Doris Ponitz remembered for her service to the Dayton community

Credit: Jim Witmer

Credit: Jim Witmer

Doris Ponitz, a towering and tireless volunteer for the Dayton community and stalwart champion of peace, has died.

She was 88.

Ponitz devoted her life to many area nonprofits, eventually leading numerous boards and organizations dedicated to bettering girls’ and women’s lives, furthering education and enriching the community culturally.

ExplorePHOTOS: Doris Ponitz through the years

Ponitz, who died Tuesday, was known to list her profession as “community volunteer.” She earned the state’s highest honor, a Governor’s Award for Volunteerism in 1991.

Though the work didn’t pay, Ponitz thought herself richly rewarded.

“I feel I am paid every time I say yes. I learn something, and I feel I make a contribution to my community,” she told the Dayton Daily News in 1987.

Ponitz is survived by her husband David H. Ponitz, former president of Sinclair Community College; daughter, Cathy Ponitz, former vice president of the CareSource Foundation; and son, David Poe, a composer and singer-songwriter now living in Los Angeles.

“Our hearts break, but we are comforted by her lifelong model of joyfulness, courage, resilience, faith, enthusiasm and an abundance of love for her family, friends and community. We will celebrate together when we can actually be together. She loved a great party and that’s what she shall have,” the Ponitz family said on a Facebook posting.

“Mom ended most phone calls by saying, ‘Onward and upward!’ We shall continue onward and are assured that she is dancing upward,” the family said.

Ponitz will continue to impact Sinclair’s students through the Dave and Doris Ponitz Leadership Scholarship, which was established in 1997. It’s aimed at assisting recipients pursuing a degree, and to develop their leadership potential through experiential education opportunities and mentor relationships.

“When Doris and David arrived in Dayton 45 years ago, they immediately embraced this community and its citizens through support of numerous organizations and projects,” Sinclair President Steve Johnson said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to our dear friend, David, their children, Cathy and David, their family, and their many friends.”

A native of Marlette, Mich., Ponitz earned a bachelor’s degree in music at Michigan State University and a master’s degree in curriculum development at the University of Michigan. She taught music for two years before she and David wed in 1956.

In 1975 the family moved from Ann Arbor to Dayton and Ponitz started asking around about about youth orchestra opportunities for her daughter. Soon, she was on the Dayton Philharmonic Women’s Association board and her name would became inseparable from the community’s orchestra.

Ponitz initiated a program called Symphon-Ears to help young fourth, fifth and sixth grade students understand what they were hearing before attending for many their first Dayton Philharmonic performance.

“There is nothing as foreign to youngsters today as a symphony orchestra. It is not part of their culture to listen to symphony music on radio or TV,” she said at the time.

Credit: Chris Stewart

Credit: Chris Stewart

The program provided the impetus for a full-fledged course called Sound Ideas that won the 1980 Sally Parker Educational Award at the American Symphony Orchestra League’s national conference.

Ponitz rose to became president of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Association in June 1987. She was also a trustee of the Arts Center Foundation, which helped raise money for the Schuster Performing Arts Center, a facility Ponitz pushed to be more inclusive and representative of the community.

“The arts are often perceived as being elitist. We need to make it clear that we’re inviting everyone to this party. We want everyone to think this is their space,” she said in 2001, a couple years before the facility opened.

She was also on the board of the Dayton Performing Arts Fund, which raised millions of dollars for groups including the Dayton Philharmonic, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC), the Dayton Ballet, Dayton Opera and The Muse Machine.

A Girl Scout herself growing up, Ponitz was president to the Buckeye Trails Girl Scout Council from 1983-1986 and served on the National Girl Scout Board.

Ponitz was also active on the boards of the YWCA; DCDC; WPTD-TV, the region’s public television station; the Centerville-Washington Twp. Education Foundation; and the United Theological Seminary.

“My philosophy is: To rest is to rot. If something isn’t right, rather than resigning, I work to make it better,” she told this newspaper in 1981.

Named a Dayton Daily News Top Ten Woman in 1981, Ponitz also received the 1986 “Citizen Legion of Honor” award by the Presidents Club, an association of presidents of 60 area service organizations, and was a recipient of the YWCA’s Women of Influence lifetime achievement award in 2013.

Ponitz was co-chair with her husband for Celebration Dayton ’96, the city’s bicentennial celebration, where Dayton’s Walk of Fame was conceived. She was inducted herself in 2012.

After the Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnian War was signed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1995, Ponitz helped knit a kinship between the regions, traveling five times to Bosnia and Croatia.

She led the first of two trips to Sarajevo sponsored by the Dayton chapter of Friendship Force and also raised money so those in Bosnia could visit Dayton.

“Going to Bosnia was an absolutely life-changing experience,” she said. “Somehow, we never think that war happens to people just like us.”

A Dayton Daily News picture shows her meeting with children at Sarajevo’s Institute for Special Education for Children, where the group delivered suitcases of medicine, toys and clothing.

“They lived much as we do. They never asked for or deserved that their beautiful city would be wrecked. The common thread of humanity came through very clearly for us,” Ponitz, who would also serve as chair of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize Committee, told the Dayton Daily News in 1997.

“Dayton means peace in Bosnia. We never expected that mantle, yet clearly it is there – and it gives you a great sense of responsibility.”

Around the time she was given the Governor’s Award, Ponitz reflected on her life growing up in a small town of about 1,000 people in the thumb of Michigan.

“My father worked in a gas station, my mother was a stay-at-home mom. My father was an enlightened parent — he believed I should learn everything the boys did … like batting a ball, using a hammer.”

Credit: Chris Stewart

Credit: Chris Stewart

Ponitz once said the family’s move to Dayton — now 45 years ago — was “a great move for us.”

In 1991, Ponitz described Dayton as “a complete community.”

“To me that means we have all good things a community needs — wonderful cultural opportunities, business, shopping, wonderful people, diversity within the population, which I value very much,” she said then. “We have the problems that go with it … but we also have the will to correct those problems.”

Ponitz left a legacy that will be remembered for years to come, said Mike Parks, president, The Dayton Foundation.

“Doris Ponitz was a true role model of what it means to be a community volunteer. From championing the arts to ensuring opportunities for youth, Doris selflessly gave of her time, talent and resources for so many community efforts. She leaves behind a tremendous legacy for Greater Dayton,” Parks said.

A Celebration of Life will be held “when the world becomes a safer place for us all to be together,” the family said.

In lieu of flowers, tax deductible donations can be made to carry on her legacy of love through The Doris Ponitz Memorial Fund #8584, c/o The Dayton Foundation (1401 S. Main St., Suite #100, Dayton OH 45409 or online:, The Sinclair Community College Foundation (444 W. Third St., Dayton OH 45402 or online: or to your favorite arts organization.

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