Fall of 2018 is a special time of recognition and appreciation for Ponchatoula’s Eddie Ponds, a man known and respected far beyond the city limits.
He’s celebrating having published the 500th edition of his newspaper, “The Drum,” which has readers around the nation and beyond. Now, that’s a lot of papers and that’s a lot of work!
With his friendly smile and quiet demeanor, one would never guess the long, sometimes rough roads it took to get so far in the world of media.
Born in the Millville area of Ponchatoula 80 years ago, little Eddie was fourth in a family of ten children and grew up in a far different world than today.
In the Ponds’ home, a high standard of living was instilled by teaching and by example. Both parents had third-grade educations and stressed the importance of education and solid work ethic. A family of faith, they walked together to services at Millville’s Star Valley Baptist Church.
Eddie attended the Ponchatoula Colored School before going on to Hammond’s Greenville Park High School. Ponchatoula High School was just across the tracks — but Blacks weren’t allowed to cross the tracks.
Further puzzling to youth was that on Saturday nights, teenage boys, all friends from both races, enjoyed hanging out at Billups Gas Station but they just couldn’t go to school together!
Regardless of color, many young people got jobs out in public before they were old enough. Eddie’s was doing dishes in Little Ory’s diner where he worked all through high school.
After graduation, it was off to the Army during the Viet Nam era, where he was in Ft. Benning, Georgia, and Hawaii for Advanced Jungle Training. Just before he was sent to fight, the situation changed and he returned home to marry Carrie Wells. For two years he worked at the sawmill until following his father-in-law in construction. Three times the salary, but some of the work in those days was brutal.
After telling his wife he’d really like to save to go to college, she asked, “Why haven’t you said something before? You could have started this semester!”
At some time, Eugenia “Sis” Hebert of PHS, had shown him how to do papers and thanks to the GI Bill, he was able to enroll. He earned his degrees at Southern University in Physical Science and P. E. along with his Teacher Certificate and his Master of Education at Southeastern. He and his wife both held two jobs to make it all possible and he commuted to Algiers to teach at L. B. Landry his first year.
Ever since high school he’d been interested in photography and even in the Army, where he also played saxophone in the military band, after hours he learned film processing. Hearing that teachers could attend Tulane at half price, he enrolled in Photography but had read every book on the subject he could find. Ponchatoula Librarian Clara Heitman called him any time a new book came into the library behind Little Ory’s, now the Library Room at Roux and Brew Restaurant.
By now he was teaching at Ponchatoula High School and over the Photography Club. Some of his club members today are professional photographers, saying they owe it all to him.
“How to Make Money with Photography” said that world was open to journalists so back to Southern University he went to study creative writing. This introduced him to owner and editor of the “Ponchatoula Times,” Brian McMahon, who gave him his start, hiring him to cover City Hall, thus deepening his interest and love for newspaper work.
For in Eddie Ponds’ heart, he’d recognized early on the only news reported about Black people was for heinous crimes and he wanted to bring awareness and credit for good. He observed that even when famous Civil Rights leader, Julian Bond, spoke at Southeastern, no press covered the event.
Leaving a City Council meeting alongside Don Ellzey from “The Ponchatoula Enterprise,” Ponds expressed a desire to start a newspaper to “put things in perspective for the Black Community.” Ellzey offered the use of his facilities along with helpful hints in laying out a paper from start to finish.
Thus, 1986, the fifteenth year of his teaching at Ponchatoula High School, saw the first edition of “The Drum”.
That was the day “cut and paste” really was “cut and paste” and when it was time to go to press, he’d sometimes be up three nights in a row. On those days, he made his lesson plans for lots of activity so he could be on his feet to stay awake in the classroom.
Ponds is known for his “positive” press as he avoids negativity and doesn’t even include police reports. “The Drum” and his good name have opened doors to meeting folks from all walks of life including officials and governors.
He humbly considers himself “recording African American history” and, for the past year, has added videoing, especially the older population.
Recently he was recognized by the Baton Rouge Metro Council with a proclamation for his service and on November 3, was honored with a proclamation by Ponchatoula Mayor Robert Zabbia declaring it “Eddie Ponds’ Day” before the whole congregation of his New Zion Baptist Church family.
Eddie and Carrie Ponds have passed along the tradition at home as well, being the proud parents of two daughters, Sharon
Ponds of Ponchatoula and Michelle Nesbitt of Conyers, Georgia—both graduates of Southern University and both educators. Following them are one grandson, one granddaughter and one great-grandson.
What a credit this fine gentleman is to the innumerable lives he touches in person and through media! Congratulations, Eddie Ponds!
By Kathryn Martin