George Theodore Ponton
George Theodore "Ted" Ponton aka "The Mayor of China Town" gently passed at the age of 89. Ted was born March 25, 1924, on a dairy ranch in Fresno to Mae and Millard Ponton.
Ted lived most of his early years with his mother's parents, William and Emma Poytress and his uncle, John Poytress on a dairy and vineyard ranch. The family sold the dairy and moved to a cattle ranch in Modoc County near the town of Adin, on 980 acres where they grew hay and raised cattle. Ted grew up working on the ranch and various other ranches in the Big Valley. In his early teens, Ted moved part time to Knights Landing, a little town on the Sacramento River where his mother owned a restaurant called The Tavern Inn. Ted was less interested in school and more interested in working with his hands on the ranch, driving tractor and operating heavy equipment. He would spend his summers in Modoc County working beside his uncle John Poytress, who was a real cowboy. In 1939, Ted's mother moved to Salinas and opened a restaurant in the 100 block of Main Street, just north of the Cominos Hotel. In 1944, she opened the Armory Café in the 200 block of Salinas Street, across the street from the Salinas Fire Department. Ted was working in the restaurant at that time washing dishes and working as a fry cook. On March 20, 1945, he was hired by the Salinas Fire Department. At that time, SFD consisted of Fire Station #1, at 210 Salinas St. and they had six paid firemen and a chief, along with 21 volunteers. Ted retired after 37 years and eight months of service from the Salinas Fire Department. At that time, Salinas had five fire stations and more than 100 firemen. In 1975, he established Ted Ponton's Glass Shop at 317 West Market St. In 1999, Ted purchased K's Body Shop Building at 141 East Lake St. in Chinatown and operated with son, John Ponton.
Through the years, Ted had many hobbies, he bought his first motorcycle in 1939, a 1924 Harley Davidson. Through the years, he participated in motorcycle flat track racing out of Larry Ketzel's Harley Davidson Shop at 417 N. Main St. He suffered many injuries throughout the years. He broke both legs, ankles, his shoulder and his collar bone five times. He never gave up riding a motorcycle until 2011, due to a knee replacement.
Ted has donated two restored Harley Davidson motorcycles to the American Motorcycle Heritage Museum in Pinkerton, Ohio (a suburb of Columbus) - One is a 1929 Harley Davidson Pro Hill Climber Machine that was National Champion in 1932 - 1934 ridden by Larry Ketzel, the other is a 1968 Harley Davidson 125 CC that was built in Italy. Both are rare machines. Both were given to Ted by Larry Ketzel. Larry Ketzel was a very early Harley Davidson dealer in Salinas and rode as a pro for the Harley Davidson Factory Rider in the 1920's.
In 1978, Ted rode a 1967 Triumph motorcycle to Alaska on the Alcan Highway on an all dirt road. 1538 miles took him seven days from Salinas to Alaska. He was a hunter, a fisherman, a professional shotgun trap shooter and contested all around California and Nevada. Ted was a member of the California Native Sons, a life member of the American Motorcycle Association, the International Firefighters Association, a life member of the Salinas Ramblers, American Trap Shooters Association, Old Salinas Rodeo Gun Club, American Legion, Chinese American Civilian Association. His travels have taken him to England, France, New Zealand, Australia, China, Normandy and around the many states of the USA.
Ted was preceded in death by his mother, Mae June Poytress; father, Millard Jame Ponton; brothers, Robert J. Ponton, Larry Haas, Edward Haas, and Jimmy Ponton, and his daughter, Patricia Ann Ponton.
Ted is survived by his children, Lois Pitre, Joellen King, John T. Ponton, Karen J. Ponton, Diana Ponton, and Aimee Ponton. He has eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
Services will be held at 1:00 p.m., Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at the Salinas Fire Station One at 216 West Alisal St., Salinas.
Funeral arrangements by Struve and Laporte Funeral Home.
For more information and to share a memory, visit www.struveandlaporte.com.
Published in The Salinas Californian on Feb. 26, 2014