George Strager was the man’s name, and he was a football mastermind who is considered an Upper Ohio Valley legend, but during the 1987 football season at St. Clairsville High he couldn’t recall his quarterback’s name.
“Poniwatts” is what Strager settled on when reprimanding his senior signal caller, St. Clairsville resident Chris Ponzani.
“And when I grew up, I lived pretty close to George Strager because he lived above the hill from me and my family,” Ponzani said. “I would go to their house with his son, Scott, because George always had all of the stuff to watch movie films. Well, Scott and I would go rent movies from the library like ‘The Three Stooges’ and ‘The Little Rascals,’ and we would have a movie night in their basement.
“But George never could remember my name. When he would go to yell at me, instead of calling my Ponzani or Chris, he would stumble on it. But then one day he called me ‘Poniwatts’ because that was the first thing to came to his mind. From there on ‘Poniwatts’ was my nickname.”
“Poniwatts,” though, is Chis Ponzani, husband to Nichole, a father of two sons, and the owner of The Ponzani Landscaping Co. in St. Clairsville, a business founded by his parents after they married more than 50 years ago.
“My father worked for a man, Bill Arrick, who had greenhouses and a flower shop for a lot of years,” Ponzani explained. “Right when my dad and my mom got married, Mr. Arrick said to my dad, ‘Dan, I’ve asked you a few times if you want to buy the business from me because I want to retire, and you have always said no.’
“That’s when my dad took into consideration that he was newly married, and he told him that he had to ask his wife. After he spoke with my mom, who was a nurse, they decided to buy the business,” he continued. “My mom and dad were supposed to take over the business on Jan. 1, 1962. On Dec. 31, 1961, a fire gutted the flower shop, but Mr. Arrick had insurance, and all the damage was taken care of.”
But in the beginning, the business struggled, forcing his father to find side jobs like selling insurance policies to make ends meet for him and his wife.
“For the first seven years, the business either broke even or lost money, and he told my mom that he thought he was done. His plan was to go to the coal mine where his dad worked. But the day he went to talk to the superintendent of the mine was the same day those guys were going on strike,” Ponzani said. “So, I guess that was the sign that my parents needed, so they stayed in it, and after that they finally started to generate a profit.
“Then in the 1980s garden centers became a big thing, so my father added more greenhouses and a garden center, and they did very well,” he explained. “I was in high school, and I decided that I liked the business, so I decided I would go to Ohio State, and I majored in landscape management. I returned home in 1991, and I took over the landscape side the business at Ponzani’s.”
When the time came for his parents to retire, he decided to carry on the family legacy, but with a few changes. He opted to close the retail side of the business and instead continue his concentration on residential and commercial landscape development and maintenance.
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“What we do during the process of a new home or business being built is go in, and we can design the sidewalks, the landscaping, and the installation of the lawn,” Ponzani said. “And we have all of the computer imaging software that we need to be able to show our potential customers what it is we can do.
“We have the ‘SketchUp’ software that allows us to design the entire area, and then we can take the folks on a guided tour of it so they can have the best idea possible of what we can do,” he said. “We also do retaining walls, and we put the trees and shrubs in, and we’ll put either rock or mulch down, depending on what the client wants. We also do water gardens and ponds, and we can also put in the nice, big waterfall if that is what a customer wants. There really aren’t that many limits to what we can do.”
The Ponzani Landscaping Co. has realized a great amount of growth since Chris officially entered the business a quarter-century ago, and his goal is to continue with the development of the company in case his two sons decide to get involved with landscape management in the future. If 14-year-old Zane and 13-year-old Matthew decide on a different path, though, Ponzani is confident this successful business would sell.
“When I started, it was me and one or two other guys, and I was working 14, 15 hours a day doing the estimates, meeting with potential clients, and then doing a lot of the work itself, too,” he recalled. “Apparently, I was doing a good job because a lot of our customers asked me back to do more work for them, and that’s when I hired more people so all of the work could get completed.
“So, from a few guys, one truck, and a little storage building, we’ve grown to 20-some vehicles, more than 35 employees, and we have a lot of great people. But our business wouldn’t be successful without all of the great people that work for us,” Ponzani said. “It’s really been a great adventure because it’s a lot of fun, and it’s something I still enjoy doing.”
It’s true, even if there’s not one particular part of landscape management he can explain as his preferred part of the business. Ponzani’s offers a variety of services, including commercial and residential management, planning and design, outdoor kitchen construction, professional exterior lighting, and several options for lawn care.
“When I do a job, I get a sense of completion and a sense of satisfaction because I know I did the very best that I could have,” Ponzani explained. “I love when I can take someone else’s dream or vision and make that a reality for them. It’s about the job well done.
“There’s the design of the project, working the project, and then the completion of the project, and that’s what does it for me. We all know there are some jobs where you don’t get that feeling of satisfaction,” he added. “But I get that satisfaction and it means everything. The business has totally changed from when I got involved, but we have taken each stride that technology has allowed, and it’s a lot of fun.”