David Opdenhoff Honored for Years of Service to Ponchatoula
By Kathryn J. Martin
When high school graduate Dave Opdenhoff enlisted in the military in 1968, he never dreamed he would be wearing uniforms and working with water for the next 50 years — 20 in the Navy and 30 for the City of Ponchatoula.
Recently Mayor Bob Zabbia, City Hall Staff and fellow City Workers gathered to honor him for his years of faithful service while wishing him their best as he retired to part-time status.
Young Opdenhoff’s original plans were to do four years and be done, but after bootcamp and Hospital and Corps School training as a Navy Hospital Corpsman, he had found his niche.
At that time, a Corpsman could do almost anything including sutures and minor surgery, more like today’s Nurse Practitioner under supervision of a doctor.
More training and work at Naval Hospital Pensacola led to a stint in the Marine Corps Training Center at Camp Pendleton, California, learning to be a field Corpsman in preparation for Vietnam. Field sanitation and water quality were all part of general knowledge and would be put to the test in the field where “you make do with what you got”.
From Third Marine Division to First Marine Division, he put in 13 months in Vietnam where he turned 21. Finding water wherever he could in rivers, rice paddies and ditches, he had to be even more creative to purify it for sterilization procedures, wound cleansing and for drinking, all while working under fire to treat and hydrate his patients. Atop one mountain, a top fire support base, he and his men dug holes to make bunkers. With no water and no way to show themselves to look for any, helicopters (water buffalo) brought water to them,
After Vietnam, in the Naval Hospital in Long Beach, California, he met Corpswave Barbara McMurray, a Ponchatoula gal and his wife to be!
Next came the 9th Motor Transport Battalion in Okinawa as Senior Medical Department Representative with hands-on treatment of patients needing minor care. Those needing more care were sent on to the Air Force Hospital.
Then it was to the Marine Corps Reserve Center in Lima over patient care and record keeping until he was changed to the Naval Reserve Center in Toledo, over immunizations, wounds and exams.
Afterward, in Portsmouth, Virginia, he did Independent Duty Training preparing to go to units or aboard ships which had no doctor. This meant he was also responsible to oversee and instruct on disposing waste, field sanitation, how to distill, purify and conserve water.
Assigned to the USS Hermitage LSD-34 at Little Creek, Virginia, he found 150 officers and enlisted naval personnel with another 150 Marines to embark with no doctor aboard. Here he was over two younger corpsmen. And, as on any ship, one of his jobs as Corpsman was to convert saltwater to potable.
Its first deployment was to the North Atlantic, Germany, England and back to the U. S. Its second was a Mediterranean cruise with a good-will stop in Rota, Spain, and on to Haifa, Israel.
Next was the Suez Canal but an uprising in Lebanon brought them to Beirut where they evacuated U.S. personnel and locals before anchoring off Lebanon for 4 months. With a Marine contingency on board, they saw the Hilton Hotel windows blown out and heard the “plunk” of bullets hit the ship, so anchored farther out before heading back to the U.S.
With the ship in dry dock for overhaul, Opdenhoff was transferred to 4th Marine Division in New Orleans. The administrative structure was for him to go across the country to Marine Reserve centers and inspect each to see if ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.
Promoted to Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman, he was transferred to the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing in New Orleans, retiring in May of 1988.
In September of ‘88, he answered a local ad for someone with sewer and water experience. Not being from here with local certification, he started right away going to classes to earn certificates. For three or four years, Monday-Wednesday-Friday nights from 6-8 he attended classes taught by different certified operators. Water, then exams. Sewer, then exams.
There are four Class 4 certifications:1. Water production 2. Water distribution (wells and piping in city) 3. Wastewater collection 4. Wastewater treatment.
After earning the certifications, one must train annually to maintain them. Attending annual training from Shreveport-Bossier, Alexandria, Lake Charles, New Orleans to Baton Rouge with 16 hours training in water and 16 hours in wastewater.
A town of 10,000 or below is considered Class 3 and population above, Class 4.
Thus Ponchatoula is Class 3 but Opdenhoff earned and maintains 4 Class 4 Certifications, meaning he could easily be over Sewer and Water in our state’s biggest cities.
The certifications belong to the person earning them but the city uses them. Through the EPA, DEQ and DHH, they can be transferred to other states, but Opdenhoff says, “The city of Ponchatoula has been good to me and I’d like to continue to assist the city by retiring with consulting aspect.”
A city always pays for the training but, knowing he was about to retire, he insisted this last time he pay for his own.
With Opdenhoff being a Michigan native, he said the most difficulty at first was not being one of the locals and hearing himself referred to as “That Yankee.” But he’d just laugh and as people saw he was a man of his word and got things done when possible, that mostly faded. Mostly.
He’s seen and helped initiate and bring about many updates and upgrades to the sewer and water systems. He’s gone from the days and nights of driving to check and adjust gauges on all 26 pumps in town to have the right pressure and government required chemicals to installing the SCADA system. (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition)
This system monitors the sewer system every two hours and the water system every two minutes, showing results on a large screen in his office. This tells what each well is doing, how much water is being produced, volume in a tank, pressure, how much chlorine, etc. In addition, it gives the ability for his cell phone to make adjustments from wherever he is.
It is obvious Opdenhoff’s heart is in his work the way he lights up when talking about it and in the way he can rattle off complicated terms, mathematical figures, codes and laws quicker than some folks can recite the alphabet!
To Dave Opdenhoff, you are greatly appreciated. While you’ll still be on call, you and Barbara enjoy more time for the ‘round-to-its, woodworking, playing with your ’62 Austin Healey and being with your 2 children, 8 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren!