Walter Alfred Ponsford

July 13, 1935 ~ June 7, 2021 (age 85)


Walter Alfred Ponsford, 85, of Madras, died June 7, 2021 at St. Charles Madras Hospital. A celebration of life will be held at the Madras Performing Arts Center August 21, at 1 p.m.

Walter was born July 13, 1935 in Eugene, Oregon, to Cora LaVerne (Wanless) and Howard Walter Jewell. Later his mother divorced, and then married Dale Ponsford, who adopted Walter and his sister, Doris. Walter graduated from Central High School, Independence, Oregon in 1954, graduated from OCE (now known as Western Oregon University) in 1959, and later earned a Master's Degree from the University of Oregon. At OCE, he was active in the drama department, acting in several plays.

In 1955 he met his first wife, Norma Rae Spath, in geography class at OCE. They were married in 1956 at Lents Baptist Church in Portland. They lived in the Willamette Valley where during the summers Walter worked at Montgomery Ward and at the Portland Steel Foundry with his uncle, Charles Wanless. In 1957, Walter joined the Dallas, Oregon, unit of the Oregon National Guard. He trained at Fort Knox in Kentucky and graduated boot camp at Fort Ord in California.

Upon graduation from OCE, he began his 34-year teaching career at Henry Hill Middle School in Independence, Oregon. In 1961, the family moved to Warm Springs. Walter drove the school bus to and from Madras where he taught at Madras Junior High with principal Darrell Wright. In 1967, Wright selected Walter to participate in the "Upward Bound" program at U of O with Peter Carlson.

He became "Dad" to his two daughters, Jill La Verne in 1964, and Kellie Marie in 1968.

In 1963, Walter transferred to Madras High School, where he taught social studies, history, English and drama. He was a firm believer in voting as a civic duty and worked to convince skeptical students that their vote could make a difference.

Students in his American history and civics classes knew the importance of the three branches of government and could name the U.S. Presidents. One of his Russian history students went on to learn the Russian language and teach Russian History because he loved Mr. Ponsford's class so much. Known to be proactive in helping at-risk students, he stood firm that no one would fail his class; because he was only one person, he often recruited students who excelled to help others so everyone could pass the test. Walter retired from Madras High School in 1993.

Throughout his tenure at Madras, he coached the high school drama program. Walter had a heart for play production and acting, and brought live theater to countless students and the entire Madras community. His two favorite plays were Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" and "The Skin of Our Teeth" which he later directed when Playhouse 97 became a community theater. And what a strong singing voice he had! He used that voice to perform to great acclaim in "The Mikado."

In 1970, Walter helped build his new family home on McTaggart Road, supervised by Tom and Jiggs Grant. The first day of living in Madras, on a shopping trip to town, he purchased a new Chevy Impala from Ron McDonald, who became a life-long friend.

During the summers, he worked at Round Butte Observatory, where he developed a love of water skiing, and spent many hours on the lake with Madras teachers, teaching many to ski with his new Sea Ray boat. The beach became known to locals as "Teachers' Beach."

Walter attended Madras Christian Church, where he sang in the choir and taught Sunday school. He was also active in the Gideons.

Both as a teacher and as a citizen, Walter believed in active participation in government. As a leader in the Jefferson County Democratic Committee, he was State Chairman of the Oregon Democrat Convention held in Bend, Oregon, in 1970. Madras clothing store owner Helmer Wallen sent him off looking sharp in a new blue suit, red tie, and new shoes!

He stayed active in politics, running for state representative and US Congress and county commissioner, becoming County Commissioner in 2002. He knew the importance of learning from history, and in many conversations, he expounded on the historical background underlying current issues and events.

Raised on small farms in the Willamette Valley, Walter relished rural life. In 1973, he purchased 80 acres on Agency Plains and farmed until the last few years. He was also an avid sportsman. He enjoyed hunting elk and deer, especially with the Ron Quant family. On FFA outings in high school, he was bitten by the fishing bug, culminating in years of fishing trips with his family and with his dad, Dale, whom he cherished.

In 1984, he married Carolyn Sue Layton at Metolius Friends Church and became stepfather to Carolyn's six children who praised him as a "wonderful step-dad."

Walter and Carolyn were happily married for 37 years. They continued to farm their 80 acres for 30 of those years.

Walter and Carolyn enjoyed many activities together, especially celebrating the holidays and other events with their family and with good friends. Prior to Walter's retirement, they worked together in the Madras High School drama program where Walt directed and Carolyn helped with costumes, make-up and refreshments.

The couple enjoyed camping, fishing, and hunting trips together where often his stepsons joined in the hunt. Later, during Walter's retirement years, he joined the Seniors Bridge Club where he played bridge twice a week, forming many new friendships. Walter and Carolyn were faithful members of the Warm Springs Presbyterian Church and both were active volunteers for the Presbyterian Food Bank. Walter was an avid volunteer due to his love of helping people and his community. His service included Oregon Judicial Commission, 1997-2005; Citizens Review Board, 2002; Neighbor Impact, 2009; Canyon East Apartments for Migrant Workers Project, 2011; and Central Oregon Council for Aging. He received an award for Outstanding Service to Seniors.

Walter was preceded in death by his sister, Doris Ann Hersey. Surviving relatives include his wife, Carolyn; his daughters Jill LaVerne Hickenlooper (Ben), Jefferson, Oregon, and Kelli Marie Huntington, Redmond; and his sister, Linda Dale Birnbaum (Martin), La Grande; step-daughters Cherith Farmer (Todd); Joy Susan Wiberg (Ted); Tamara Beth Dickerson (Jon); Kelly Marie Otter (Rick); step-sons Christopher Michael Mennealy and Timothy James Mennealy (Katie); 29 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to Northwest Rett Syndrome or Warm Springs Presbyterian Food Bank.

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