An interview with David Ponoroff by Ruth Segal
Our student population is transient but there are some graduates who choose to spend a significant period of their lives (some of us the rest of our lives!) in this enchanting place called Gainesville Florida.
David Ponoroff started as a volunteer and has now been on staff at PCCC for a year and a half. He graduated from UF in April earning his BA in Political Science and Sustainability Studies.
We are thrilled that David is choosing to expand his commitment to Gainesville by accepting a full-time position as Assistant Director at PCCC . David is an extraordinary person, way beyond his years in so many important ways and his technology skills constantly dazzle us.
With this interview we invite you to celebrate with us and learn a bit about David. Feel free to stop by the cemetery office Monday through Friday and shake his hand!
How/where did you first hear of PCCC and how did you end up working here?
Robert Hutchinson (Hutch) had come as a guest speaker to a class I as taking with then caretaker of Tuscawilla Prairie, Seaton Tarrant. A friend and I stayed after the class to talk to the two of them when Hutch asked Seaton if he was going to make it to the grave digging later that evening. As Seaton shot back he had a lot of stuff to do so he wasn't sure, my friend and I were a little worried the graves were for us. Seaton and Hutch saw the concerned look on our faces and explained to us what the cemetery was, how it worked, and asked if we would help. I drove over after my last class and was immediately struck by the beauty of the land. It was a bit after 5pm and everything from the Spanish moss to the grass seemed to have an amber glow. I had a wonderful time and the work felt good. I was the last person digging that grave, the last person in the grave before the woman was to be buried, and for weeks after I would think about the deeply intimate relationship that I now had with this person and their family who I didn't know. It was a kind of service that's beyond compare.
At my second grave digging the husband of the deceased also participated in the digging. Seeing how eight strangers gave their Saturday morning to help him brought him to tears, and I began to understand just how special this place is. When classes resumed the following semester I inquired about possible projects to help with and began an internship with the organization. When a staff positioned opened I jumped at the chance to do more for and with the cemetery. The rest, as they say, is history.
What made you decide to expand your commitment at PCCC rather than launch a career elsewhere at this time?
When I graduated, I felt that Gainesville still had more in store for me. Many of those feelings were tied to the cemetery. PCCC is my home and I love it so much. It guided many of my studies (including my senior thesis) and gave me my first professional opportunity that most college students and recent grads never have; and that was part of the choice, but more important to me is what this place represents.
What do you love the most about working at PCCC?
First is the people. I work with the most dedicated and kind folks in the world. The team that runs PCCC is unparalleled in its devotion to helping others. Our partners at Alachua Conservation Trust are a wonderful group to spend time with and work alongside. I am inspired every day by the people in these two organizations. I also have the good fortune of meeting an incredible group of people who volunteer their time, sometimes multiple times a week. We laugh together, hold back tears together, and help where we are able. The most special people though, are those who come to PCCC to bury a loved one. The stories and emotions they share are not comparable to anything. Each and every one of them is special. The only thing that rivals the people is the land itself. There's a special character to the land that I've never been able to put my thumb on. It is healing, serene, and just generally beautiful.
Do you have any particularly favorite moments at PCCC that you would like to share?
I've seen amazing things in the cemetery -- a woman picking a site for her grandkids because of the surrounding trees for them to climb during the ceremony (which they heartily enjoyed); cranes, owls, and other wildlife visiting ceremonies to make them special; a large silent group in mourning; and people singing in celebration of the life of a loved one. Every day I see a community dedicate its time to people going through one of life's most difficult experiences. There are a number of unique, interesting, or otherwise noteworthy moments to share, but the one that seems to stand out is a simple one. I spent some time with a 15 year old who helped dig his father's grave and participated during the ceremony in every way he could. When the ceremony was over and the grave was filled in the young man walked over to me, shook my hand, and just said "Thank you."