Highlighting Lewis County: Ponder Family Has Deep Roots in Lewis County


While walking home from a Rainbow Girls meeting, Carol Matteson and her friends accepted a ride from a handsome young man, Richard “Dick” Ponder.

“And next thing I knew, he asked me out,” Carol Ponder recalled. She accepted.

Last week, I shared recollections from Carol (Matteson) Ponder, who grew up in the Salzer Valley and graduated from Centralia High School in 1951. A few months later, in September, she married Dick Ponder, whose family had resided in Lewis County since Washington became a state.

His great-grandfather, Amos F. Ponder, was born in 1835 in Tennessee and served as a second lieutenant with the Confederate Army’s 12th Missouri Infantry in the Civil War. Ironically, when he moved to Lewis County in 1889, he farmed in the Union district south and east of Chehalis. He and his wife, Sarah, had three sons — A.R., who lived in Texas; John, a Chehalis attorney born in 1870 in Missouri; and A.F., who lived in Tacoma — and an adopted daughter, Maude Ward, of Littlerock, Washington, which is where he died April 12, 1924, at the age of 89. His wife, Sarah (Russell) Ponder, a Missouri native whom he married in 1866, died in February 1917 at the age of 79.

After obtaining his law degree from the University of Washington, John M. Ponder returned to Lewis County in 1895 and joined C.H. Forney in a law practice. He and his wife, Eva Reynolds, who had lived in Lewis County since 1877, when she was 3 years old, married Dec. 21, 1898, in Napavine. They had one son, Russell, born in Chehalis in 1900.

Russell followed in his father’s footsteps and earned his law degree from the University of Washington. After being admitted to the bar in 1924, he joined with his father in a law partnership, Ponder and Ponder. That same year, he married Eleanor Carolyn Fay, who was born in Adna in 1902, and they had four children — Helen Jean, Thomas Lee, Richard Fay and Eleanor Jo.

He later worked as a well-respected deputy prosecuting attorney and, unlike his father, a Democrat, ran for Lewis County prosecutor as a Republican. He was elected in 1939, but he had served only two years when he was severely injured after crashing into the rear of a log truck at Mary’s Corner in late December 1940. He suffered from a fractured skull and crushed chest. The 40-year-old lawyer was rushed to a Seattle hospital, and four Chehalis residents drove north to donate blood for transfusions, but he died a week later, on Jan. 2, 1941.

His son, Richard “Dick” Ponder, was only 10 when his father died. Four years later, he lost his grandfather, John, and seven years later, his grandmother Eva died. They were both 74 when they passed away. John Ponder’s brothers had died earlier — A.R. in September 1939 in Texas and A.F. “Frank” in January 1945 after being hit by a car in Tacoma.

Left a widow with four children, Eleanor Ponder, formerly a teacher, returned to the classroom and taught sixth grade at R.E. Bennett. She ran as a Republican for Lewis County clerk, a position she held from 1943 to 1951. She raised her children and, in 1949, married Ed Jones. She died Oct. 9, 1995, at the age of 93.

When they dated, Carol Matteson and Dick Ponder, who graduated from W.F. West High School in 1948, didn’t have much money, so they primarily just drove around.

“I just had babysitting money,” Ponder said. “He worked part time at a gasoline station. But he ran up quite a bill from buying gas driving around.”

The first year after they married, Dick and Carol Ponder rented a place above a bowling alley and tavern in Chehalis, and then, when his boss bought a gas station in Centralia, moved to a two-story apartment building and later to a house on Oak Street near Centralia College. Finally, in 1952, they bought a house on H Street, where Ponder has lived for 70 years. They had four children — Sue Beck, Marilyn Gallagher, Andy and Richard, or “Dickie.”

After working for Agnew Lumber, her father, John Matteson, became the business agent for the Lumber and Sawmill Workers union for nine years and later landed a job with Centralia City Light, working as a caretaker at the Nisqually River diversionary dam. Her parents rented out their home in Salzer Valley while he worked in Yelm, where Ponder visited them nearly every week.

“The kids just loved seeing the dam and walking along the gravel bank looking for agates and all kinds of animals,” she said.

But after nine years, her father had to retire upon advice from his doctor, who found a heart problem. He died Nov. 27, 1979, at the age of 69. Her mother, Frances, who recorded her life in more than 70 diaries stored in a trunk, passed away July 17, 2002, at the age of 86.

Dick Ponder, who served 42 years in the National Guard, worked four decades for Tires Incorporated in Chehalis. “Buck Hubbert was a good friend, a hunting partner,” Ponder said.

In addition to raising her children, Carol Ponder held several part-time jobs, including as a teacher’s aide, hotel chambermaid, and assistant in the Lewis County Treasurer’s Office, Bank Check Supply and Wayne’s Photofinishing.

The Ponders enjoyed square-dancing with the Adna Do-si-do.

Carol Ponder also learned to weave baskets from Hazel Pete, a Chehalis tribal elder and master basket weaver who died in January 2003 at the age of 88. Pete was credited with reviving the traditional art form of weaving decorative baskets, which were traditionally used for gathering clams, firewood, and other items. In the mid-1940s, she started the Hazel Pete Institute of Chehalis Basketry in Rochester and also taught at The Evergreen State College. Her work is found in the National Museum of the American Indian in New York and the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Ponder shared insights from Hazel Pete she acquired while learning to weave baskets.

“When settlers first arrived in the Pacific Northwest, traveling by covered wagons, they carried their glassware and pottery in barrels packed with raffia (a brown, grassy fiber from palm trees) for protection,” Ponder wrote. “When they arrived at their destination and built their homes, they unpacked the barrels and threw the raffia away. The Indians gathered it and put it to good use by making baskets.

“She also told me that every basket or craft they made held a piece of their soul and they believed also that it was a bad omen to work on their crafts after sundown.”

According to Ponder, some of Pete’s native friends disapproved of her teaching white folks to make baskets, and she insisted Ponder couldn’t sell any baskets she made because she wasn’t Indian — even after Ponder said she had Native American cousins on both sides of her family.

“Then I said, ‘Well, I played Pocahontas once when I was in the sixth grade,’ and she just laughed,” Ponder recalled, adding that she had long, black pigtails as a child.

“I’ve made over 30 baskets and never sold one,” she added. “I give them to family members.”

She and her husband, Dick, were featured in a 1997 Chronicle story as the parents of a son with mental illness who had helped establish the Lewis County chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Their son Dickie showed no signs of mental illness growing up and graduated from Centralia High School in 1978. But at 22, he told her, “Mom, I think I’m going crazy.” 

“I said, ‘Oh, you can’t be because people that think they’re crazy aren’t crazy,” she recalled. “I kind of poo-pooed it.”

But then he began to behave differently, and finally, one night they saw an episode of “20-20” and realized their son suffered from schizophrenia. The problem then was one of ensuring he took his medications, even when he started feeling better.

“He never harmed anybody,” Ponder said. “He broke his windshield one time when he ran out of gas.”

“The ladder in his car, it wouldn’t fit,” his sister Marilyn remembered. “So he put it through the back windshield.”

The family became involved in the Lewis County Alliance for the Mentally Ill. In the summer of 1988, he disappeared and nearly died after overdosing on tranquilizers and antidepressants. He had collapsed and cut off circulation to his right leg, which had to be amputated.

On his medication, Dickie was a joy who enjoyed camping, hiking, listening to music, and cruising on his motorized wheelchair. He died of kidney disease in February 2014 at the age of 54.

Six years ago, Ponder lost her husband, Dick, who was 85 when he died in January 2016. In addition to his wife and three children, he was survived by seven grandchildren and10 great-grandchildren.

Although she’s slowed down, Ponder has plenty to keep her busy. In addition to writing her memoirs, she finished a baby lap quilt she started 30 years ago, and she’s working with her daughter to label photos in her albums.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.