WESTBROOK – Boris “Jake” Ponomarenko helped countless low-income individuals and families become self-sufficient during the time he worked for Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services.

“He had been very poor as a child and he understood the plight of the people in poverty,” said his wife of 40 years, Karin. “He was very helpful with them.”

Mr. Ponomarenko died on April 25. He was 65.

He was born in Nuremburg, Germany, and immigrated to the United States with his family after leaving a “displaced person’s camp,” his wife said. The family settled in Maine and bought a farm to raise cattle.

His parents didn’t speak English, so Mr. Ponomarenko handled most of the business transactions for the farm.

He became a naturalized U.S. citizen and served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. When he returned to the U.S., he began his career as an employment specialist for the DHHS, where he worked through 2005.

“He liked the human aspect of things,” his wife said. “He liked working with the youths to try to keep them in school. That was important to him.”

As an employment specialist, Mr. Ponomarenko worked with people who were eligible for benefits such as food stamps. He gave educational sessions, encouraging those people to help themselves.

“These were people with a lot of hurdles to overcome,” said his daughter Larissa Ponomarenko, who is now a DHHS employee. “They had no real education besides high school, so he was trying to get them into the work force in a job that could sustain them and they could keep.”

With both of her parents working in the DHHS, Larissa Ponomarenko was inspired to do the same.

“Both my parents did so much for so many people,” she said. “My father always thought, no matter what the situation, they were able to do it. He never gave up on anyone.”

Some of the people he helped along the way still remember all that he did for them, she said.

While helping people succeed was one aspect of Mr. Ponomarenko’s life, he had a profound interest in collecting.

“He was interested in many things,” his wife said, including a collection of hat pins and even a button collection for her.

They went to antique shops and flea markets, looking for items to add to their collections. They enjoyed the time they spent together while traveling the state looking for items, she said.

He also enjoyed going to South Paris to dig around for minerals when the mines there were open. His daughter said she often joined him on the trips.

His wife said his interest in minerals started with a collection her father once had.

“Jake enjoyed looking at (the minerals),” his wife said, and he was intrigued by the various names of things that other people might not even notice.

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]