January 9, 2011

USA: Grandma Onie lived an incredible life

DESTIN, Florida / The Destin Log /  News / January 9, 2011

Former councilman remembers 112-year-old grandmother

By Matt Algarin
The year was 1898 and the United States of America had formally declared war against Spain; congress passed the Newlands Resolution, annexing Hawaii as a U.S. territory; Theodore Roosevelt was named governor of New York and Onie Ponder was born in Ocala.

One hundred and twelve years later, Onie passed away Dec. 31, 2010 at an Ocala hospice after a brief bout with pneumonia. Born Sept. 3, 1898, she was the oldest living person in the State of Florida, the ninth oldest person in America and the 21st oldest person in the world, according to her grandson Mel Ponder, of Destin.

“She was an incredible woman who lived to see so many different things,” Mel told The Log. “We are all saddened by her death… she lived an incredible life.”

Onie was born to Louis and Nita Hickman Chazel and was the fifth of eight children, which was an accomplishment in itself, since she was born in the family home, not a hospital. With the exception of a few stops in North Carolina, Tennessee and Boston along the way, she spent the majority of her life in Ocala.

During her time in Boston, Onie met and would eventually marry bookkeeper Lester William Ponder in 1928. He died in 1958. Her son, Carswell Ponder, told the Associated Press that Onie long outlived her seven siblings.

With a mind that stayed as sharp as a tack until her death, Mel said that “Grandma Onie” could remember the slightest details. He said that her storytelling abilities were second to none.

“She would recall things from when she was a child, details that go as far as the weather conditions, the direction the wind was blowing and what color dress she was wearing,” Mel said. “The detail was so vivid — I remember her telling me about the first automobile she saw drive through Ocala.”

Living to be 112 doesn’t happen very often, and that allowed Onie to be part of some exclusive company.

She was one of 1,000 people involved in the New England Study of Centenarians conducted since 1994 by Boston University’s College of Medicine, according to an article on Ocala.com. As part of the study, numerous publications and television programs interviewed Onie.

The article states that a photograph of Onie appeared in Time magazine in an article about aging. Her photograph, along with other centenarians appears in the new wing of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

“People would go to her assisted living facility with different news or magazine articles that were written about her and ask for autographs,” Mel remembered. “It was just amazing how people always wanted to be around her, to listen to her stories and to hear about what she had experienced during her life.”

As for the secret to her long life, Mel said he wasn’t sure. What he did know is that she gave “credit to the Lord” for taking care of her, she kept her mind active and maintained a healthy diet.

“She was a devout Catholic … ,” Mel said. “Up until two weeks ago, the only medications she took were a daily aspirin and a water pill… she was in excellent health and didn’t need much assistance.”

And while he may not have gotten to spend as much time with “Grandma Onie” as he would have liked to, Mel said that he would never forget the time they did share together.

“She was just a special person,” he said. “I regret not spending more time with her, hearing her heart and her mind — we are definitely going to miss her.”

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