March 5, 1922 — December 27, 2017

Joseph M. Ponzoha, 95, died Wednesday, December 27, 2017 at Maryville.

Joe was born in Pe Ell, Washington, the son of Polish immigrants, Carl and Victoria Ponzoha. After graduating from Raymond High School, Joe married his high school sweetheart, Mickey King, in the summer of 1942, just before the Army took him away to Iceland during World War II. He served in the Army Air Corps until he was honorably discharged late in 1945.

After the war, Joe and Mickey moved to Oregon, to a little town called Sweet Home, where he took a job at the saw mill. He worked for Willamette Industries as a lathe operator for 42 years.

Joe and his wife raised seven children in Sweet Home and were active in St. Helens Catholic Church.

With the green thumb he inherited from his mother, Joe grew all the vegetables his family could eat, and they always had enough left over to share with the neighbors. He was a lover of the great outdoors and an avid hunter—something he truly enjoyed doing with each of his four sons.

When he retired from Willamette Industries, his passion for the woods motivated him to spend untold hours up in the Green Mountain wilderness area doing fire watch.

But what many people in Sweet Home remember about Joe is that he was Santa Claus. His booming voice and stout frame made him the perfect Santa. And for more than a decade, he was Saint Nicholas in Sweet Home’s Christmas parade, riding on a colorful sleigh, wearing the Santa suit Mickey made at home on her Singer sewing machine.

It was in 1930—as an eight year-old—that Joe first played Santa for his hometown teachers association Christmas party. The Raymond Herald reported on the event, “After the program, chocolate and sandwiches were served … At this time a miniature Santa Claus, none other than Joe Ponzoha, made his appearance and distributed red and green stockings filled with nuts, candy, apples and oranges to all the children present.” The seven Ponzoha children all remember a real-live Santa coming on Christmas Eve. First they heard the bells ringing in front of the house, then St. Nick would appear at the front door and call out a jolly “Merry Christmas!” before opening his red velvet sack full of toys. Oddly, their dad was always in the bathroom when Santa arrived.

Perhaps this is why it seems a fitting time of year, during the Christmas season, to celebrate Joe’s life, and to honor his memory and his passing with the Catholic Funeral Mass on the eve of Epiphany, “The Little Christmas.”

Joe’s wife, Mickey, died in 2008.

He is survived by children, Greg, Marci, Russell (wife, Shelley), Tim (wife, Annmarie), Theresa, Cathy (husband, Greg), and Matt (wife, Margie); grandchildren Dominic, Kristin, Brian, Dustin, Django, Mike, and Rob; and great-grandchildren Chloe, Abigail, Jonas, Ian Joseph, and Wyatt Joseph; and his sisters Mary and Patty.

A viewing will be at 10 a.m. on Saturday, January 6, at Saint Helens Catholic Church in Sweet Home, with the recitation of the rosary at 10:30 a.m. The funeral Mass will follow the rosary, beginning at 11 a.m. in the church, followed by a reception in the church hall. Graveside burial service will be at 2:30 p.m. at Gilliland Cemetery.

Sweet Home Funeral Chapel is handling arrangements (www.sweethomfuneral.com).

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