Tag: ponchatoula

Warship Named In Honor of 1942 Efforts to Collect Scrap Metal

By Kim Howes Zabbia, The Last Hurrah, c.1985; p. 24.

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.

PHS, though, collected the largest amount of scrap in Louisiana. “I remember stopping the car to pick up pieces of metal on the side of the road. It was wonderfully patriotic,” beams then student Mary Lou Pierson Burris.

As the metal was brought in, it was piled around the outside of the football field. The students collected so much that the circular pile could be seen above the top of the stadium.

“It looked like Mr. Vesuvius around the football field,” Mr. Butler said, “The kids went around with chalk and wrote Tokyo-Bound on the metal.”

The collection drive lasted about four to five weeks. The U.S. government gave the school about $1400 for the scrap, and Mr. Butler gave the kids a holiday. The army had to use over fifty trucks to haul away the scrap.

A year later, Mr. Butler received a letter from Washington, DC. A warship was to be christened the MS Ponchatoula in honor of the students’ effort.

“To celebrate, we had an assembly,” Mr. Butler remembers. “They sent a Colonel from the army, and he spoke to the grammar and high school. I think he took them in three shifts.”

On Sunday, July 30, 1944, at 4:00 P.M., the Merchant Ship Ponchatoula was launched at the East Coast Shipyard in Bayonne, New Jersey.

USS Ponchatoula – Two Ships – Same Name – Which is Correct?

Much has been written and much has been said about the USS Ponchatoula but sometimes differing numbers on her bow, pictures, and dates of service confuse the uninformed.

Which is correct – a ship in World War II or a ship in the Vietnam War?

The answer is, “both”.

We’re familiar with the story locals tell about our cities collecting more scrap metal for World War II effort than any other community in the country and being honored by having the U.S.S. Ponchatoula named for our waterway. Many locals tell it from first-hand experience because they were some of the school children in the early 40’s who helped collect.

To further verify it, the teacher who spearheaded the effort of the winning 5th-grade class’ collection, Julia Welles Hawkins (age 101 in 2017) pops up now and then anywhere from here to national television.

Records show the first U.S.S. Ponchatoula (known as AOG 38) was a Sequatchie Class tanker, commissioned on October of 1944, leaving New Jersey for Norfolk, Virginia. She then traveled through the Panama Canal to California where she left January 19, 1945, to arrive in Pearl Harbor, February 1, 1945.

In March, she set sail for Canton Island in the Phoenix Islands as a ship for refueling during the war. She then continued to Okinawa in convoy to anchor off the beaches shuttling fuel from large tankers to smaller ships.

Websites for the U.S.S. Ponchatoula contain typewritten first-hand accounts by some of those on board describing bombing attacks by the Japanese, especially the feared suicide attacks that killed so many. One tells of the typhoon that hit, creating waves 60-80 feet high, enough to drive one large ship aground and onto an enemy mine on the beach. The website also includes heart-rending stories by those who endured Mother Nature in addition to the hundreds of Japanese attacks often over several days at a time.

AOG 38 remained in Okinawa until December 1945 when she returned to the States and was decommissioned in California, April 1946.

Since the Navy had begun replacing smaller and slower ships with larger and faster, a second USS Ponchatoula (AO 148) was commissioned January 12, 1956, and began her many years of service, being three times as long and twice as fast as the AOG 38.
She, too, was assigned to the Pacific Fleet and leaves a history too extensive to list including rescue operations and even aiding in the recovery of earlier spacecraft that splashed down in the Pacific. Ever in danger, her main duty was refueling war ships in the Far East from off the coast of Communist China to the South China Sea off the coast of Viet Nam.

The City of Ponchatoula is doubly blessed to share its name with these two ships as well as have a special kinship with the USS Ponchatoula shipmates who risked their lives in such perilous times and dangerous waters.

We continue to honor the surviving members and we continue to pay tribute to those who have gone.

A few written articles simply cannot begin to tell the story. Please visit the USS Ponchatoula Shipmates Association sites to learn more.

Visit the USS Ponchatoula online or on Facebook: USS Ponchatoula Shipmates Association

City of Ponchatoula Partners with CivicSource to Auction Tax Delinquent Real Estate

The City of Ponchatoula is updating its adjudicated property auction processes by implementing the proven technologies of CivicSource, the leading online auctioneer of tax-distressed real estate. CivicSource has provided the City of Ponchatoula with an online tax certificate sale platform since 2011. The City’s new adjudicated property auction platform will be an invaluable asset to the City, improve existing protections for homeowners and provide tremendous benefits to Ponchatoula property investors.

The online adjudicated property auctions will eliminate blight while restoring significant, annually recurring revenues to the City from property taxes that had previously gone unpaid. “We are looking forward to our partnership with CivicSource to help return previously vacant land and properties back to use and commerce,” explains Ramona Tara’ Umbach, Tax Collector for the City of Ponchatoula.

CivicSource specializes in digitized due diligence, ensuring all homeowners, heirs, and persons of interest affiliated with a tax-delinquent property have been adequately notified and given ample opportunity to redeem the property before it qualifies for an adjudicated property auction. All adjudicated properties for sale at CivicSource.com went unsold in a tax sale and have not been redeemed.

The City of Ponchatoula’s new, technology-driven property auctions will take place online at CivicSource.com, allowing bidders to conduct property research and participate in the auction from any internet-ready device whether at home, work or a public facility. CivicSource.com offers numerous innovative investor tools including access to auction legal research, integrated Google and GIS parcel maps, a proxy bidding feature, customizable watch lists and a sliding close function preventing last-second, online bid sniping.

Visit CivicSource.com to view a complete listing of qualified tax-delinquent adjudicated properties or to nominate properties for auction through a deposit of $850. The properties are listed for $0 plus closing costs. Both commercial and residential properties are available for purchase. To RSVP for an upcoming information session on purchasing adjudicated properties, visit events.CivicSource.com.

City of Ponchatoula Financially Sound and Debt Free

Tuesday, August 15, a record capacity crowd of 94 packed the Rotary Hut as part of the Chamber of Commerce’s Brown Bag Lunch Summer Series for the annual State of the City address by Mayor Bob Zabbia. Eagerly anticipating what they knew to be a positive report, they weren’t disappointed.

The mayor began with words few Louisiana municipalities ever hear about their own, “The city is financially sound and debt free.”

Careful planning, careful spending, and careful saving seemed to be the unspoken background of the presentation, showing how it’s possible for a city this size to maintain such a glowing record. Mayor Zabbia said the $10.4 million-dollar budget accepted in June is a result of sales tax, mainly due to retail businesses attracted to the city, and property tax and fees which are also strong and brisk. “When I first took office, the assessed valuation of all property was $43-$44 million, but with the strong residential and business swing, that has climbed to $52.6 million,” he added.

“The raised monthly collection projections of $250,000 to $280,000 are already $100,000 over those projections in the first two reporting periods of the year. Looking forward, another $2 million in tax is expected from the $20 million nursing home under construction across from Café NOLA. Just the night before, an additional 9.7 acres on Northeast I-55 service road was annexed where Jani King plans to build a $40 million corporate headquarters along with retail space. Under consideration and in the usual confidential stage, a third party has expressed interest in acreage also along Veteran’s Highway in front of Walmart.

Zabbia explained other ways the city is able to get more for less: “Having fund balances has allowed us to capitalize on projects in which we have to match the state.”

Similar to an individual having a good credit reference and savings, the city qualifies at the top of municipality lists when applying for state capital outlay matching funds for needed projects. Example: Limited parking along Main Street hurting business resulted in the new parking lot on North Sixth and West Hickory, a $660,000 purchase and construction cost of which the state paid 75% and the city 25%.

The planned Law Enforcement Complex began with the purchase two years ago of the old Homestead Building, later Guaranty Bank. The mayor thanked First Guaranty for allowing the use of the rear of the building for detectives for only the cost of utilities. The first phase of this project is $950,000 with $726,000 of that amount from state capital outlay. This will involve the complete renovation of the building, ie., mechanical, electrical and handicap accessibility. Senator Bodi White and Representative Steve Pugh worked diligently to get another $250,000 from the state, and advertising for that project should start by the end of the year.

Also, the Wagner property behind the building was purchased and will be used for law enforcement’s parking along with a facility for storage, evidence and stolen goods. The city has also filed an application for a million-dollar city-wide sewer rehabilitation project which will involve the city’s matching one million dollars.
Two other ways the city is able to see so much progress is that Mayor Zabbia serves on the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission, enabling the city to learn early on about upcoming funding. Because of his forty years of experience in his personal profession, he saves the city both the engineering and administrative costs because he performs those duties for the city for free.

The Planning Commission opened a whole new realm of funding for transportation which involves several lighting projects. The city has secured grants to replace lighting and broken poles at the intersections of I-55 and LA 22. This will be done in a year to a year and a half, fast for approval of most projects as the lighting from along Highway 22 from Hoover Road from the east to U.S. 51 at RaceTrac on the west has been in the works since 2013.

“We’re told it seems no state highway has LED lighting and it was prolonged as it has ‘never been done before’. We’re also looking at a grant for LED lighting from West Pine Street down U.S. 51 to I-55,” Zabbia said, adding, “I’m negotiating with Entergy to get the rates.” Also since 2013, the city has worked to get funding for sidewalks from North Fifth Street to Wayne Street on the north side of East Pine. This will be $330,000 with the city’s part 20%.

Working with Regional Planning, the mayor’s long-wanted project of a sidewalk from Seventh Street/Barringer Road corner to U.S. 51 has already had the preliminary study. This sidewalk would then connect to the U.S. 51 widening project which is about four years away.

The widening involves an environmental study (underway now), followed by a public hearing, then a survey for identification and location of utilities to be relocated. The Downtown Pedestrian Project will be done in phases and involves $6 million of which the city will pay $2 million. As a result of studies done on the high volume of traffic and its speeding on the main street, reports show that having a median in place reduces speed.

Mayor Zabbia reported on projects out of sight such as the Waste Water Project of which the Aeration Project part ($320,000) the city is funding. A grant from FEMA is changing the disinfection systems and outlets, building higher levees and installing curtains to separate the ponds to slow the process to get the full treatment from each.

Reporting on the big ditches at South First and Esterbrook, the mayor stated that project has been underway for some seven years with the city’s complying with FEMA laws that continue to change. The next exciting news Mayor Zabbia was happy to share is the upcoming After School Program to coincide with Tangipahoa School System year. Having worked several years to bring this about, he proudly announced May Stilley as the director, having thirty years’ experience as teacher and principal. He, Stilley and city Human Resources Director, Lisa Jones, have visited other after-school programs for ideas while developing Ponchatoula’s.

“We won’t be copying other programs but making ours unique to fit the needs of our local school children who need extra help,” he said. “Teachers from D. C. Reeves, Martha Vinyard, St. Joseph and Ponchatoula Junior High will select the students who will ride school buses to the Community Center. Students will be greeted with a snack and social time before going to one of three classrooms, seating up to twenty each, for help with homework and tutoring. “Teachers hired will come from the three schools and know the curriculum and how to help. Because Mrs. Stilley wants parents involved and face-to-face, they’ll be expected to pick up their children.”

The cost will be $150 per child and already donations are coming in from businesses and individuals to help with supplies, food, and salaries.

As Mayor Zabbia concluded his presentation, he expressed with emotion how rewarding it is to serve as mayor of Ponchatoula.

City Clerk – Jeff Douglas

Jeffrey Douglas’ office is set by law and, serving as administrator for the City Council, he keeps each member informed and updated on a regular basis and well prior to meetings.

While developing agendas, he reviews regulation request forms for public input which must be submitted ten days prior to the meeting. With the mayor, he determines if the matter in question can be handled within the government itself. If so, he contacts the correct department to assist the person. If it is indeed a matter for the council, the person’s name is added to the agenda and he will be given five minutes to speak.

He has responsibility for the council room, its security and its sound system as every meeting is recorded by equipment sensitive enough to pick up audience comments. By law, he is required to document who is present, each item and what action takes place. Afterward, he transcribes the minutes, saving and backing up everything in various locations, including online security.

Other parts of security Douglas oversees are service contracts and computer systems, assisting in the coordination of repairs, upgrades in the purchase of hardware, software, peripherals, website design and administration and email and internet administration.

He coordinates office services, ordering of materials, keeping the code of ordinances updated and distributed to all departments and to Clerk of Court’s office when required.

He is available to answer questions from the public, oversee public records requests, also seeing each is documented and filed.
Briefly put, he is responsible for work on and reporting the official journal, reviewing state purchasing contracts for savings on services, then requesting bids for city service contracts, meeting with the mayor and other department managers regarding the selection of bids.

In insurances, he reviews and manages policies for general, liability and property. For city equipment, Douglas maintains a list of all city vehicles, their titles and vital information plus completes renewals and registrations for each.

While responsible for handling all advertising and sales for surplus properties, he also coordinates elections with Secretary of State and Clerk of Court, keeping information updated on elected officials and notices regarding tax millage and affidavits.

He is expected to maintain credit cards and track their use, review bank reconciliations provided by the Financial Advisor, research outstanding items and file year-end unclaimed properties with the State, coordinate special projects with City Hall as needed, all the while protecting confidential information and upholding all city policies. Crediting his predecessor, longtime City Clerk Tomlyn Poche, for her meticulous and official documentation of records, Douglas says his transition into the role of providing assistance to the citizens has been made easier.

A graduate of Ponchatoula High School, Douglas brings to City Hall ten years of experience in mechanical seals, afterwards earning degrees in Accounting and Economics. To stay current in his field, he is active in the Louisiana Municipal Association of which Ponchatoula is a member, The Louisiana Municipal Clerks Association, its national and its International Institute of Municipal Clerks Association.

Loving his home community and wanting to become more involved in it, he turned down offers from larger cities to take the position of City Clerk, became president of Jaycees and treasurer of the Chamber Board and serves now as Jaycees state president.

In his spare time, Douglas enjoys hunting, traveling and road trips to find the “real” people off the main highways.

USS Ponchatoula Shipmates Reunion off to Great Start

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!

One tall guy with a big smile, Kenneth “Smiley” Lawson, said he started out in Chicago and enlisted in the Navy at 18, retiring to Hawaii after 26 years as Chief Boatswain’s Mate. Another crew member joked, “Lawson wins the prize every reunion for coming the farthest.”

President Phil Rehlander of Dallas said the core group numbers 45 with some 150 in membership, but due to medical problems, not all can travel. Rehlander was on the ship from late 1964 through 1967 and did three tours of Vietnam. He paid tribute to former Tangipahoa Tourism Director Betty Stewart for first bringing the reunions to Ponchatoula, saying upon arrival, some of the crew had gone to Stewart’s to offer condolence in the loss of her husband, Roy Harris. Pointing over to effervescent Emily McKneely Matise, greeting and being greeted, it was evident before he said it, that she’s also been a long-time help in bringing them here.

Steve Van Meger of St. Louis said he’s been to every reunion here and served aboard the ship from 1963 to 1966. Last week he had lunch with a friend of Ponchatoula’s late Raoul Laurent who could be seen each year in dress uniform at the annual July Fourth flag-raising. His friend asked him to call Raoul’s widow, Carolyn.
So, a meeting within a meeting took place in the lobby as the two met for the first time. Mrs. Laurent said she and her husband had moved here from Destrehan and he’d been in service three years on ships Mellette and Cambria then in the Reserves for 25 years. So, she fit right in.

James and Carol Ball, originally from Sacramento came from Sierra Vista, Arizona. He was on the ship from 1964-1967 as a ship fitter, working in the laboratory testing oils and fuel. John Hearn of Texas said he served aboard the USS Ponchatoula from 1964-1967, in the “early stages of the Vietnam Conflict”, expressing beautifully what a ship is all about:

“When the Navy brings in a newly-commissioned ship, it’s just a piece of machinery until the ‘plank owners’ come aboard. For it is first officers like R. P. Miller and Tom Davis who bring heart and soul and the ship stops being just machinery. Those of us later rejuvenated the heart and replenished the soul.

“When the ship is decommissioned, it goes back to being machinery. But when you folks made a home for it, your city rejuvenated its heart and replenished its soul.”

Hearn went on to say, “When 9 July 1955, I. N. Kiland broke the bottle of champagne on the ship, the USS Ponchatoula was released and slid into the water and into service. The remnants of that bottle have remained in that family for 52 years and they have decided that the City of Ponchatoula be its repository.

“Our organization is preserving history – that we preserve the history and teach our kids that these artifacts actually existed and for a purpose.”

And, so it is, that the artifacts entrusted to our city are also entrusted to our hearts and souls that we never forget, nor let future generations forget, what the USS Ponchatoula represents.

Quick Festival Cleanup – Ponchatoula Reveals the Secret

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.

Experience Matters

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.