Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Title: Oral History Interview with Zeno Ponder, March 22, 1974. Interview A-0326. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Ponder, Zeno, interviewee
Interview conducted by Finger, William
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Mike Millner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2006
Size of electronic edition: 228 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2006.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2006-00-00, Celine Noel and Wanda Gunther revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2006-12-31, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Zeno Ponder, March 22, 1974. Interview A-0326. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0326)
Author: William Finger
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Zeno Ponder, March 22, 1974. Interview A-0326. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0326)
Author: Zeno Ponder
Description: 232 Mb
Description: 59 p.
Note: Interview conducted on March 22, 1974, by William Finger; recorded in Marshall, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Linda Killen.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series A. Southern Politics, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Editorial practices
An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
All quotation marks, em dashes and ampersand have been transcribed as entity references.
All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as "
All em dashes are encoded as —

Interview with Zeno Ponder, March 22, 1974.
Interview A-0326. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Ponder, Zeno, interviewee


Interview Participants

    ZENO PONDER, interviewee
    WILLIAM FINGER, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
WILLIAM FINGER:
This is an interview with Zeno Ponder, just outside of Marshall, North Carolina, on March 22, 1974. Mr. Ponder is the titular head of the Democratic Party in Madison County, North Carolina. Mr. Ponder, we're discussing North Carolina politics since 1948 and its changes in the state. But you are in a part of the state that is a lot different from Raleigh. The mountain culture is wrapped up into every aspect of things out here—religion, politics, the music—and it is hard to talk about politics without talking about mountain culture in general. In Raleigh you can talk about politics and the elections without talking about the culture in Raleigh sometimes. So the two things I would like to explore is you, your involvement in politics out here and also your views of mountain culture, because that's influenced the way you look at politics and the activities you've had. I think a good way to begin may be to talk about your roots in the mountains and what kinds of formative things about the mountain culture have affected you.
ZENO PONDER:
Bill, I guess, talking about the roots of things that happened to me and where my roots are in Madison County and the mountains, I'd go back to my heritage, my family. I was one of thirteen children. As a matter of fact I was the thirteenth. My mother didn't give up easily, but when she saw me, that was it. We had one sister and twelve of us boys. We didn't know that we were living in poverty, so we were very happy. I guess there is a great deal of truth in ignorance truly being blissful. Because we just simply didn't know what the outside world was. When I grew up during the '20s

Page 2
over across the river west of Marshall, when school was out we worked all summer long. Not once did us children go to the big town of Marshall, just six miles away. We didn't have money to go to the show. Maybe a couple of times a year, special occasions. So I guess poverty really . . . sleeping at the foot of the bed, knowing what its like to eat beans twice a day and cornbread twice a day, to gather your own eggs from the hens' nest, and figure out whether there was enough to give one egg per child the next morning or two eggs per child. Those things motivate you to maybe not want to get cold when you get old. You want to have a little bit of something for security. And if you're built out of the right kind of stuff you want your neighbors to have some of the better things of life.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So your father was a farmer?
ZENO PONDER:
My father was a farmer. He went six weeks to school and immediately after the Civil War. My father was fifty-four years old when I was born. So I practically didn't get here at all, being the thirteenth child and my father was fifty-four years of age.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did he . . . was he a subsistence farmer? Did he plant some tobacco and have a few hens, that kind of thing?
ZENO PONDER:
My father bought thirty-two acres of land, long before he was married. He didn't marry until he was thirty-four. Batched on this thirty-two acres of land. And he did do diversified farming. And he owned his own land. He accumulated more land as he went along. When my father died at the age of eighty-seven he owned about eight or nine hundred acres of land.
WILLIAM FINGER:
In Madison County?
ZENO PONDER:
In Madison County, all of it, yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So your father's motivation pushed him from the lowest, poorer class of people into the landed, more middle-class part of the county.
ZENO PONDER:
Yes, when he died he was in considerable . . . in the upper bracket

Page 3
of the economy or economic improvement of Madison County. So he was a product of the Civil War. Born in 1866. His father, Robert Ponder, came home from the Civil War, Battle of Chickamauga. Mustered out in Greeneville, Tennessee, and lived about eighteen months. Died with what was considered then a run-down condition. I can imagine a lot of Civil War dysentery and undernourishment and he just couldn't get back on his feet physically.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was . . . the family feuds and the Democratic-Republican split, a lot of it is rooted in the Civil War in the mountain counties. Did that have any influence on your family?
ZENO PONDER:
Well, certainly it had an influence on my family. My father, son of Robert Ponder, was one who fought with the Union, not because of the Democratic-Republican element but because he just did not believe in slavery. My grandmother, bless her heart, I guess she was destitute and being a widow with two children to bring up during that era, I don't fault her, but she married Josh Reams, who was part Indian. And he was a veteran of the southern element. He had fought for slavery and fought with Lee's forces.
WILLIAM FINGER:
This is your . . .
ZENO PONDER:
This is my step-grandfather. My father's stepfather.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Your father's stepfather.
ZENO PONDER:
Now when my father grew up, of course his mother talked to him about what his father had done. Robert Ponder. Josh Reams, his stepfather talked to him about what he had done. So there was a woman who had lived and given birth to two sons of the Union and, incidentally, she gave birth to two sons of Josh Reams, a Confederate soldier. The political implication as I see it, coming from . . . through my father and on down to the children, was simply that we took the view that we had very little if anything to conserve. We were liberal and the Democratic Party was liberal in its views nationally, state, and county. So we were for that form of government which would give us a better opportunity to involve ourselves

Page 4
and enjoy some of the goods, some of the good things of life.
WILLIAM FINGER:
A lot of the people that were on the Union side in the Civil War, they continued in the Republican tradition. Isn't that right?
ZENO PONDER:
Well, its true, and a good many of the people here in Madison County were not, up until the Civil War—they had no roots here in Madison County. They came in from the Piedmont, retreating back into the hills where they were less likely to be picked up and put in prison or put on one side or the other. So they were renegades. They were good people, they just didn't believe in fighting. You know, we had people during Vietnam what didn't believe in fighting. We had people during the Civil War. We've had them during every war.
So Madison County, I guess, was receiving maybe more than our share of people who just didn't believe in fighting, just didn't believe in the cause of the war. And they came here and they stayed after the war. And they were very strong in favor of the Union forces. And then to cap the whole thing off I'm sure you've heard about the massacre on Laurel. And that was the stronghold of the Republican Party—that was up until I became active in politics—Laurel community, five townships over there. And they can still tell you and show you right to the spot where these people were lined up and shot in the back of the head off a poplar log. Because they thought they had raided Marshall and taken some sugar illegally.
WILLIAM FINGER:
These were Union sympathizers.
ZENO PONDER:
Yes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And who shot them. The Civil War, the confederate troops, the militia?
ZENO PONDER:
No. I'm not too familiar with the history. I'm sorry, I'm not sure. I can't recall the names. I've read it. A Union captain came in and had what appeared from my reading of the articles, different articles, a stump trial you would call it. Very little military trial to it, but he

Page 5
lined up and shot these people. Some of them as deserters and some of them because they were corroborating with deserters. Some of them were children, actually twelve or thirteen-year-old boys.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So it was actually the Union killed them?
ZENO PONDER:
Yep.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So that heritage is actually very much a part of both families and the way children grow up, whether they end up being in politics or not. But also particularly for politicians.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, actually, Mr. Finger, the politician in my family came in more through my mother than through my father. My mother was a Ramsey, Emma Ramsey. She was the oldest of a family of some eleven children. My mother's father, John Ramsey, was Republican sheriff of Madison County on two different occasions—each a two year term. Her brother, my uncle Chaney Ramsey, who lived here, incidentally, on this same farm that later I bought. It went out of the family at his death and then I bought it back some twenty-five years later. He was sheriff on two different occasions, each a two-year term. And he was a Republican sheriff.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's your uncle?
ZENO PONDER:
That's right. And my grandfather. They were both sheriffing this county. Both Republican. And little did my grandfather know, I guess, that his grandson—E. Y. Ponder, my brother—would serve twenty years as Democratic sheriff. The second one, the second Democratic sheriff in the history of the county. There was only one before him, for a two-year period. That was Mack Burnett. Nobody thought he could be elected. He was plowing corn all day the day of the election. But he got elected. I should say he was plowing for corn. He was plowing the land in the fall of the year for the corn crop.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So your mother's side of the family was really steeped in mountain Republicanism.

Page 6
ZENO PONDER:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Whereas your father was less interested in politics than in farming and trying to provide for his thirteen kids.
ZENO PONDER:
That's right. He was, had very little interest really in politics and never ran for any office. He voted an independent ticket. He was registered as a Democrat but I know that he supported his brother-in-law, Chaney Ramsey, who was running for sheriff on the Republican ticket. He supported his father-in-law, John Ramsey. He supported Jesse James Bailey. I remember that very well. He signed some documents as a school committeeman at Pleasant View School stating that Jesse James Bailey was a good, forthright young man worthy and capable of being high sheriff in Madison County. So my father was really nonpartisan.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That gives me a good feel then for some of the influences of your parents, both of them, and also the traditions of mountain politics as they affect lots of people.
You, you went to high school during the Depression? Or was it . . .
ZENO PONDER:
Well, yes, I went to high school. I finished in '36. So when I entered high school in '32 it was right at the depth of the Depression. And some very interesting memories of things that a good many kids of today just couldn't conceive of. We had no such thing as a lunchroom program. My lunch consisted of two biscuits. And part of the time there was ham meat between those two biscuits; part of the time an egg fried between those two biscuits. And occasionally my mother would have enough money to buy sugar and take apple juices, blackberries we would gather, pick, and from these make jellies or jams. But that was our lunch. And I was in style, too. I ate right along with the rest of them. I had just as nice a biscuits as my deskmate did.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Some people probably had less, didn't they?
ZENO PONDER:
Oh sure. In fact I thought my mother did a better job than most

Page 7
of those kids' mothers. Some of them, they'd bring cornbread and not anything else, you know.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But people did keep going to school. They didn't . . .
ZENO PONDER:
Well, many of us did. We had a lot of dropouts, I guess, back then. But again, I guess ignorance is bliss. I don't guess anybody kept any records, any data. My brothers and sisters, my one sister, we went regularly to school. Now they did drop out, my brothers and sister did, except for E. Y., before they got through high school. But it was considered a necessity or it was . . . they were sixteen, they were big enough to work, hold down a job, help earn a living. My father was unable to work for that large a family. They had to help him, scratch for themselves.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You hear and you read sometimes that the Depression didn't affect the mountains like it did other sections of the country because the mountains were poor and isolated anyway. Was that . . . were you old enough to grasp those kinds of differences or were you just kind of going to school day to day . . .
ZENO PONDER:
Well, of course I only know what I have read and I do know what we had in the mountains here in Madison County in particular I know about. 1907. The old cotton mill building was built on the west banks of the French Broad River, Marshall, Tennessee. There was immediately after the building of that building a survey made by the federal Congress. Congress sent in men to determine whether or not there was justification for child labor. Or whether in fact the Congress should pass a bill which had been introduced outlawing child labor. And I can take you in a mile of my home here to Annie Baldwin, who married Theodore Collins, who worked in that cotton mill for forty cents a day at the age of nine years old. She worked for me last year, at the age of seventy years of age, and made twenty-five dollars a day stripping tobacco, [unclear] tobacco.

Page 8
WILLIAM FINGER:
How old?
ZENO PONDER:
She's seventy—she's seventy-one, I believe, her birthday.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And she stripped tobacco.
ZENO PONDER:
She can sit there and strip tobacco and do more than you and I.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Incredible.
ZENO PONDER:
She's worked hard all her life and she enjoys working. And she doesn't look back on those years with bitterness. She was working at forty cents a day and helping keep body and soul together. And she was one of twenty-one children. So she came from a large mountain family. So that story to me makes me know that yes, poverty was here long before the Hoover depression, the Hoover panic.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But it did get worse?
ZENO PONDER:
Well, yes. I . . . we had an upsurge in the economy. Maybe they were making a better brand of liquor. [Laughter] Anyway, the county people here in Madison did get along pretty good.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's the next question.
ZENO PONDER:
They got along pretty good in the roaring twenties. Then the crash in '29, the Hoover panic, really did flatten Madison County.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you graduated in 1936 and then I know that the war was very influential on you. What happened between '36 and . . .
ZENO PONDER:
Well, I was fortunate. A brother older than me was in the war and was injured twice. Battle of the Bulge. Hospitalized for a long period of time. But he recovered and lived a pretty normal life. I went from high school in 1936 to Mars Hill College here in the county. And believe it or not—this is hard one to believe. I was born and reared right over there across on the west side of Marshall. Six miles. You can see the place from here. Back to the right, here, seven miles, is Mars Hill College. And so help me God, I had never been to Mars Hill College until my mother took

Page 9
me up there and enrolled me in the fall of 1936.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Thirteen miles away.
ZENO PONDER:
Thirteen miles away. And I was all of fifteen and a half years old and I had never been to Mars Hill College. She took me up there and registered me . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were fifteen when you went to college?
ZENO PONDER:
Yes sir. So I attended school there two years. Managed to pass my work. Wasn't easy. I wasn't prepared. Very ill-prepared for college. I had two prospective sister-in-laws during my elementary education out at Pleasant View where we had six grades in one room. And these two prospective sister-in-laws had each double promoted me. It wasn't that I was smart. They were each just trying to make real good friends with my brothers. [Laughter] So I graduated from Mars Hill College in '38 and from '38 on down to North Carolina State College and graduated from there in 1940 at the age of nineteen. And still was not old enough to register for World War II even though . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
You had a college degree.
ZENO PONDER:
. . . had a college degree. I went back and did one full year on my master's degree and still wasn't old enough to register for the draft. I was twenty.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, your mother must have had an incredible influence on pushing her children to go on with their education. Where did that . . .
ZENO PONDER:
My mother had one of the most dogged determinations of any person I've ever known. She was sweet, she was wonderful, she was good to me. And some of the things that I knew basically that she believed in . . . I didn't know how strongly she believed, I guess. Long after I was out of college my father told me, jokingly, one day a story that happened between he and his wife, Emma. Said, "Zeno, I'm real proud you went on to college. Proud you finished." And said, "And I don't want credit for it. I was perfectly

Page 10
willing to let you drop out at Mars Hills because you were having considerable trouble that first year there. Under the care of a doctor. We didn't know what was wrong, really. And I was perfectly willing to let you come on back home. But," he says, "Emma there told me, she says, 'Zadie, he can do college work and I have buried six of my sons, four with polio, two with measles and whooping cough combination, and I would rather bury him as to see him quit. I want that boy to go to college.'" And I said, "Well, did she mean it?" He said, "You went to college, didn't you?"
WILLIAM FINGER:
That would have been a lot of pressure if you'd known that at the time.
ZENO PONDER:
I didn't know it until years later. I knew that she was very determined that I further my education from high school. And like most teenage boys I would have been very happy to have dropped out at sixteen or seventeen. Come back and started farming. And again, I would have been ill-prepared for farming. About as ill-prepared as I was for college. But I didn't disappoint my mother. I went on through and I'm proud that I did.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you learned some farming skills at State. I mean, you weren't just passing time.
ZENO PONDER:
I wasn't just passing time, no sir. I was a student all the way through. I did study. And I majored in soil chemistry. Incidentally, they did away with the department. I was the last one to graduate from North Carolina State University in soil chemistry. My wife graduated from Chapel Hill in chemistry but I had about sixteen more college hours in chemistry than did my wife—even though her degree is in straight chemistry.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were you married at the time?
ZENO PONDER:
No, no. It was a custom that came along many years later. My wife and I were married after we were both finished college and after each of us had worked for about a year as a chemist with the Ecusta Paper Corporation.

Page 11
WILLIAM FINGER:
Ecusta?
ZENO PONDER:
Ecusta.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was she from Madison County?
ZENO PONDER:
No. My wife was born in South Carolina. Her father's people from Savannah, Georgia, and her mother's people were from Transylvania County near Brevard. So she was reared between Brevard and Savannah, Georgia. Her father died when she was about two years old.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And she ended up at Chapel Hill.
ZENO PONDER:
She ended up at Chapel Hill. She went to Meredith two years and then to Chapel Hill for her last two years.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Probably when there weren't a lot of women students.
ZENO PONDER:
Not too many girls over there at Chapel Hill and I believe we had four at State and three or four thousand boys.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And you met her . . .
ZENO PONDER:
I met her after I had finished college and after I had done my year's graduate work. Matter of fact I came in on the midnight shift and she had been employed. I was off on a five-day vacation and when I came back on the midnight shift I met . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were both working at night.
ZENO PONDER:
She had gone to work at the same laboratory where I had been working.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And that was in Raleigh.
ZENO PONDER:
No, that was in Ecusta Paper Corporation in Brevard, North Carolina.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you finally got accepted by the army, after you'd had a master's and worked for a year.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, no. Strange enough at this point . . . I was old enough and did register for the draft in Transylvania County where I was employed. I received a three months or maybe a six months deferment, I'm not sure. In the meantime, Ecusta saw the handwriting on the wall, that they couldn't keep

Page 12
male employees, so they went to all female chemical laboratory analysts and chemical laboratory supervisers. And so notified all of us young men that our services would not be needed after a certain length of time—two months or thirty days. So a friend of mine who was working with me there, from Chattanooga, had understood that there was a large Hercules Powder company going up down there—TNT plant. So I drive down there with him on a Sunday afternoon, stay over for an interview, and was employed by Hercules Powder company and worked a year and a half in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at the TNT plant as a TNT supervisor.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And your wife, or your fiancee, or your girlfriend . . . which was she then?
ZENO PONDER:
My girlfriend remained, and as a matter of fact, she took over the shift that I had on the job that I had and continued working there. We kept in pretty close contact and married about six or eight months later. After I'd gone to Chattanooga, that is. About six or eight months before she and I got married.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So then she moved over to Chattanooga?
ZENO PONDER:
Then she came over to Chattanooga and took a job there in the laboratory. I was out at the plant, line supervisor. And soon we had enough TNT to last for about five years, it was estimated. As fast as we were producing it. Much faster than the B-17 bombers could drop it on Germany. We had every igloo that we had filled to the brim. Trainloads of it. Some fifty or seventy-five trainloads of TNT scattered over five thousand acres there in east Chattanooga, Tennessee. So the plant started cutting back and, boom, the big news came down that the personnel men from the army, General Nichols and General Groves, they wanted to talk to anyone who had technical training, especially a college degree, in chemistry, engineering, et cetera. So I was interviewed and hired in the same day I was interviewed and

Page 13
and transferred to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. And I was one of the first three selected out of a group of twenty-five thousand. And this I'm real proud of. I was selected, one of the first three as foreman, in the separation of uranium and the electromagnetic process of Tennessee, Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You understood that . . . you were more than just a research, a chemist at this point. You had moved into sophisticated research.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, I had done a year of postgraduate work and I had studied and I knew . . . I was quite a good student, physics student, but chemistry was my major. That's what I loved, most. But the electromagnetic process of separating uranium didn't bother me at all, I'll tell you that. I loved it. I got in to it real fast like. We had ten thousand college graduates ranging in age from I guess my age to sixty-five to seventy that came in from Salt Lake City, Utah. Remington Arms had shut down a tremendously large powder plant out there. And coupled with that, the people coming in from Chattanooga, Tennessee, we simply built a city there in a matter of six months. Just outside of Knoxville. Consisting of sixty-five thousand people. It was barracks. It was tar paper and mud.
WILLIAM FINGER:
What year is this now? The war . . .
ZENO PONDER:
This was in '44, or late '43 or '44. After a year's time we actually got in a few portable trailers. And they didn't look like the trailers that you see nowadays. They didn't have any windows in them. They were just long tube-like things. You could get dry, get in the dry and you could have a little heat in and a little electric light, but . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
This is outside of Knoxville.
ZENO PONDER:
Yes, this was just outside of Knoxville. And believe it or not, by the third or fourth year we were getting into some housing that looked like twenty-year housing. As a matter of fact, that's what they built it and called it, twenty-year housing. Still temporary stuff, but it beat the mud and the shacks that we had lived in the first few years.

Page 14
WILLIAM FINGER:
So from there . . . you never were actually . . . you were a civilian then.
ZENO PONDER:
I never was inducted. And I'll tell you, they have a way of training you there in Oak Ridge. Once you got to there, that was all she wrote. Because many of the friends that I had attempted to see some action. They got real disgusted. They weren't getting the promotions. It was monotonous as the dickens. You couldn't talk even to your wife about what was going on. You had to have at least three passes to get in to even the most menial tasks to be performed there. I had four passes. And some of these boys . . . I'll tell you a good friend of mine, Bob Goodell—he was from New York. I'd worked with him at Oak Ridge, I mean I'd worked with him at Chattanooga for about a year and a half. And I'd worked with him at Oak Ridge for about a year. He didn't get where the action was. So he goes down and volunteers. Sure enough, he gets in for his boot training. But two weeks later he was back, on the job, working for Colonel Nicholson, same as I was. And he had taken a reduction in salary from $600 a month to $65 a month. And he stayed there for the duration, as a buck private at $65 a month.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And you all were making $600.
ZENO PONDER:
Oh yeah, I moved on up to $800, $850, $900 a month. He still got $65. So it doesn't take too much of that, you know, to make believers out of all of us. We buckled down for the duration.
After the war was over I was offered a continued job, but I simply just wanted to get back to Madison County. I wanted to get back to the country I loved, to the people I loved. And be my own boss, take my own chances, do my own gambling. So I came back to Madison County.
WILLIAM FINGER:
One thing I'm interested in at this point, going back to Madison County . . . well, several things. Your wife had been very independent for

Page 15
that time. She'd gotten a chemistry major in a field that is often male-dominated. And she had worked, even taken over your job at one place. Was there any question, as there is now with lots of men and women who are both, have experienced professional situations, of the wife would go with her man? Did you talk about that at the time? She knew you loved Madison County, so that's where she wanted to go, too.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, really, I guess at the time, unquestionably, we were both very much in love with each other. And I think I get your question. Nina Lou didn't hesitate to respect my judgment to work with me and go with me. Now she has influenced me, and she's tried to influence me along some lines which I just wouldn't accept. She thought I would have made an excellent salesman and she wanted me to get in to the furniture business. Her father had been a furniture man. Her grandfather—Rustin Furniture Company. They had done real well in the furniture business. I told her, yes, I guess I could sell, you know. But I'm just not interested in selling. I like to produce. I like to farm. I like to see things grow. I like to gamble on the weather. I like to gamble on whether a calf will be born alive or dead. I don't want to sell a piece of furniture.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And she respected that?
ZENO PONDER:
She respected my judgment. Said, "Okay, we'll farm." So we put together what we had, which was not a great deal. But we had bought war bonds all during the war, both she and I. And she had a little money coming in from her father's estate, who had been dead many years at that time—twenty years. And I had some money coming in at this point from my father and mother's land. So we pooled it, and went in debt right heavy and started farming.
WILLIAM FINGER:
In Madison County?
ZENO PONDER:
In Madison County. Right here.

Page 16
WILLIAM FINGER:
Right here on this land?
ZENO PONDER:
Right here.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And you've been here since 1945.
ZENO PONDER:
Been here since '45 or '6. '46.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's real interesting to me, a lot because . . . the times are a little different now, you know, but people still make decisions, I think, on those kinds of bases. What one person respects about the other. The other thing which is interesting at that particular time, that decision, was because of the kinds of work that you had done at Raleigh, Brevard, Chattanooga, and Oak Ridge, had your . . . the influences from your mother, particularly your mother's sides of the family and the politics which was such a part of life in Madison County. Was that with you all the time? Or were you so caught up in your work and the war effort . . . had you forgotten about politics or was that always in the back of your mind?
ZENO PONDER:
Bill, I think I would have to tell you in all sincerity that at the time I came back to Madison County I was not thinking in terms of becoming involved in politics. I was not thinking of what I wanted to do about Madison County. I wanted to just come back and live in Madison County. I wanted to be part of what I grew up with. I guess most of us have an inkling to go home again, you know. Thomas Wolfe put it, "Look homeward, angel." Well, I was reminiscing. I was wanting to come back, just to be with friends. To see the beauty that you behold from this mountain top. Then when I got back here I immediately become involved with the veterans of World War II and the GI training program. I taught school four years. Lot of people don't know that. But I was . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
In the county high school?
ZENO PONDER:
No, I was teaching the GI training program. Teaching vocational agriculture to the GIs of World War II. So I had twenty to twenty-five young men, many of them—most of them as a matter of fact—older than me. Incidentally, the

Page 17
oldest living student I have is Melvin Melton and he's eighty-six years old.
WILLIAM FINGER:
He was one of those veterans?
ZENO PONDER:
He was one of them. He's my oldest living student. I'm fifty-three, but my oldest living student is eighty-six.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You were teaching them vocational agriculture.
ZENO PONDER:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And they got GI benefits?
ZENO PONDER:
Right. Now during this teaching of four years I was also doing moonlighting on the farm. I was trying to keep my farm going, working pretty hard really. Working fifteen hours, sixteen to eighteen hours a day. Whatever the occasion called for, that's how long I worked. Many times I didn't have my shoes off. I've driven a tractor and plowed all night long; gone right through the next day's work and into the next night.
WILLIAM FINGER:
All night long?
ZENO PONDER:
Absolutely, many, many times. Many times.
WILLIAM FINGER:
By moonlight?
ZENO PONDER:
By tractor lights. I had my own tractor. An old coop tractor. Disc and plow and work right around the clock.
And I enjoyed it. Loved it. Trying to get ahead. As I said. I guess I got cold at the foot of the bed during the '30s. I knew what it was like to live right on the border of hunger. And if you've ever been there you just don't want to go back. Not if you're built out of the kind of stuff I am.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And your mother helped put some of that in you, too.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, I expect my mother had quite a bit to do with that and so did my dad. They both worked real hard, but I think my mother, unquestionably, she had the strongest will I believe of any person I've ever known on this earth. I've thought about many, many things that she has said and done. And how she would drive herself beyond what looked like it was human

Page 18
endurance. To grow a patch of beans. To grow a patch of tobacco so that we could have the first radio in the community. 1937. We grew about a half acre of extra tobacco. Put it on the floor and we got about forty-some dollars for it and we spent thirty-eight dollars for a battery set radio. And that was the only one on that side of the river in Madison County. So Saturday nights when the Grand Ole Opry came on, Dave Macon, you talk about being popular. We had everybody in the community eavesdropping our radio.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Boy, I don't know. I want to talk about Uncle Dave Macon and Grand Ole Opry, but I think we should go on to politics. I don't know. [Laughter] Let me ask you, while we're talking about the radio and the Grand Ole Opry, was . . .
ZENO PONDER:
I started to tell you . . . I broke my train of thought . . . excuse me Bill.
I started to tell you there what really got me, I think, motivated to get into politics. These thousand GIs being taught by some twenty to twenty-five teachers. I was one of the twenty to twenty-five. All over the county. All over Madison County.
WILLIAM FINGER:
A thousand GIs in this county.
ZENO PONDER:
A thousand GIs from this county. I was maybe not the loudest mouth, but I was one of the one who didn't hesitate to express myself when we'd have our teachers' meetings. And we'd get together say maybe four times a year. And those of us who were teaching the GIs would get together and express ourselves and discuss different policies and tactics and skills that we were using and field trips, equipment, et cetera in dealing with the farm situation here in Madison County. Well, I guess I became a leader of those teachers, those twenty to twenty-five teachers. And those twenty to twenty-five teachers were scattered throughout the county. They would talk in terms of, well, what Zeno Ponder's doing in his class. We would have field days, countywide field days. And I did have the opportunity to go before all these GIs and

Page 19
express myself on certain points. I learned and I sensed maybe a consensus of the group was, "Well, yes. We've been out of Madison County. We have seen what's going on in the rest of the world. We've been in boot camp in Louisiana, or South Carolina, or Tennessee, or Texas. We like Madison County but we got some changes we want to make." I could sense this thing and I became a part of it. I become their mouthpiece. And Democratic or Republican, it was incidental. Really, it was incidental whether I was a Democrat or they were Republicans.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were you a Democrat at that point?
ZENO PONDER:
I was a Democrat at that point. My father registered as a Democrat and I naturally registered as a Democrat. That's something that's just handed down, you know. You don't go contrary unless there's a real good reason at the age of twenty-one. So when I reached the age of twenty-one I registered as a Democrat.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But that wasn't an important decision.
ZENO PONDER:
No, it wasn't an important decision. And I had more Republican friends than I did Democrats because there were more Republicans in Madison County. But I did become a spokesman or a mouthpiece, expressing the desires and wishes of these young men who had seen change and who wanted change to occur here in Madison County.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Why do you think that was, that you were the spokesman? Was it because you had been to college and, you know, had some training? Were you articulate?
ZENO PONDER:
I would say that you have described it very well. I had more formal training than the average by far here in Madison County. I don't think that I had any particular skills or abilities that many of the others would not have had had they had the same formal training. I think perhaps I did inherit a pretty strong will, a pretty strong drive. I guess my daddy made

Page 20
a point with me early in life. He told me the only reason the postage stamp delivered a letter was because it stuck to it. And if you believe in something, damn it, just stick to it. Don't give up. And . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
You weren't sure then what you were sticking to. You just had a sense that they wanted some change . . .
ZENO PONDER:
Right. Wanted some change. And some of the changes I knew we had to bring about or I felt we had to bring about in order to ever get Madison in step with Raleigh. To me it made good sense that if you wanted something from Raleigh you need to be in tune with Raleigh. Well, I happened to be a Democrat. I had registered that way.
The state of North Carolina was Democratic. It had been since the Civil War. And at that time certainly looked like it was going to be for a long, long time. Even beyond Jim Holshouser, maybe. But, anyway . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
That may be.
ZENO PONDER:
And it might go back now Democratic I would think for at least fifty years. I don't think he has done the Republican Party any great service by some of the programs he has done.
For instance, in this county he took down $35 million that was earmarked and set up for primary roads. He took down every single dollar of it. And not one square foot of road has been built in his first two years of administration. Not one square foot.
WILLIAM FINGER:
In this county?
ZENO PONDER:
In this county.
WILLIAM FINGER:
$35 million?
ZENO PONDER:
$35 million.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Earmarked for this county?
ZENO PONDER:
Right. 25-70 from Asheville to Marshall, going through the east side of my farm over here. Highway 213 from Mars Hill to Marshall. Highway 213 from Mars Hill down to the Dairy Bar, down to the Appalachia road. NC 213

Page 21
from Marshall to Spring Creek. NC 25-70 from the state line at Newport to Tennessee into Hot Springs. All taken down.
WILLIAM FINGER:
The Scott administration appropriated that?
ZENO PONDER:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So he's looking to where his support is? He's shifting the money around with this change . . .
ZENO PONDER:
He's hoping to take this $35 million, and apparently taking it with the blessings of the Republican leaders here in Madison County and spending it in other counties—hopefully some place for sale. I got news for him. He's just making this a more solidly Democratic county by depriving us of what was rightfully ours.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, that's a good perspective on where politics are now, to kind of jump back and keep with the story in 1948 when you started thinking about . . .
ZENO PONDER:
'47, '48, and '49. Was trying to think about getting Madison County in line with the state capital so that we could get our share of roads and schools and appointments. Various and sundry patronage ties that just naturally tie in on our political system. That's just the way the ball bounces.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Was there any particular incident that really brought that home and made you decide I have to be the one, or I have to be one of the ones, to build a Democratic Party in this county?
ZENO PONDER:
Well yes, there was. It wasn't by my choice. It was like many arguments that I've had and lost and it turned out that maybe I was glad I lost. My brother, E. Y. Ponder, who is presently sheriff and is serving now his nineteenth year . . . yes, next year will be his twentieth. And he's a candidate, too. He's running again. He succumbed to the demands of his friends to make the race for sheriff of Madison County and I did everything I thought within my power to discourage him. To keep him from making the race at that time.

Page 22
I just didn't think it was the right time. I didn't think he should get involved, at that point.
WILLIAM FINGER:
This was 1950?
ZENO PONDER:
This was 1950. But he succumbed to the demands of his friends and intercepted me on a business trip. I was up to Asheville. Said, "Zeno, I've decided at the meeting last night that I am going to be a candidate for sheriff." I told him it was a bad mistake, I just didn't want to see him do it. "There's no way at this point. We're just not well enough organized. I don't believe we can make it. I just don't want you to run." He said, "Well, I just got no choice. A man doesn't go any further in life than his friends will push him. And my friends are very insistent. I've got to make a race." So, I said, "Okay. If you've already committed yourself I'll hush. What do you want me to do?" He said, "I want you to be registrar in the Marshall precinct." "My god . . . I've never . . . I don't believe we can do it, Elymas. I just don't believe we're prepared for this. We haven't got it organized that well." "Well," he said, "we got no time. History doesn't wait and time doesn't wait. And if we're going to do anything about the county—"
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
ZENO PONDER:
So, E. Y. and me, from that point on, we worked very, very close. We figured out right down to the vote what would be the minimum in each of the twenty-four precincts. And the Marshall precinct was by far the largest precinct. And we concluded that he would have to have a split in that precinct to get it. If we wanted any part of the ticket we would have to have a split—that is, a fifty-fifty break. And that never had happened in the history of the Marshall precinct.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It had been strongly . . .
ZENO PONDER:
It had been strongly Republican. Usually losing by two, three, four hundred votes. So my work was cut out for me and I had helped cut out my own work in that

Page 23
particular precinct. So I really went to work and working hard. And with the help of other Democrats, we carried that Marshall precinct by two votes. And E. Y. was elected sheriff by thirty-two votes.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were you informally appointed precinct chairman for his campaign?
ZENO PONDER:
No, I was formally appointed registrar of the Marshall precinct by the board of elections.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It was a Republican-controlled board.
ZENO PONDER:
No, it was . . . actually, the board was Democratic because the state machinery sets it up, see. So Judson Edwards and Jack Payne were the two Democratic members and Spence Rice was the Republican member.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And they appointed then Democratic precinct registrars all over the county?
ZENO PONDER:
Right. We had twenty-four registrars who were Democrats. We had twenty-four Republicans who were Republicans—judges. We had twenty-four Democrats who were Democratic judges. So we went about holding an election and it was plenty rough and tough and a lot of hard work.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I know there was a lot of controversy about that, your brother's election in 1950 and also Dr. Sam's election to the legislature. Before we go on, because we're going to start talking about a lot of elections and politics, I want to go back to what I said at the beginning of the interview. This is, I think, so important about mountain politics. That all elements of the mountain culture are operating all the time. It's not just a political election like it is in Guilford or Mecklenburg or Wake counties. It's . . . you know, the family ties, the . . . people carrying guns around like they don't do in Wake County. The people . . . the kinds of community events. The tobacco rais- . . . the tobacco, you know . . . tobacco planting and barn raisings. All that. All those things enter in to it all the time.
ZENO PONDER:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So, from Uncle Dave Macon in '36 . . . just try to give me some perspective

Page 24
on these other elements of what was happening.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, speaking of the guns . . . you know, I guess us mountain folks take for granted that a man's a man and he covers all the ground he stands on. I took the position as registrar that under the law I was in charge, and I took charge. I asked nobody any quarter. I simply took charge as registrar. We had at that polling place—Marshall schoolhouse—not less than fifty Republican deputies. Armed, as they were supposed to be. They had a permit to carry their guns.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Deputies.
ZENO PONDER:
Yeah, deputies . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
To the Republican sheriff?
ZENO PONDER:
Yeah. They were deputies under J. Hubert Davis and he was running against my brother who was not a sheriff and had no right to carry a gun. And it was not easy, you know, to take charge with bare knuckles, so I didn't try it bare knuckles. I tried it with my gun. Because under the law I was in charge, to use whatever force necessary to maintain order.
WILLIAM FINGER:
This is at the voting place, you're talking about.
ZENO PONDER:
Yeah, that's right. And I had a lot of fellow registrars throughout the county who were GIs and knew how to use a gun and had the guts to do it. And they took charge. So when a Republican deputy came in and said, "Now I'm going to take the names of the people here who are using markers because we feel there's something going on. You all are buying votes. Accusing us of buying votes. The Democrats. So I'm going to take names." Well, I knew all the time what he was taking names for. Because both bankers were solid Republicans and both bankers would brag that they held enough paper to control any election. Just so they could find out, you know, if that fellow did in fact vote a Democratic ticket. They could foreclose and go get his cow or his horse or demand full payment on the little shack that they

Page 25
had sold him.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And that had happened before?
ZENO PONDER:
That had been happening all the time.
WILLIAM FINGER:
There wasn't a Democratic bank that people could . . .
ZENO PONDER:
No. There was no Democratic bank. There was no Democratic finance. There was no way. If you wanted a loan in Madison County economically, you went through the Republicans. But I was trying to change that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's what I'm trying to get at. Why politics was so important to you, to people. I mean that . . . it was because it was their mortgage.
ZENO PONDER:
It was their livelihood.
We had this one fellow . . . this part . . . I wouldn't want his daughter embarrassed. She's a mighty fine person. But Mr. Arthur Whitehurst, cashier of the Citizens Bank, along . . . just two years after this, was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service. Now this was back when a dollar was a dollar. And he owed a quarter of a million dollars back taxes. Mr. Craig Rudsill who owned the other bank, the French Broad Bank, he owed $300,000 to Internal Revenue Service. Mr. Guy English, their former Republican sheriff for fourteen years, he owed something like $180,000.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were these figures published in the newspaper?
ZENO PONDER:
These figures were published in the newspaper and let me give you the whole story. The chairman, the chairman of the Republican, the Republican chairman of the county board of commissioners—Mr. McDevitt—he owed $150,000. So once that investigation got underway . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
And that broke in the press . . .
ZENO PONDER:
Mr. McDevitt died of a heart attack. Mr. Rudsill died of a heart attack. Mr. English died of some natural cause. Mr. Whitehurst died of a heart attack. Now they were the four leaders. The two bankers, the sheriff, and the chairman of the board of county commissioners.

Page 26
WILLIAM FINGER:
Which one was the chairman of the county commissioners?
ZENO PONDER:
Mr. McDevitt.
WILLIAM FINGER:
McDevitt.
ZENO PONDER:
Now those fellows had bought up at about $1.50 an acre about half of the Laurel community. It ran from Mars Hill to Hot Springs. Bought it from the federal government. They had cut timber off of it and received something like $100-150 an acre. Made a tremendous profit. Then they turned around and cut it up into fifty and seventy-five acre blocks of land and sell it for $25 an acre. And one of the bankers—it didn't make too much difference which—would finance the construction of a little house to be built on stilts, we call it. No underpining. Just drive in a few post, lay your two by fours down and start building your little shack. It was very convenient then for the sheriff to turn his head and let them do some pretty fair moonshining and pay six percent interest and take back what was a tremendous profit. Now, when the Internal Revenue Service got into that—and rightfully so—they came in—they should have—and broke the thing up. That was the beginning of the end of the one-party system.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did that break before this 1950 election?
ZENO PONDER:
No, no.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So they were all still . . . you were still fighting that.
ZENO PONDER:
They were still intact, very much intact, when we made our attack in 1950.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's why you had a gun with you.
ZENO PONDER:
Doggone right. That's why I had my .38 with me.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Before we leave this I just want to . . . how did the federal government happen to own from Wolf Laurel to Hot Springs?
ZENO PONDER:
I don't know what the deal, when they acquired this land. I believe history would show that Betts Lumber Company came in there and built a railroad

Page 27
from Runnion up the Laurel River and up Big Laurel on up Shelton Laurel and cut out a tremendous amount of the timber. Then . . . maybe they went bankrupt, a bankruptcy declared. I'm not sure, but anyway Betts Lumber went out of business and the federal government did, in fact, end up buying most of the Laurel community through there. Then there was a change of plans as to whether or not the federal government would keep it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
As a national forest.
ZENO PONDER:
As a national forest or let it go back to private enterprise. And these four fellows did get title to it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Back in the '20s?
ZENO PONDER:
During the '20s.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's when the forest service . . .
ZENO PONDER:
Yeah, it was during the '20s when they bought it. And during the '30s and '40s when they sold it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I think those anecdotes give us a good perspective on . . . start from 1950 and moving on politics. Because you read about Madison County elections and the various ones that were protested in the courts and right on up to decisions and there is . . . the interest in this county in politics is so high. You know, to the point of fifty deputies in the Marshall precinct. So I think the way you described the interlocking financial industries and the inability of a person to get outside that is important. Well, let's go on with 1950. They said E. Y. didn't make it.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, E. Y. did make it. He was elected by thirty-two votes and that was a landslide in Madison County. Because it never had happened before except one time—and that one time when Sheriff Burnett was elected it was a situation where the Republicans just got real disgusted with their incumbent sheriff and tried to beat him in the primaries. They failed to beat him in the primaries and then said, "Well, we're going to vote against him in the

Page 28
fall." And they did. They voted against him and elected Mr. Burnett. Oh, Sheriff Burnett was a good fellow and he lived just about a mile right over there. Awful nice gentleman but I guess maybe he was a better Sunday school teacher than he was a sheriff. He didn't seek reelection. Really didn't want the job. He just agreed to file . . . was what it amounted to.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But E. Y. had trouble even getting himself inside the jail, didn't he?
ZENO PONDER:
Oh yes. The . . . the Republicans just absolutely homesteaded and set up tommy guns, machine gun, and refused to surrender the jail to the lawfully elected sheriff, so . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
They actually had a machine gun?
ZENO PONDER:
Oh yes. They had a machine gun. We had a lot of fun out of them with that. They had it manned by Mr. Claude Henderson. He was a pretty rough old fellow. And we would try to shake his nerves. And we had a lot of fun. We'd go down and throw out firecrackers. Drive by the jail and throw out firecrackers. And they would start passing out these pistols just like passing out apples, you know. And he would get to his machine gun. It was manned in front of the jail, there where you could cover the courthouse. So we'd go driving off . . . let them get settled back down . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
The machine gun was outside, in front of . . .
ZENO PONDER:
It was setting right in front of the jail, where they could aim toward the courthouse or swing around 180 degrees. Yep. So we'd let them settle back down. Thirty minutes or an hour later we'd go back by and flash the lights, throw them another firecracker. So they never knew whether we were foolish enough to attack. Of course we were never going to attack. We were just having fun. This was our nightly pastime.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's not quite as calm as the Grand Ole Opry. [Laughter]
ZENO PONDER:
No, not so serene. But it's exciting.

Page 29
WILLIAM FINGER:
I bet it was. So E. Y. brought suit in superior court to . . .
ZENO PONDER:
To take possession. He brought what was known as a mandamus proceeding—which is a taxpayers' proceeding to determine who is rightfully entitled to the tax money in the form of the salary for sheriff of Madison County. So it really . . . a proceeding is really a three-way lawsuit. You have the tax payer who is bringing the suit. Then you have the one, the incumbent in this case. The Republican, contending that he rightfully had won. And E. Y., the challenger, contending that he had won. And the taxpayer, over here, bringing the lawsuit. So it was a three-way . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who brought . . . who was the taxpayer?
ZENO PONDER:
The taxpayer was Roy Freeman and Ernest Nelson.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were they Democrats?
ZENO PONDER:
They were Democrats.
WILLIAM FINGER:
They were working for you all to bring . . .
ZENO PONDER:
They were Democrats and this was a beautiful piece of legal work in that it was a three-way lawsuit. And the taxpayer had the right to cross-examine and so did the contender.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you have to go outside the county to get a Democrat lawyer to . . .
ZENO PONDER:
We certainly did. We went to Asheville and hired George Shuford and Walt Haynes. George Shuford later was elected to the United States Congress and served until his health broke with him and he retired. Walt Haynes had never run for public office but both of them were very influential and strong Democrat lawyers.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Were you also active in 1950 in Dr. Sam's legisla . . .
ZENO PONDER:
Oh yes, it was not just for E. Y. We had a whole, full ticket. We only got two of them elected. But we had three county commissioners, we had three men running for county commissioner. Tax collector. Auditor. County coroner. Of course a representative in the legislature—Dr. W. A. Sam.

Page 30
We did get him through and got E. Y. through.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And all of those races were tied in together.
ZENO PONDER:
They were tied in together. We were working solid for the ticket as a unit. We were working just as closely together as Norm Sloan's basketball boys. Team play.
WILLIAM FINGER:
1950 you broke it. Or was it not quite secure yet?
ZENO PONDER:
Well, in 1950 we broke it in that we got Dr. Sam [in state legislature]. We got E. Y. in office. We stripped about a four-bushel sack of pistols off the Republican deputies and sent them back to plowing. Some of them practically broke themselves down carrying big heavy guns. So we relieved them of their weapons. And from there on it was a somewhat easier situation. 1954 I was named to the county board of elections and subsequent to that the other two elected me as chairman of the county board of elections. So in 1954 we put out a full ticket again and elected every single Democrat who was running for office.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So that was really then an era for you, politically. From roughly 1947 or '8 when you started the work through 1954 when you had some pull in the county.
ZENO PONDER:
That's right. From '48 to '54 was the era of challenge and it was finally brought off November 1954. Full slate of Democratic candidates.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Very locally oriented politics. I mean, you were in every cove in Madison County. It was the county machine in the county board of elections, school board. All those county level positions.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, yes . . . E. Y. . . and I bring his name in because . . . speaking of every cove, every house. For every one person that I have talked with and worked with politically and done a favor, E. Y. has gone me about ten better. He is a person who has dedicated his life to helping others. He's dedicated his time to listening to others' problems. I'm just not that

Page 31
good a politician. I'm just not that kind of a politician. I like to plan, I like to organize, I like to deal with the key people. I like to have a program, and I like to go at it from that standpoint, long-range standpoint. E. Y. thoroughly enjoys working with people day by day. You can go down to the jail and I can guarantee that he will talk to not less than a hundred a day and ninety-nine of them will have problems. One might come in to commend him on the job he's done. Ninety-nine of them will have problems and he will listen to all of them and most likely he'll leave seventy-five or eighty of them pretty happy. So he is the person who has . . . he's been the workhorse all the way through.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Is he much older than you?
ZENO PONDER:
Eleven years older.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Then he really pushed his little brother into politics.
ZENO PONDER:
Yes, he got me involved. He got me appointed registrar so he could be elected sheriff. Then he and I did have in mind . . . we immediately went about . . . Dr. Sam to introduce the first bill he ever introduced was to—and this might not sound too popular today but it was good for us then, it helped—was to give any industrialist or prospective industrialist who would come in to Madison County a ten-year tax break. That is they would pay tax on the land that they bought at the same value that was on that land when they bought it for the first ten years. They would pay no tax on their concrete and mortar and their building. But they would pay on their personal property, such as machines, whatnot that they had that was movable. But no tax on . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
No property tax.
ZENO PONDER:
No property tax, no tax on the property improvements. And that enabled us . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
Just for this county?
ZENO PONDER:
Just for this county, Madison County.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How'd you get that through the state legislature?

Page 32
ZENO PONDER:
Well, we worked at it. [Laughter] We got it through.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I'm surprised that a bunch of other counties didn't . . .
ZENO PONDER:
It was fifteen years later before they decided it was unconstitutional. But we'd already used it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, did you get industry in . . .
ZENO PONDER:
We did. We sure did. Yes sir. We got the building in at Mars Hill. We got the industry in. Micro Switch is now employing 550 people. And we got the industry at Hot Springs. First one. I'm trying to think of the name of it . . . I don't recall the name of that. It's changed hands twice. Hummerland Manufacturing Company was the one at Mars Hill. And they sold out. It was an electronics manufacturing concern. And Micro Switch, which is a division of Honeywell, has taken over the building and now has in excess of five hundred employees and hopes to go to a thousand by next year.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's in Marshall?
ZENO PONDER:
Mars Hill. So yes, that law . . . it was effective and very quickly started bringing in fruits. We had the first industry—and this was the first in Madison County in its whole history of a hundred years, except for the child labor deal in the old mill, cotton mill in Marshall. And it's been closed for fifty years. It hasn't been doing anything since child labor was outlawed. Just sitting there idle. And incidentally we put it to work. We got a chair manufacturing outfit in there.
WILLIAM FINGER:
At this point then, in '54 and then on in '55 and '56 when you had consolidated both your control and your ability to move the county along. Getting your industry in and I'm sure you were interested in your schools and the roads and getting money from Raleigh. Did . . . did . . . well, Madison County has this long history of Republicanism. They had been in control; they had affected people's lives, influenced the family. With Haywood, Watauga, Yancey, and Avery, and Mitchell. Did you feel in the late '50s as

Page 33
you started making progress in Madison County, that you had a responsibility to move in, to do that kind of thing for the other counties? To help . . .
ZENO PONDER:
At the end, yes Bill, I did. I had the desire. And I had the feeling that we had some mighty good people here in western North Carolina in some of these counties and I was particularly . . . at one point you . . . Yancey County was Democratic. Yancey is more liberal than most any other small county in the western part of the state and has been for years. But Watauga, Avery, Mitchell . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
All out west, too.
ZENO PONDER:
Yeah, they were just . . . well, they were more Republican than Madison has ever been, even though Madison had been Republican for 104 years. It seemed like Avery County, with all their beauty and their serenity. Their ability to move out. They had just simply held themselves back by staying out of the state government. And I was very much of the opinion that some of those people over there needed some help. And I did. I went in to Mitchell County many times. Bakersville, Spruce Pine. We got behind the state senator from Avery County—Belmont Winters. He was a candidate for the state senate and running in our district and it was our vote that put him over. We elected him. He served in the 1958 session, I guess it was. He lost his health. He was a retired mail carrier. He lost his health and didn't repeat, but we picked up another one then from Spruce Pine and supported him. Albert Kanipe. It seemed that neither was able to really do a lot for Mitchell County. They were both good men and had some good ideas, but I guess they didn't really subscribe to my theory of politics. You can't win a fight if you don't have one going. And if you see that there is need for a fight and if you think your chances are fifty-fifty then, if it's your game you'll start it. And I told both men at the time that I thought they were being somewhat derelict in their duty, that they could

Page 34
start a fight, they could win. But . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
You mean win control of the county . . .
ZENO PONDER:
Right. They prefered not to stir the waters. They were getting along pretty good working at it methodically and slowly. Well . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
And unsuccessfully from your point of view . . .
ZENO PONDER:
And in my opinion unsuccessfully.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So you weren't just Madison County oriented. I mean, you did have some perspective on the regional situation and that would make you even stronger.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, I don't know that I was looking at it really from the standpoint of strength. I did run for the state senate. I ran because I felt at the time that Madison County really needed to consolidate her gains on a statewide basis. We needed a platform from which we could be heard by the media. And I was real sick and disgusted with what had been painted the picture of Madison County that I knew to be wrong. I knew the people here in Madison County had changed their way of thinking. They had been given freedom in the ballot box, not had it taken away from them. They had had it taken away from them for 104 years, by people sitting there and taking names and reporting to the Citizens Bank or the French Broad Bank of how so and so let a Democrat mark his ticket. And then the next day the sheriff was given a summons to go out and get his cow. Or he was given a summons to pay a note in total because he was in default by two months. And the damn thing had been controlled by the finance, the Republican finance. By money. People weren't given the opportunity to vote freely as they saw fit. So I gave them . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
1964 when you were running for the state senate?
ZENO PONDER:
Yes. So I had worked real hard to bring about freedom of the ballot box, not destroy it. And I think as a result, you can look back now and

Page 35
see, well, Madison County is the only small little county in the state with voting machines. And how do the elections go? They go Democratic. Now the Republicans are holding this election. The Holshouser crowd. You want me to tell you how it's going to go? It's going to go Democratic.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You've got two Republicans on the board of elections . . .
ZENO PONDER:
And all the registrars are Republican and I know they're all going to be Republicans.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Tomorrow.
ZENO PONDER:
Yes. And I don't blame him for naming a Republican registrar. That's his buisness.
WILLIAM FINGER:
He won an election. I mean . . .
ZENO PONDER:
That's right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
The Democratics were able to do that through the years. Let's see what he can do.
ZENO PONDER:
Let them try their hand at it. I . . . there's one advantage. And you might never hear me brag on the Republicans having any advantage, but there is one distinct advantage to the Republicans having control of this election. Damn it, they can't accuse anybody of rigging it. They're going to have to live with it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It will be a real good test.
ZENO PONDER:
Yeah.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That took up a lot of time with that legislature last year. That huge, complicated board of elections bill.
ZENO PONDER:
Right.
WILLIAM FINGER:
When you could . . . very, very partisan. The legislature didn't know how to deal with a Republican governor. I'm sure Mr. Ramsey told you about that. [Laughter]
Well, what were some other key election years? 1950 was one; 1954 was one. You took control. 1964 was one when you ran for the state

Page 36
senate. It . . . maybe during those ten years some other parts of the mountain culture, you know, were operating in your life. You were building a farm, you were raising a family.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, I . . . yes, during those ten years we were, my wife and me, we were heavily indebted, really. We were . . . had the blessing of the four children—three sons and a daughter—and I had this huge farm here. Some six hundred acres. It was bought originally. I had added to it and bought some more land and leased quite a bit more. I had, at this point in '64, I had formed three owned, three family operated corporations. Zenina Farms Incorporated which consists of some four hundred or five hundred head of beef cattle and dairy cattle. Some five to six hundred acres of farm land. Eighteen to twenty acres of burley tobacco. Growing two to three hundred acres of corn a year on this operation. And then Zenina Lakes—and that's Zeno and Nina. My wife's name's Nina. Mine's Zeno, of course. And going from there, you put the two together and you've come up with Zenina. So Zenina Lakes Incorporated consists of two lakes for recreational purposes back down on the west side of the farm. Thirteen acres of land and big recreation house. We do a little square dancing there every Saturday night during the summertime.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You've been busy.
ZENO PONDER:
Have a seventy-two foot long front porch, twelve feet wide. Two log cabins and a self-supporting roof . . . I promised everybody that if they ever saw another one like it I'd burn mine down and build it again. It's just different.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Two log cabins . . . ?
ZENO PONDER:
And they're separated by a thirty-two foot span between them. And then the thirty-two foot plus the length of the two cabins gives me a seventy-two foot long, twelve-foot wide front porch with this open area in between the cabins.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And that's where you square dance.

Page 37
ZENO PONDER:
And then a patio fourteen feet wide and seventy-two feet long at the back all tied in with that. So you can accommodate a crowd of 150 to 200.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you take lessons from Bascom Lamar Lunsford on how to build your back porch?
ZENO PONDER:
No, really . . . I knew of Mr. Lunsford. Knew his son real well. I'm not a student of music. I love to try to dance. And I love the beat of the good old mountain music. There just ain't nothing like it. Wonderful. It's just wonderful.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's right. You go down to the mountain folk festival in Asheville?
ZENO PONDER:
Yes, I go down practically every year.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Hear Obray Ramsey and lots of Madison County people.
ZENO PONDER:
Yeah, Obray and Bayard Ray are two of my very special friends and two good Democrats.
WILLIAM FINGER:
[Laughter] That makes them better friends.
ZENO PONDER:
I politick with them many days and nights.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, while we're talking like this why don't you . . . I'm sure a lot of people in the state wonder where you got your name. I've never heard the name before.
ZENO PONDER:
I was named for a prominent Baptist minister—two of them as a matter of fact. Dr. Zeno Wall, who was pastor of the First Baptist Church, Shelby, North Carolina. When he retired from the ministry. He started his ministry here in Madison County. The first church that he had was the Marshall Baptist Church. And my grandmother and my grandfather, John Ramsey, lived right there on Main Street and he had just, well, perhaps finished his second term as high sheriff of Madison County. My mother would go over there with them and go to church occasionally. She thought Zeno Wall was just about the best preacher that she had ever heard. So when I came along she had another favorite preacher. Herbert Cohn. C-o-h-n. They

Page 38
call it Corn here. He pronounces it Cohn. I think a lot of people do. C-o-h-n. So I was named Zeno Herbert for two Baptist ministers.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Then you had the mountain heritage in you in a number of ways. So Zenina Farms had been formed. You built your square dance place . . .
ZENO PONDER:
And Zenina Lakes had been formed and the Ponderosa Homes . . . we formed them about six years ago, started building a few houses. Ponder Enterprises I developed about ten years ago. Ponder Enterprises consists of about five trucks hauling milk from thirty-five different dairies scattered from Macon County to Cleveland County. I've been rather busy. I got very much interested in trying to carry out this idea of industrializing Madison County somewhat. We don't want smokestacks all over the place. We want to keep our mountains. But we want to keep our best product, our mountain youth. So we want to create two, three, four hundred jobs a year. Enough to hold our boys and girls here. Give them an opportunity to work here in Madison County.
So about twelve, fourteen years ago, fourteen years ago I guess, I went over to the Marshall bypass, which Luther Hodges had just had built so that you could get around Marshall. You couldn't get through it so he decided to get us around it. Highway 25-70 north and south . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
Did you help get that money in here?
ZENO PONDER:
Yes sir, I had a little interest in that and Luther Hodges I'm sure would tell you today if you talked to him when you get back down there to the triangle, that my brother and me took him on a tour of Madison County highways. Primary road 25-70 to Hot Springs and . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
While he was governor.
ZENO PONDER:
While he was governor. And he always figured I guess that we had him trapped. But we didn't. We started back out of Hot Springs after he made the talk down there to some good Hot Springs Democrats. We started

Page 39
back toward Marshall and coming up the Hot Springs mountain, which is a four and a half long mountain. We were one hour and twenty minutes, making that four and a half miles. We were following about forty to fifty transfer trucks, heavily loaded.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Forty trucks!
ZENO PONDER:
Forty or fifty of them. Coming up that mountain, north and south. That was the main artery. That was before I-40 was open to Pigeon River. So when we got back to Marshall—we had to follow them all the way in, there's no such thing as passing. That was an eighteen foot wide road. We got back to Marshall, just coming up through Main Street some half a mile there—another hour just getting through Marshall. So we asked him if he would please see fit to build us a bypass around Marshall. And you know, he did.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You didn't plant those trucks there that day, did you?
ZENO PONDER:
He always thinks we did. [Laughter] But . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
You really didn't . . .
ZENO PONDER:
No, we really didn't. But it was not too much exaggerated. You would hit spells and spots in which you get a slow truck on a long mountain road that way. And they just keep stacking up behind it.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I've been behind those trucks myself.
ZENO PONDER:
So then . . . we . . . along about this time, as soon as they got that bypass going, I wanted to buy a piece of land there and see if I couldn't get enough interest to actually make up the money and pay for it and make an industrial park out of it. I tell you where I got my idea. Travelling back and forth from Raleigh, passing Statesville, Iredell County. They developed about eighteen to twenty years ago, a real nice industrial complex along what is the entrance there to I-40. Well, if they can do it in Iredell County, why can't we do it in Madison? So I went to Roy Fore, got an option from him for $13,800 for thirty-two acres of land along this bypass.

Page 40
WILLIAM FINGER:
Is this the Democratic bank now?
ZENO PONDER:
No, Roy Fore's, he's a good Republican, a good fellow. He had married a classmate of mine. High school classmate—Lucy Reese. And . . . he was much older than Lucy, possibly fifteen years or twenty. She'd be fifty-five now and Roy, I guess seventy-five now. But . . . he had been talking about selling it so I went over there and talked to him about it. Took Liston Ramsey with me. You know Mr. Ramsey. He's another classmate of mine. High school and college. He and I went to Mars Hill. So I talked Roy in to $13,800 and I got Lucy to take the dictation, type up the contract and I gave them $100 down and got a thirty-day option on it. So then I go down to our friend the undertaker—and I'm saying this not facetiously—but he's a very good man, good citizen, a good Madison County man and he's a Republican. Mr. Dedrick Bowman. And asked him if he thought we could get together with the Chamber of Commerce and make up $13,800 and make a community project out of it and try and see if we couldn't create some jobs for some youngsters to keep them here. And he said, "Zeno, it's very much worth while and I'll do all I can. I'll help you all I can. I'll make a personal contribution. I'll help you anyway I can." I said, "Okay, I want us to have some meetings. And I'll tell you where I want to have them. I want to have one at Marshall High School, Laurel High School, Walnut High School, and a fourth one here at the courthouse. And we don't start out now to fail. We're going to start out to get the money. And if you'll just join with me while we'll just underwrite it . . . "
WILLIAM FINGER:
This is Mr. Bowman saying . . .
ZENO PONDER:
This is Mr. C. D. Bowman. Dedrick Bowman. So we held the four meetings. We did solicit the money. We bought the property. And the owners turned around then and put five of us in as trustees. Dedrick Bowman, myself, Mr. Doug Robinson, Mr. Delmar Payne, Mr. Sam Rudisill. And charged us

Page 41
with the responsibility of development. Well, I was chairman of the board of education and had access to surplus properties through the state outlet, so we bought bulldozers and pans and tractors . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
This was a separate corporation now, not a Chamber of Commerce . . .
ZENO PONDER:
That's right. A separate corporation. Then we formed the Madison County Development Board Incorporated, and they put me as president of it. We used this surplus equipment and started grading on this land. Now when you start grading on mountain land, cutting ridges off fifty and sixty feet and filling up hollers fifty and sixty feet, you're talking about moving a tremendous amount of dirt. So the first thing we did, we gave the board of education—which I was chairman of—Madison County Development Board gave the board of education five acres provided the board of education would level off this other ten acres. It worked out very neatly. So we ended up with the Madison County Development Board building Mato Packing Company, which brought in about $2 million a year of vine ripe tomatoes since we first built in nine years ago.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Mato came in then nine years ago.
ZENO PONDER:
Yep.
WILLIAM FINGER:
This is out on . . .
ZENO PONDER:
On the bypass. Thirty-two acres that I bought. So the next project then was to get an industry on the second level. Well, we thought we had one nailed, but we didn't. They got away from us. Then after this '64 senate race and things went sour in the county and went Republican. Weeds grew up there for four years. And gulleys washed.
WILLIAM FINGER:
At the site itself.
ZENO PONDER:
Right. And nothing was done.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Only Mato . . .
ZENO PONDER:
Only Mato and the Madison County school bus garage. So after we got

Page 42
rid of the Republicans we got rid of the damn weeds and the gulleys. And we put me back in charge, and you know what we did? They said Madison County can't have a shopping center. I said the hell we can't. We haven't tried. So I went over there and took the contracts to grade the thing down for $10,000—just lost $800 on it, incidentally. I got the preacher Gib Hendrix to help me grade the thing down at cost. And I actually drove bulldozers and pans myself. Got it graded, ready. And a good friend of mine, Harry Lee Giezentanner put the thing together and we built a half a million dollar shopping center.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Yeah, I've been there. And that's your mother's will. To get a shopping center built outside of Marshall.
ZENO PONDER:
We got it. [Laughter] Connie Blackwell helped me advertise our potential—I want to give her all the credit. I don't know where she is now. I wish I did. Connie Blackwell. She worked with the Asheville Citizen-Times and at the time she was in Raleigh at some press club. And I knew that she was there. Well I went before the county commissioners and had a resolution drawn. This was immediately after, the week after the North Carolina supreme court struck down as unconstitutional the pro-rated sales tax distribution, which the legislature had passed just prior to that.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That was '64, something like that.
ZENO PONDER:
Yeah, each county you see under the old bill there, which was unconstitutional—it was good but it was just unconstitutional—would give to the county according to their population and their trade, whether the trade was within that county or out. Supreme Court held that if they collected in Buncombe County, it had to stay in Buncombe County. So I had this resolution drawn that our answer, Madison County's answer was that we would shop at home. That we would have our own shopping center. And, you know, while it was red hot on everybody's mind and headlines I called Connie in

Page 43
Raleigh. Gave her the resolution—after I got the county commissioners to pass it. It was Democratic commissioners. Dr. Bruce Sams, W. T. Moore, Irvin Adams. Called Connie and gave it to her. She put in on the wire and had it made statewide news. [Laughter] A million dollars' worth of news. And it came out a half a million dollar shopping center.
WILLIAM FINGER:
So, the politics had to do with everything. I mean, from your point of view it had to do with whether you got a shopping center where people could shop. It had to do with whether young people stayed in Madison County. It had to do with the schools.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, the action is in the arena. And if you aren't in the arena you can only read about it. And whether it's Madison County or Mecklenburg County and whether it's the state of North Carolina or New York or the nation itself. If you are interested, if you are not involved, you're just a reader. You've got to be where the action is. You've got to be in the arena. And the political arena is where you cause things, bring them about. You make them happen.
WILLIAM FINGER:
How long were you out, then? '64 you were defeated and the Democrats were defeated in the county.
ZENO PONDER:
The Democrats were defeated that fall. We were out for 4 years. '68 was when we came back.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You came back as chairman of the board of elections, or the county . . . ?
ZENO PONDER:
No, my personal position in '68 . . . oh, let's see . . . I was secretary to the Democratic executive committee. I was just a worker within the party, but I was secretary to the executive committee. Incidentally, I'm chairman of the Democratic executive committee now.
WILLIAM FINGER:
By 1968 you were clearly recognized as the head of the Democratic Party in terms of organizing everything from the precinct chairman to what kind of development was pushed through the Madison . . .

Page 44
ZENO PONDER:
Well, it would depend, of course, on who you're talking to or talking about. Here in the county we've had our problems. I've had opposition within the party. I have certainly had opposition from the loyal, die-hard Republicans. Conservative. But I guess statewide and countywide, somewhere along there from about '54 on, it has been convenient for them to cuss me if they didn't like the way something was going. And incidentally a few of them have praised me.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Have you had Republicans say that the shopping center is a good thing, and that we're glad you did some things . . . ?
ZENO PONDER:
Oh definitely. Absolutely. We could go downtown in Marshall here right now and the traffic is less. There is less trading on Main Street. But plenty of those fellows will tell you that Zeno Ponder did the best thing for Madison County that's ever happened, in the shopping center.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Will the Republicans admit that we might not have gotten the bypass from Luther Hodges unless Zeno Ponder and other Democrats had pushed . . . I mean, I'm going to ask some Republicans . . .
ZENO PONDER:
The ones that would know . . . the ones that would know . . . most of them are honorable people. I don't really know how many of the Republicans would know it. I never did try to . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
But the leaders. I mean Mr. Mashburn and the Republican elements that understand those kinds of political decisions and how a thing like that happens.
ZENO PONDER:
I think they would. I guess. I think that some of them certainly would know that those things just didn't happen. Somebody made them happen. And the leadership of the Republican Party has remained silent during this Holshouser raid on our road money. $35 million. But some of the better Republicans are good citizens, good thinking people that are really for Madison County. They know what's going on. They know it's just a matter

Page 45
of Madison County being raped and there's no point in trying to relax and enjoy it. And I'm not. I mean as far as I'm concerned this coming November the main issue will be simply this: We want our roads. It's just that simple. We want our road. We're entitled to it. We've waited now 120 years.
WILLIAM FINGER:
From '68 to '72 was kind of another era. I mean, you came back in and at the same time Bob Scott came in. And now there's a Holshouser administration and you all don't have your roads.
ZENO PONDER:
They cut all of it off. But we will have the roads. We will get the money under the next governor. I'm confident we will. As a matter of fact, we can make this brag now. We have more pasture—Jim Holshouser and the department of transportation has more pasture here in Madison County than they do in any other county in the state. They have over a thousand acres. They could pasture a thousand head of cattle just on right of way—that they say they don't plan to build a road on.
WILLIAM FINGER:
That was taken during previous administrations.
ZENO PONDER:
Right, right. Bought up and paid for. Millions of dollars worth.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Zeno, maybe this is a good time kind of move in to another kind, logical next question I want to ask you.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
WILLIAM FINGER:
You'd been interested in Mitchell and in Watauga—other Republican counties. But now there was a Republican governor and it's very logical for you to have an interest, not only through Liston Ramsey and others directly in the legislature, but the necessity to have a regional interest in older, traditional Republican counties, but also you know, with Lamar Gudger and Jack Stevens and other powerful Democrats in Buncombe and Roy Taylor—the whole regional kind of thrust to the Democratic Party. If that's what you think is the way you can make some of these changes. So what kind of . . . how

Page 46
do you view that? The regional responsibility that you have and influence you have.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, of course . . . to begin with I wholeheartedly concur with the statement that Terry Sanford made when he was governor of North Carolina. He said yes, he believed in the two-party system. A great big Democratic Party and a little bitty Republican Party. So that's my best prescription for us folk here in the western part of the state: conserving our beauty and working toward sharing our wealth. And by sharing our wealth I mean sharing the wealth of North Carolina.
We still don't have our pro-rata share up here in the mountains. When you look at the county with the lowest income, you look at a little county like Clay County. You look at the ones with the highest per capita income, one happens to be here in the west. That's Haywood County. But by far and large we have the poor here in the western part of the state. That's poor white folks. You read about the ghettos and the blacks—and I'm in the deepest of sympathy with the blacks and I hesitate to say right now that I would have been even half as tolerant as they were for the hundred years that they were in semi-slavery. I've made this statement many times to my white friends. If I'd been black I'd of raised hell a long time before they did. So . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
Some of them did. Some of them did and got shot for it.
ZENO PONDER:
Yeah, I . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
History hasn't been written about that.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, I would have tried to get the riots started before the day of Martin Luther King if I'd have been born black. I'm confident I would have. I just couldn't have been content to take that kind of treatment. So I'm in deep sympathy with the blacks. But here in our area in the mountains of North Carolina, western North Carolina, we simply have poor white folks, and

Page 47
they have my very heartfelt sympathy. And we've got to come to grips with the thing and bring in enough industry in these rural, agrarian counties to keep our high school graduates and bring back a few of our college graduates and still not pollute our streams or our air. We can do this thing. And we can do it best by having a progressive form of county and state government. You just simply can't do it with the Republican Party and the ideas of Louis XIV.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, let me press you a little bit on that because, well, I'm younger than you and I haven't grown up so steeped in Democratic Party traditions. I'm a registered Democrat but I know Charles Taylor pretty well for example. He's a liberal Republican. And I think Charles Taylor deeply cares about the mountains. And I think he's introduced some legislation and tried to . . . he cares about what happens to the mountains. Now he developed some land; he made some money. But he has entertained some ideas like getting . . . bringing in some money to Clay County and to Jackson County where they have such a low property tax because of that national forest—you know, that owns so much of that land. And he's interested in getting industry into this region too. And on the other hand, Roy Taylor, just the other day, was one of the swing votes—I'm not sure which committee, maybe interior committee—to allow strip mining and to undercut some of the more stronger restrictions on strip mining in West Virginia. So I think there are . . . I think that's simplistic to say the Democratic Party can do that and the Republican party can't. I think what you say about the roads is, you know, a good example that supports your position. But . . . so respond to that and see, you know, what, in terms of those two people I mentioned or in other ways . . . to the region.
ZENO PONDER:
Well Bill, I'm sure that you are cognizant of this . . . is a fact of life. And whether you are dealing with a Democrat or a Republican you can

Page 48
find very few that are willing to commit suicide. And at a time when the energy shortage is such as it is now—and I don't blame it all on Nixon. I don't blame it all on Johnson or Kennedy or any other particular people. But I do say that this administration has been darn slow in responding. The first headlines you saw was a crisis. Now no one can tell me, as many statisticians as we have working, as many computers, that that could not have been detected two, three, four, five years ago and been brought out as a problem.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Absolutely, I agree with you.
ZENO PONDER:
It becomes a problem, you know, when you notice that you're going to start losing and getting a little bit short on something. Then when you wait up until you can't get gasoline at the pumps then it becomes a crisis. Well, I blame the Nixon administration for not calling attention to this. In the State of the Union message five years ago . . . maybe under Johnson, maybe six or eight years ago. I don't remember just when . . . but somebody back there flubbed. And Nixon has flubbed the dub for the last four years by not mentioning it. Now, Roy Taylor or whoever the congressman is—if I were in Congress I would be inclined to go along on today's market on strip mining or many other undesirable habits that we've had in our industry rather than to take a chance on coming up next winter and be accused of being responsible or irresponsible in voting for a bill or against a bill which would have prevented a number of people from freezing to death. The good Lord has been nice to us, wonderful to us this winter or we would have been cold, many of us would have been cold. So I would, if I were a congressman, I would take very seriously my responsibility to the people who are very alive rather than to the beauty of a hillside or mountaintop. Because people are more important than land. So I would

Page 49
defend Roy Taylor's action along that line. Now as far as Charles Taylor, I would have to say this about Charles. I've never met him; I've read about him; I've seen his picture—he's an intelligent looking person. And I would tell you this, I am told that when region B was being organized immediately after Holshouser went into office that he did okay me being on the executive committee. But there were four Republicans on there with me and one Democrat. So Charles I reckon figured that that was about the right odds. Henderson County had gone Republican, Transylvania had gone Republican, Buncombe had gone Republican. And then they put Charles, Bill Powell from Mars Hill who was the Republican mayor of the little town of Mars Hill over here. Along with Zeno Ponder, Democrat. And I told some of them that I didn't know we had to have Charles Taylor's approval but I was sure glad the senator had approved of me.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, you know, he's as strong a Republican as you are a Democrat.
ZENO PONDER:
I don't say that all he does is bad or that all the Republicans do is bad. No, that's not my position at all. But the Republican Party in the nation, and in the state, and in Madison County in particular is, by training, by creed and by desire, more conservative than the Democratic Party. And I believe in the people's party. I believe in the thing responding to what the people need, whether its minimum wages or social security or the land. And all those measures were brought about by Democratic administrations. And all of them were opposed by the Republicans. All of them.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, let's take that one step further with . . . you know, I was pushing you on some of the maybe negative parts of the Democratic Party or possible positive parts of the Republican Party in Charles Taylor's, you know, sponsorship of most of the conservation legislation in Raleigh. One step beyond that is that neither the Democrats or Republicans may control

Page 50
decisions that effect the mountains in good part. I mean, Wolf Laurel out here may build huge developments right here in your back yard or Hound Ears or Beech Mountain and those ski resorts around Boone. You know, these huge developers now. The Mead purchase down in Jackson County. Thirty to forty thousand acres, something like that. Some big money people that aren't tied to a Democrat or Republican Party. And that's going to affect mountain people's lives a lot. How do you . . . you've got one here. You've got Wolf Laurel. I don't know the whole story behind Wolf Laurel, but how does that strike you?
ZENO PONDER:
We are very conscious here in Madison County, the Democratic administration that's now in office, the commissioners, the industrial promoters—who is a nephew of mine, Lawrence Ponder. We are very conscious of the fact that we do not want to happen here in Madison County what has happened in Jackson County, for instance. We don't want our mountains covered up with little A-frames, temporarily occupied in the summertime. We don't want just the tax from some wealthy individual from Atlanta or Columbia or Savannah or wherever—Miami. We can get these people who come in here and build a summer home and we get a lot of tax out of it and the lawyers get right much money and the real estate transactions. But that's not what we want. What we are hoping to do—and I don't really know the answer, how we'll do it—what we're hoping to create is a number of jobs equal to the number of high school graduates each year for the next ten to twenty years. We're hoping to have permanent homes throughout Madison County—preferably brick—and we want to keep this summer residency thing to the minimum. Now you can't pass a law and tell people that they can't buy and build a certain kind of a house. Its a free country, free land, free to buy. But we can discourage them. And I'll tell you one thing, we have a good tax board. And my cousin is chairman of that tax board and it can be damn discouraging to a fellow if he's told, "All right, put your

Page 51
summer home up there, but it's $40,000 and that's what you pay on." And we're not too easy to back off.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Your tax base is going to be valued up.
ZENO PONDER:
That's right. You can discourage them very much.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Well, you know, I think that question should be thought about.
ZENO PONDER:
Very serious question.
WILLIAM FINGER:
It's very complicated because it's not tied to either party and it's tied with outside money interests. I don't know the answer and I'm sure . . . Madison may be able to deal with it better than other counties because it's smaller and you do have . . . you know, maybe we can move on into a discussion of machine politics, in this sense. Because you have a cousin that's on the tax board and you have, you know, through these various industries and political involvements you have some control over lots of different parts of the county. Because you built a strong Democratic Party machine in the county. Maybe that will make it easier for Madison County to control some of those things.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, you know, Bill Cobb accuses us of holding a lopsided election and it made statewide news because we could vote seven or eight hundred in a precinct for an issue and hold the opposition to fifteen or twenty. My good friend John Corbett who is a Democrat—and incidentally he married the only daughter and the only child of Mr. Arthur Whitehurst I mentioned a while ago—John Corbett served as registrar and my nephew Lawrence Ponder served as one of the judges and my bookkeeper Hattie Ella Nix served as the other judge. And they held a bond election down here on water and sewage. And they held it last Tuesday. And the vote was 215 to 14. Now that's a little lopsided, isn't it?
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's a little lopsided.
ZENO PONDER:
I figure seven of those were bastards that were opposed to clear

Page 52
water and the proper disposal of sewage in the city of Marshall. And seven of them were just human errors. [Laughter] I don't believe we've got but seven bastards down there. I looked it over real careful. I looked the poll book over. Of course I didn't get to vote, you see. I'm outside the city limits. But my brother, one of my brothers, Lorado Ponder, is mayor of the town of Marshall. Don't know if you knew this.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Let me ask you, as we're kind of coming up to the present, what kinds of trends do you think in politics since you started in 1948. Now not with Democratic and Republican and when you came in and when you lost control in '64, but what kinds of trends in terms of . . . media wasn't an issue in 1948. Now campaigns are run on television, statewide campaigns. You had to know everyone individually and try to corner those votes in 1948. Now there is a lot more, seems to be a lot less person-to-person politicking, certainly by statewide offices and officeholders. Is that affecting Madison County?
ZENO PONDER:
Actually, it's had very little effect in Madison County. And I say that not with my tongue in my cheek. I realize I think what the political situation is here in this county. We still have person-to-person ties. Call it a machine, call it an organization, call it key people. I think of it strictly in terms of key people. Now on this ridge there are 127 Democrats registered. Down to the mouth of Ivey. There are about forty Republicans. That is completely reversed to what it was when I came up here twenty-five years ago. Matter of fact, there was only twenty-seven Democrats and about 175 Republicans.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You worked hard.
ZENO PONDER:
We have got the thing reversed. Now I'm not saying that I control all these people. But I wouldn't be telling you the truth if I didn't tell you I have a terrific influence with my neighbors, Democrat and

Page 53
Republican. Because if I've got enough intelligence, I'm going to be for what's good for my community. And who can fight a good community?
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's right.
ZENO PONDER:
And these Republicans will tell you, "Well, Zeno Ponder, you might not agree with him, but my gosh, he's for Madison County." They'll tell you that. Because they haven't found me in one instance, not one instance, me or my kinfolk—my brothers, my nephews or nieces—being selfish. I just don't go after that in politics. I work. Yes, I work hard to try to be a success in my business. But I don't mix up my church work—which is not enough, I should do more active church work. But I don't mix my church work, my politics, my business. And these people who have little influence, if you will notice, they are selfish people. And human beings don't like to see somebody pick himself up by his own bootstraps. So my comment is that we here in Madison County, I guess we have a machine. We have about a hundred, maybe a hundred and fifty people scattered geographically throughout the county, who are unselfish. And I believe I can make a dozen phone calls and ask each one of them to contact six or eight key people—that I've mentioned their names: "Would you see Joe . . . check with Bill, check with Hattie." And I bet I could make those twelve calls and have a pretty doggone big influence on a primary or a general election.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Or on the kind of business that would come in here A-frames at Wolf Laurel.
ZENO PONDER:
I had a lady come up to me once down here at a basketball tournament, and this has been several years ago, I guess ten or twelve years ago, and she was a classmate of mine in high school. And she talked to me along these lines. I couldn't really conceive of her feeling that way, but I got to thinking more about it. I guess maybe she had something. She said, "Zeno, I worry about you." She said, "My God, you've got the power of life or death

Page 54
in Madison County." I said, "Hush, you're wrong. I don't sit on the bench; I don't pass sentences on anybody." She said, "Yes, but your influence—it's terrific." And she was real serious. She was almost just preaching to me. And of course I was just responding I thought real honestly. But I got to thinking afterwards. You know in politics you don't have to hold office to exert influence. You just have to have friends, key people, that can get jobs done. And oftentimes if they know what you want, perhaps they'll go ahead and work their heart out and you might not even be aware, you might not be cognizant of the fact that they are doing this because they know that that's what you basically want. And they're doing it, well, maybe not for green stamps, but because they trust your judgment, they think you're right, and they're working very diligently to bring it about. So, I think some of the greatest politicians we have had are some of the people who have maybe never held office. We had a fellow here in Asheville, Gay Green, who never held a public office. He lived to be ninety, I believe, or close to it. And he practically ran Buncombe County and western North Carolina for forty years. He could tell you who the manager was going to be ten years from now. And he could tell you how he got the last one fired.
WILLIAM FINGER:
You know what you've done is just . . . you've moved from where . . . your motivation and how you described it in the thirties, when you were in high school. Then you've talked about your motivation in '48 when you felt like something was wrong and you brought these GIs along and your brother pushed you into that 1950 election. And now you are a powerful man in this county and your motivation is not only one of wanting to change things but its a sense of responsibility for that power that you have. So, maybe this will be my last question. The reality of Zeno Ponder in Madison County and the way you've discussed it today is more than that in the rest of

Page 55
state. It's become a myth. You read . . . you know, somebody down in Raleigh will say, "That's the way Zeno Ponder does it in Madison County" or that's . . . You read Manly Wade Wellman's Kingdom of Madison and Zeno Ponder's . . .
ZENO PONDER:
You know, I never met Wellman . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
You never met him?
ZENO PONDER:
No. I look forward to it. When I come to Chapel Hill I want to meet him. I think he did a real good job. He may have flattered me, I don't know. I certainly think he did a great job in his book.
WILLIAM FINGER:
But I think, and I'm sure you're aware of this, that your impact—although you're not, you didn't become a state senator and then a state, you didn't become a Dan Moore. You didn't try for a statewide office.
ZENO PONDER:
I'm glad I didn't. [Laughter]
WILLIAM FINGER:
I am too. [Laughter] But your impact on a statewide level . . . I think it's there in the way that a myth has been created. And I think myth can be productive or destructive, depending on how accurately people perceive that myth.
ZENO PONDER:
Well, Bill, I feel very strongly that in the South—and maybe throughout the nation, I hope—we will continue to have in both major parties a sense of loyalty in that a party machine, a party organization, contrary to the idea that is carried through the media, really consists of success being spelt W-O-R-K. If you work hard enough and if you've dedicated yourself to a task, then you'll get that job done. Now if you're dedicated to the proposition of making Jim Hunt the governor of North Carolina then you're talking about so much money that will absolutely be required to get him, get the image out there on television time, radio and billboards and postage. But you're talking about millions of hours of work. And it has to start in the minds of one or two or three or four or five people. A small group. They have to do considerable thinking, planning and selecting, choosing friends

Page 56
and getting the right people in the right counties and in blazing this trail on down the road. And then finally you end up on election day with 100,000 people working their heart out for ten, fifteen, twenty hours. Dedicated to the proposition of carrying out an idea that was conceived back there two, four, five, six years ago.
So my idea is that our two-party system, in my honest opinion, will survive in America not on patronage but on dedicated men and women who really and honestly conceive of our freedoms as being the best possible way to govern ourselves. And therefore they are willing to put the time and the effort, on both sides, both Democrat and Republican. Jackson's idea of patronage was fine at the time. But as they say at Watergate, at this time, this point in time, you testify. It would have been different at that point of time prior or subsequent to. Jackson's patronage—yeah, you could almost control elections. And, you know, our federal government decided that in fact they were just going to have to get around to a lot of civil service or the incumbent would have too big an advantage. Well, I don't think that's true any more. I don't think that you will ever again see in America, with our two hundred million plus people . . . don't think you'll see elections controlled by jobs. Think you'll see them controlled by either selfish or unselfish, dedicated people. And quite frankly our system in Washington today, Mr. Nixon's administration—he was elected and he was elected in a landslide, but it was the most damn selfish crew that's ever organized this country. This plumber crowd, Watergate crowd.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Lot of Republicans would probably agree with you.
ZENO PONDER:
Dangerous, very dangerous. I'm not at all sure . . . I hate . . . I think and I actually just quiver to think that H. R. Haldeman and Ehrlichman just could have had ulterior motives running to take over—not in the form of Hitler but in the form of naming our successor, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Of course I realize that the American system has a tendency, a

Page 57
strong built-in tendency to hope to name a successor whether it be a governor or a United States senator or whatever. Not directly, of course, but indirectly. They'd like to set this thing and hope that they can see so-and-so elected.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Like you do in Madison County.
ZENO PONDER:
Right. But this thing on a national basis, looks to me like, well just bordering on dictatorial authority. I mean who in the name of god could have challenged Spiro Agnew or John Connally or whoever Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman decided they wanted? Who could challenge them? In the Republican convention or at the ballot box. $60 million. $75 to $100 million.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Too much to comprehend.
ZENO PONDER:
The president himself said, "Raise a million dollars. That's not a question. But it would be wrong." [Laughter] He didn't say, "It's wrong, we're not going to do that."
WILLIAM FINGER:
Let's . . . why don't you end the interview by describing where we're looking here. Because I think that's a part of the interview.
ZENO PONDER:
Where we're looking? Well, on a little sharp peak in the distance right there is Mount Pisgah. And on a real clear day I guess if your vision is exactly 20/20 you might see the television antenna—WLOS-TV. So Mr. Arthur Whiteside, he could beam my messages in here real clear without an antenna. I don't have to have an antenna to pick up WLOS-TV.
WILLIAM FINGER:
And you can walk outside your house and see Mount Mitchell to the east . . .
ZENO PONDER:
I could sit right there in the dining room before I had this office and turn 90 degrees and look from Pisgah to Mount Mitchell. And looking back to the right from here are the Spring Creek Mountains. Through this little gap right in there in the mountain, that's the upper end of little pine creek.

Page 58
WILLIAM FINGER:
That's where you grew up.
ZENO PONDER:
That's . . . half a million dollar road that was earmarked . . . it's been surveyed and been formally passed upon by the North Carolina Highway Commission before it was changed to the Department of Transportation. And that was taken down. Now we have over there in Spring Creek a distance of about forty-five miles from the county seat of Marshall down here about eighty high school boys and girls that can't be brought to Madison High School legally because the state law requires that you've got to have them there in a hour and a half from the time they board the bus. There's no way they can do that. So my next fight is this, and I'll end it on a fight . . .
WILLIAM FINGER:
Okay.
ZENO PONDER:
I have already proposed to the board of education and to our county attorney that we start and blaze a trail in the courts—a new lawsuit. Since Bob Scott, governor of North Carolina, chairman of the highway commission, Lauch Faircloth, Noville Hawkins, a member of the highway commission—all three campaigned in Madison County on the proposition that if we would bond ourselves for $900,000 and take the state and federal monies and go with it and build a $3 million high school, Madison High School, that the State of North Carolina Highway Department would build the necessary road—specifically the ones I mentioned a while ago. Now, since Holshouser, the successor to Bob Scott, has failed. And since we did bond ourselves and since we have built our high school. Then I propose that we hire private transportation to bring all those kids from Spring Creek and from beyond Mars Hill, from Waverly, into the Central High School. And by private transportation I'm talking about station wagons, sedan cars that will haul four or five or six students—the ones nearest to them en route. And this driver would be, of course, passed upon by the state highway patrol, certified as a bus driver, same way as a bus driver. And he or she

Page 59
would be paid a reasonable wage, set wage for his hours he spent driving to and from and mileage for his car. We're talking about forty to fifty cars, bringing in two hundred to three hundred students a day. And I'm talking about suing the state of North Carolina Department of Transportation for the exact cost of that transportation if and until they fulfill their obligation and build our $35 million worth of road.
WILLIAM FINGER:
Who's your lawyer?
ZENO PONDER:
I have talked with some of the best. I've talked with Lamar Gudger, I've talked with Herbert Hyde and I'm not sure just exactly when or how we'll go about it, but we are going to insist that the state of North Carolina live up to their commitment and build the necessary roads. We have built the school.
WILLIAM FINGER:
I think that is a good way to end the interview. Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW