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50 years of Labor Day at the Ponderosa
BBQ sign
The new historical sign at the barbecue area. - photo by Photo provided

Just on the outskirts of Springfield, hidden in the woods on Zittrouer Farm on Old Dixie Highway is a little piece of heaven known as “Zitt’s Little Ponderosa.”  Back in 1963, life was much simpler. There were no cell phones, microwaves or iPods. Still, tensions were stirred even then with Vietnam, the civil rights movement and the assassination of President Kennedy.

Daddy Clint (the late Angus Clinton Zittrouer) and Ma Bo (Lucy Rae Hinely Zittrouer) were rearing four children: Norwood, Ray, Nell and Peggy. They decided to begin a tradition of a peaceful weekend for family in the woods over Labor Day weekend. The Zittrouers invited their siblings and offspring from the Frank Zittrouer and Spurgeon Hinely families to join in.

This was the 50th year of going back to the basics — children rode bicycles as the only vehicle allowed in this crowd on the site. The families played games like horseshoes, corn hole, tag, scavenger hunts and had a tacky dress-up night. A womanless beauty pageant brought delight as beautemous “Shantell” took the crown.

This year the young people were treated to tandem wagon rides in covered wagons drawn by a tractor instead of a mule. As a lasting keepsake, the younger generations each made a stepping stone with their name and handprint to become a part of the celebration area.

From Friday night supper through Monday lunch, great meals were served when the dinner bell rang, serving no less than a hundred per meal. The crowd peaked on Sunday with about 160 as now fourth and fifth generations and a few special friends gathered.

One thing most enjoyed is the daily “real” home-cooked breakfast of grits, eggs, sausage, bacon, toast and trimmings, which most of the kids enjoy much more than their usual pop tart, cereal and milk or breakfast bar. Bar-b-que, burgers, hotdogs and much more graced the table. Barbecue chicken is the iconic Monday fare prepared by Daddy Clint’s recipe.

One highlight of the weekend was Sunday morning when church was held on site. Their built-in family grown preacher, the Rev. Darren Thomas, used a pecan stump for his pulpit on Sunday morning. His sermon went to the foundation of this family, the rock on which it is built, which is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

They love the Ponderosa so much because, according to Darren, “There is a certain sense of security, acceptance, joy and peace that we get when we pass by that iron wagon wheel at the entrance of the Ponderosa. No matter where we go in life or what is happening in the world — there is one thing that we can all count on — in just a few months we will all be huddled up together under the pine trees for a little Ponderosa peace.” Each spoke in that wheel represents the family members.

As Carroll Zittrouer said of the worship service on Sunday, “I got to sit here in shorts and a T-shirt (printed for each one for the family event) with my hat and tobacco listening to the sermon and singing great hymns while smelling chicken fry for dinner.” Simply Southern brought their fryers, catering the fried chicken Sunday dinner with trimmings.

They slept in old cabins, on the couches in the dining hall, in pop-up campers, tents and motor homes, now with more modern facilities than yesteryear. A few of the elders are day campers. Although the “Ol' Privy” was renovated for the event, a more modern shower and bath facility is available. The open-air dining and gentle breeze offer old-time conversation and fun. There is the tradition of Peggy Smith and Carroll Zittrouer’s annual Friday night bike ride into Springfield with the kids.

“Ma Bo” Lucy Rae and “Ma Matra” (Matra Zittrouer Fulcher) were the oldest ladies in attendance, enjoying their daily respite from Effingham Extended Care. Norwood and Ray Zittrouer fill the shoes of “Daddy Clint” now. Peggy Zittrouer Smith keeps them all fed and supplied. And they keep on adding to the big family.

Peggy’s son Slade’s week-old Clifford Ryan Smith joined the festivities as the youngest present. Ray’s daughter Kendra was in attendance early in the weekend but before it was over, her daughter Darcy Rae Durrence was born, becoming the newest member of the clan.

It is a wonderful tradition. Some new historical signs dot the landscape and old traditional sites on the Ponderosa. The planning group met off and on all year to plan for this weekend and to organize parking and campers.

The children here are not welded to cell phones or tablets, although they do allow a certain time for them to document their scavenger finds now via photo and video on their cell phones. Parents get to see the eyes of the children, rather than the tops of their heads, while kids relearned the art of conversation face to face without electronic gadgets. Children rode and ran freely and laughed and got wet with the water hose and just played and enjoyed themselves away from the rat race of life. The adults’ antics and conversations were rocked with boisterous laughter and pranks.  A blessing of thanks was said before meals. This family is grounded in God’s love and all enjoy the majesty of nature for three days and nights.

Next year they will be back, eager to savor the three days again. Each knows Daddy Clint’s legacy and philosophy: “No matter who you are or where you have been, you will always have a place at the Ponderosa.”

This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society with help from the Zittrouer Family. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: