Wall Honors Ponchatoula Strawberry Farmers
After four years of researching names and raising funds, the Ponchatoula Public Arts Commission was ready to get the Strawberry Farmers’ Wall of Honor underway. An official ground breaking ceremony took place August 5, 2005 in front of City Hall.
Through countless hours of pouring over archival birth certificates, obituaries, and census records, Commission historians, Jim Perrin and Merlyn Wells, were able to verify 2,652 names of Ponchatoula farmers, some dating as early as the 1860’s. Many of those names were nominated by relatives or friends of the farmers.
According to Perrin and Wells, the list includes 1,164 couples, 284 single men, and 40 single women farmers. They were also able to determine the decade in which the farmers began growing strawberries, a fact that will be engraved next to the farmers’ names.
The strawberry is not only Louisiana’s state fruit, but it has played a significant role in the development of the city of Ponchatoula. In 1936, the federal government recognized Ponchatoula as the greatest shipping point of strawberries in the world. Each year in April, the city hosts its annual Strawberry Festival. With over 250,000 visitors, it is the largest weekend festival in the state.
Immediately following the ground breaking, the City began preparing the site. After several previous sites proved inaccessible to the Wall, Mayor Bob Zabbia suggested the space in front of City Hall.
The Mayor then requested an analysis of the health of the trees from two arborists and a tree surgeon. All three concurred that both trees were in a continuous declining state. The Mayor decided it would be more cost effective to remove the trees now and to replant two substantial oak trees in early spring. “I hate to see any trees go,” the Mayor said. “But this is the safest route to take. The new trees will be within the landscaping planned for both sides of the Wall.”
Designer of the Wall of Honor, Dickie L. Lamp, retired Ponchatoula architect, altered his original drawing to adapt to the new site. Instead of one structure with seven red granite pylons, he has divided it into two structures each holding three pylons, with a fountain and brick plaza in between. The pylons are positioned in a zigzag formation within a pool of water, complete with bubble fountains and directional lighting. The names are engraved on twenty-four panels of 3/4" low iron Diamonte glass which are suspended in front of the granite pylons. Artist Wes Koon of Covington carved the names.
The cost for the Wall of Honor was approximately $60,000, according to Arts Commission Chair Kim Howes Zabbia. “We were awarded a $50,000 Capital Outlay Grant thanks to Representative Tank Powell and Senator John Hainkel, and we managed to collect about $12,000 through private and corporate donations."
The Public Arts Commission unveiled the Wall August 27, 2005. Commission members included Kim Zabbia, Merlyn Wells, Jim Perrin, Cathy Welles, Julie Bentivegna, Caryn Schoeffler, Carmel Foret, Tom Enmon, and Janice Waterman.