Meet Your Neighbor: Michelle and Tom Ponte
By Will Brown
When Michelle and Tom Ponte moved to Long Beach eleven years ago, the BP oil spill disaster was still ongoing. Balls of tar washed up on the shore for months after the Pontes arrived, and it was unclear if Long Beach would ever recover from such a disaster. Unsure how long they would be staying in Long Beach, the Pontes decided to rent a house instead of buying one. Within a year of living in Long Beach, Michelle and Tom realized they loved the town so much they never wanted to leave.
“We love Long Beach,” Michelle said. “The hospitality and sense of community are amazing.”
The Pontes met when they were just seven years old. Originally from Connecticut, the couple moved around the country for years after getting married, due to Tom’s position with the U.S. Coast Guard, starting with a year in Miami before moving to Hollywood, Florida for three years. After living in Florida, they moved to Irvington, Alabama, while Tom was assigned to a ship in Pascagoula. After returning to Miami for a number of years, the Pontes arrived in Long Beach in 2010. After spending thirty-one years in the service – nine of them aboard ships – Tom recently retired.
Michelle and Tom decided that Long Beach was an ideal community in which to settle down and raise their three daughters. The two have gotten involved in several community events, including the Carnival Association of Long Beach, and they are active members of St. Thomas Church. Tom now works part-time for a local technology firm on one of their ships while Michelle works for Hillcrest Dental in Gulfport.
The Pontes was attracted to Long Beach due to the strong sense of community they found.
“It’s almost like eight degrees from that Kevin Bacon movie,” Michelle said. “If you don’t know someone, you know someone who knows someone. Everyone has each other’s back.”
Michelle and Tom came to understand exactly how strong the community was in Long Beach around seven years ago when Michelle was hospitalized after complications from surgery. She spent eleven days in a coma, and, during that time, the community came together to support their family.
“People I didn’t know were bringing us food and praying for us,” Michelle said. “They prayed me out of that mess. There is so much family support - even if you’re not blood, it’s so amazing. There is nowhere like it.”
Question: What is the biggest difference between Long Beach and Connecticut?
Tom: “It’s the pace of life, really. In New England, everyone seems to be in a hurry to be somewhere. Down here, people take their time doing stuff. It’s much more laid back, relaxed, and enjoyable.”
Michelle: “The economy is much better. If we had the same house in Connecticut, the taxes and the insurance would be crazy.”
Question: What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of work?
Michelle: “Arts and crafts shows! We also love hockey. Our favorite team was the Hartford Whalers, but they don’t exist anymore. We are very active in the Carnival Association. We love fundraising, and my husband was a Grand Knight in the Knights of Columbus at St. Thomas. Our children volunteer with us at everything we do. Anything involving faith, family, and fun, we are there.”
Question: What is your favorite restaurant in Long Beach?
Michelle and Tom: “We love The Rusty Pelican for breakfast. For dinner, we love Long Beach Deli. We also love Bull’s and Harbor View.”
Question: What are some of your favorite books and movies?
Tom: “I’ve read too many books to have a favorite. I’m mostly into science fiction and mystery, and now that they’ve made a new Dune movie, I’m kind of into that right now.”
Michelle: “The Lifetime Channel. My daughters and I were extras in the Christmas in Mississippi Lifetime movie from a couple of years ago.”
Question: What is the favorite place you have ever traveled to, and, if you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Michelle and Tom: “We love the Florida Keys. We each have Harley-Davidsons and used to ride to the Keys on our Harleys - and that was amazing. Our honeymoon was in Niagara Falls, and that was so impressive.”
Michelle: “I would love to see Venice. I would just love to get in those gondolas and go see the city on a boat.”
Question: If you won one million dollars in the lottery, how would you spend that money?
Michelle: “I would be responsible first and pay off some bills, but then I would travel. I would definitely donate some.”
Tom: “I would get myself out of my 21-year-old truck that has 350,000 miles.”