Kenneth Gene Ponder (Ken) was born in Longview, Texas on February 28, 1940, to the parentage of Roscoe C. Ponder and May Pearl Jacobs Ponder and is the second of four children. His mother’s parents were sharecroppers, his father’s mother was a school teacher and his father’s father was a court judge during the Reconstruction Period. His mother was an insurance agent and his father a maritime construction worker and maintenance man.
Ken’s family moved from Tyler, Texas to California in the early forties. They lived in the Estuary Housing Projects in Alameda, then moved to their own home in East Oakland, where Ken attended Havenscourt Jr. High, Fremont High School and the University of California at Berkeley. Ken was student body president of his grade school, Jr. High School, and High School and also competed in wrestling and gymnastics. At U.C. Berkeley, he became the nation’s first black All-American gymnast.
He decided to become a dentist an age nine at the suggestion of his mother. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Ken was accepted to dental school at the Creighton University, University of Detroit, Northwestern University and Howard University. He chose Howard University College of Dentistry in Washington, D.C. Dr. Ponder then joined the Navy Dental Corps Ensign 1925 Program. The summer after his freshman year, Dr. Ponder went to Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. He was commissioned as the 37th Black Officer in the U.S. Navy at age 21. During dental school, Dr. Ponder worked 40 hours per week as a jail clerk, hospital clerk, library clerk, childcare center driver, and a health researcher.
At age 24, Dr. Ponder graduated from dental school and took his first active-duty navy assignment; an internship at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Oakland, California. Subsequently, he served three years with the Fleet Marine Forces at Camp Pendleton, California, Okinawa and the First marine Regiment in Viet Nam. He saw a great deal of action and performed battlefield maxillofacial Surgery for several months. Upon returning to the United States, Dr. Ponder resigned his commission and moved to Sacramento to enter private practice. He started out sharing an office with Dr. James Martin in 1967. In 1974, Dr. Ponder opened his own office which he sold in 1988. In 1989, he went to work for the Department where he served as Health Care Manager until retirement. Throughout his career, Dr. Ponder was active with the American Dental Association, National Association Academy of General Dentistry, California Dental Association, Urban League, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, NAACP and more than 25 professional, civic, governmental and community service organizations.
On April 9, 1977, Ken married the love of his life, Elma Clayton, an advertising and public relations manager, business owner and later a real estate professional. In 2005, Ken and Elma relocated to Rockwall, Texas where they united with the First Christian Church of Rockwall. On August 12, 2019, Kenneth answered the loving, redemptive summons of the LORD and transitioned to eternal rest.
Kenneth was preceded in death by his father, Roscoe C. Ponder; mother, May Pearl Jacobs Ponder, and brother, James McFarland Ponder.
He leaves to cherish his unselfish love and life: wife, Elma C. Ponder -Rockwall, TX; daughter, Kimberly Ponder-Thomas (Mark Williams) – Castro Valley, CA.; granddaughter, Jenelle Williams – Los Angeles, CA; two sisters, Brenda Barnes (John) – Lodi, CA; Sharon Dalke (Donald) – Oakland, CA; Heather Barnes – Atlanta, GA; Yvette Vaughn -Sacramento, CA:. Barbara J. Machen – Rockwall, TX; nieces, Yemaya Ponder Pitts (Darrell); Njura Moyer (Alex); Angela Dalke, Tamulia Dalke; nephews, Rene’ Ponder (Wendy); Akintunde Ponder (Coretta); Radhi Barnes (Tracie); Ipyana Ponder and a host of relatives, friends and colleagues.
Funeral services will be held 2:00 PM Saturday, August 24, 2019, at First Christian Church Rockwall, 3375 Ridge Road, Rockwall, TX, 75032. Interment will follow at a later date in Arlington National Cemetery. A gathering of family and friends will take place at the church prior to the service, beginning at 1:00 PM.