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Volunteer Profile: Mike Ponder

Sarah West

Hillsdale Farmers Market couldn’t function without the work done by a dedicated group of volunteers. Board members, market assemblers, token sellers, smile givers, community creators: our volunteer force has always been the secret ingredient to our success. We’re celebrating their unique contributions to the market by sharing part of their story.

Mike Ponder in front of mural

This Sunday as you stroll through the market, you will be offered a dish of vanilla ice cream topped with fresh market berries, and a sincere “thank you” for being a market customer. July ushers in one of the market’s most anticipated summer events, aptly named the Red, White and Blueberry Sundaes fundraiser. But this event serves up more than a refreshing treat; since its inception, the Sundae event has been a volunteer-driven effort to gather donations for Neighborhood House and their emergency food box program.
 
Communities are built on this sort of thing—a pancake breakfast here, a farmers’ market there, movies in the park, dedicated local businesses, strong community services, conversations, connections, and families who stay and invest in their neighborhood. Long-time market volunteer Mike Ponder is one such community member. A resident of Hillsdale since 1980, Mike and his then wife, Dianna, were early supporters of Hillsdale Farmers’ Market and were quick to become frequent volunteers. The couple initiated the Sundae event on July 4, 2004 with the idea that ice cream could be a persuasive way to solicit donations.
 
“With my Stanford Food Service Ice Cream scooping skills and Dianna's organizational prowess, it was a good event for us to champion,” Mike told me. And champion the event they did, continuing to scoop out sundaes each market around the 4th of July, serving as regular volunteers throughout the market year, and, in Dianna’s case, acting as board president, until her sudden passing in the summer of 2010.

Mike and Dianna

Mike resumed the event in 2011, this time as a memorial to Dianna and her commitment to the market, and it continues each year with the help of Neighborhood House executive director, Rick Nitti, and board president, Ellen Singer.
 
As an industrial engineer, Mike enjoys the planning side of the event. Have you ever wondered what it takes to serve sundaes to 600 market shoppers? After ten years of scooping, Mike’s recipe has settled at: four 3-gal tubs of ice cream, 8 half-flats of strawberries, 4 half-flats of blueberries, and 4 half-flats of raspberries with 6 cans of whipped cream and 2 jugs of chocolate syrup. Now in its 11th year, this annual event (and Mike and Dianna’s efforts) have raised over $5,000 in benefit of Neighborhood House.
 
When I asked Mike what stands out about Hillsdale Farmers’ Market in a city with so many great markets, his answer, like many of our volunteers’, is that it crystallizes so many things he loves about his community:
 
“Hillsdale has a sense of place and sense of purpose that permeates the mindset of everyone involved with the market and makes it a wonderful gathering place to hang out with friends and neighbors and connect with the community. The market was initiated as a way to capture the spirit of the Annual Pancake Breakfast, so the vibe was strong and attracted the activist in all of us. The market started during the early days of the Iraq War, and we used to end the day with a Peace Walk to Multnomah Village and back, complete with signs and placards. I was once called an old hippie by one of the few who disagreed with our views and I still consider it high praise.”
 
Mike’s commitment to the market and the community were honored in 2012 when a friend commissioned to have him included in the “Faces of Hillsdale” mural. Mike is pictured handing out sundaes and wearing his market apron. Across the street outside of Food Front, Mike sponsored a bench at the bike plaza as a memorial to Dianna.
 
Retired and newly married, Mike and his wife Bea have been traveling the region, “promoting,” said Mike, “the wonders of Oregon to a long-time Santa Fe resident (Bea) who is enamored with flowers and water.” When at home, the two enjoy weekly bouquets from Herr Family Farms and lots of summer berries, taste testing in anticipation of this year’s Sundae event.

Feeling inspired?  Want to try your hand at market volunteering or just want to know more about what is involved?  Find us every Sunday at the market information booth (Capitol Hwy entrance) or email Sarah at hillsdalemarketvolunteers@gmail.com.