and-a-half extra hours of work in that weekend alone. They work non-stop picking up litter and emptying garbage cans.
Zweifel said the city owns 175 trash cans, putting 100 in the park and 75 downtown. The city saves traveling time during Festival weekend by having 15 workers set up in Sewer and Water Department Dave Opdenhoff’s yard across from the park. But even that close, it’s a chore.
Saturday is the most stressful day with the crew frequently making their way through thousands of people to replace full cans with empties. Then they try to get back out, often a long ‘way around to the corner of North Sixth and Willow where two garbage trucks with two men await them.
Meanwhile, at North Sixth and West Hickory, another garbage truck awaits the crew downtown with their barrels of trash. It takes 1-3 city workers to assist at each truck. By Saturday, two garbage trucks have already been filled and sent off to the landfill.
If an average Festival goer hung around after the loudspeaker announced each day’s festivities officially closed, he would see the city crew swarm the park grounds like hungry mosquitoes picking up everything from beer cups to uneaten onion mums. And, of course, David May is all over the place with the Mad Vac.
What a lot of citizens don’t know is that the man in charge, Charles Zweifel, brings 32-and-a-half years of experience to Ponchatoula from Jefferson Parish where he helped supervise the work crews that cleaned after their Mardi Gras parades. He started as a laborer with the parish right out of school and worked his way up to Supervisor 3, over maintenance yards, concrete, asphalt, heavy equipment, and drainage. (One of the tips Zweifel brought with him is to blow the debris onto the streets for easier pickup by street sweepers with their brushes and vacuum units.)
So now Ponchatoula’s secret to spotless Festival cleanup is out of the bag. With all of this going on, it’s no wonder residents awake on Monday morning to a city seemingly untouched by the weekend crowds of 250,000 visitors.
On a side note, Zweifel and his wife, Shirley, moved to Ponchatoula early in 2005 to get daughters Erica (Viola) and Casey in the school system. He has been Superintendent of Streets and Parks since 2009. Humbly, Zweifel gave credit and appreciation for the cleanup success to the cooperation of Mayor Bob Zabbia and Executive Assistant Rhonda Sheridan, Police Chief Bry Layrisson and the Strawberry Festival Board.