Sitting at his kitchen table in Alexandria, Alabama, surrounded by family photos and accolades gained over the years, Walter “W.T.” Ponder enjoys reflecting on his century-long journey.
The former Calhoun County Farmers Federation president, known for hard work, good advice and great stories, turned 100 years old March 22. His fondest memories are from the farm.
“I started working for a dairy in Talladega County in 1937,” said Ponder, a native of Talladega County. “I milked the first Holstein cows that came to Alabama. We moved (to Alexandria) in 1946, and we’ve been here 69 years.”
Ponder and his wife Frankie are some of Alfa’s first customers. They bought 84 acres and 20 cows when they moved to Alexandria. It was the same year the (Alfa) Insurance Co. began.
“I joined Farm Bureau because we couldn’t buy any insurance on the farm,” Ponder said. “Farmers couldn’t get much insurance back then. The insurance they could get was mostly for homes.”
It wasn’t long before fellow farmers recognized the successful dairyman’s leadership skills. He was elected to the Calhoun County Farm Bureau Board of Directors in 1955.
In 1961 Ponder expanded the farm by adding two poultry houses. In 1977 he transitioned from dairy to beef cattle. His daughter and son-in-law, Linda and George Findley, assumed work on the farm in the 1990s, but Ponder never lost his passion for agriculture, his daughter said.
“He has always promoted agriculture and been supportive of farmers,” said Findley, the Calhoun County Farmers Federation secretary since 1991. “After retiring, he’d still get out and walk the pastures until his eyesight got too poor.”
Federation Central Area Vice President Dean Wysner of Randolph County, who met Ponder 35 years ago, described his friend as a leader who made a lasting impression on many young farmers.
“The first time I ever went to Washington, D.C., with the Federation I was the only person from Randolph County,” Wysner said. “Mr. Ponder and a couple others from Calhoun County showed me around and helped me on the trip.
“He was one of my mentors in this organization and has always been supportive of the young farmers.”
In addition to leadership roles the Federation, Ponder served on the Farmers Home Administration (FHA) county committee after moving to Alexandria.
“This place was full of rural farms,” Ponder said. “People came back home from the war and didn’t have jobs.”
Ponder helped eligible farmers get approved for FHA loans to improve their farms and buy equipment.
There were a few farmers still plowing with mules when he first moved to Calhoun County, but they were soon able to add a tractor with an FHA loan.
Ponder said success in farming, then and now, requires determination and imagination.
“But most of all, you have to love to farm,” he said.
The Ponders have two daughters, four granddaughters and 10 great grandchildren. They have attended Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Alexandria for 69 years.
Through all the accolades and milestones, one of the couples’ greatest accomplishments, Mrs. Ponder said, has been the love they’ve shared during nearly 76 years of marriage.
“We’re good for one another,” she said, smiling. “We are committed to one another and supportive of each other. We promised that’s what we’d do when we stood in front of the preacher; take care of each other until death do us part.”