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Rep. Phyllis Pond remembered as servant teacher

Pond

NEW HAVEN – They filed into the church on Green Street, each touched by the woman in some way.

Some wore suits or dresses. Others wore police or military uniforms.

Some had worked alongside her for years; others were taught by her when they were small children, shaped by what they learned in her classroom during those early years of upbringing.

Whoever you were, no matter what you did, Phyllis Pond was your friend, the pastor told them.

And they could do nothing but shake their heads and agree.

Pond, the longest-serving female state representative in the history of Indiana, was laid to rest Friday.

More than a hundred people came to her funeral at Emmanuel Lutheran Church.

Many of them then followed the funeral procession through New Haven, led by a group of Indiana State Police motorcycle officers, past buildings with flags at half-staff.

Those who spoke at the funeral spoke of a woman short in stature – Pond was maybe 5 feet tall – but who always made a huge impact.

“Phyllis left large footprints at the statehouse,” said Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, who described Pond as a mentor and Hoosier pioneer.

Rep. Pond, R-New Haven, was elected to the Indiana House in 1978 and served for 35 years.

She was the first woman to sit in the front row of the Republican side of the chamber, which is seen as a place of influence.

In August, Pond submitted her letter of resignation that was to take effect in October, ending her political career.

The 82-year-old had suffered through significant health problems in recent years and was required to use an oxygen device at all times.

Diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, she decided not to return for the 2014 session.

She died Sunday.

“What’s little known about Phyllis is that she was about the most difficult person to say no to who I’ve ever met,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, who at roughly 6-foot-6 towered over Pond.

As he spoke at the funeral, Long described one of Pond’s education bills that she brought to him as ahead of its time.

He recalled another one of her bills that gave soldiers on active duty more time with their children.

Another introduced mediation into divorce proceedings, Long said, making Indiana one of the first states to do so and saving couples from painful courtroom fights.

“Very quietly, Phyllis Pond made life a little better for Hoosiers,” he said.

But it wasn’t just her political career that made her stand out.

Born in Warren, Pond was raised on a farm before graduating from Warren High School in 1948 and then Ball State University in 1951 and Indiana University Education in 1963.

Pond taught kindergarten for 37 years.

Rev. Scott Zeckzer told the congregation Friday that, yes, he heard from some of her colleagues, but the outpouring from her former students is what struck him.

People could come up to Pond at a restaurant, or a diner, or even the street, and she would remember them.

And she was always willing to chat with them, to ask how they were doing and what was happening in their lives.

The traits that made her a great educator also endeared her to her colleagues at the Statehouse and those she met in public.

“She was a humble servant teacher,” Zeckzer said. “Everything she did, there was a lesson behind it.”

Plus, those who spoke said, she was always a friend.

It never mattered who you were, or what you did, whether you worked alongside her at the Statehouse or whether she taught you as a 6-year-old.

She was a friend to everyone.

“She truly made a difference, and as she did for everyone else, she always made my life a little better,” Long said.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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