by Ellin Walsh
Cuyahoga Falls -- His academic credentials were impressive, but family and friends of Dr. Robert E. Ferguson say his compassion and character were even more so.
"Ferg," as many, including his wife, affectionately referred to the Cuyahoga Falls educator, died June 2 after a 1 1/2-year battle with cancer. He was 83.
Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education member Robert Heath says Ferguson, a former principal of Price and Richardson elementary schools, was a mentor for many local administrators.
"He was 'Mr. Principal' for the likes of Charlie White, John Tomits, Frank Barber, Dave Lightel, Carle Wyler and me, to name a few," Heath says, adding, "He taught us how to handle delicate problems that face school administrators every day."
H. Kenneth Barker, a University of Akron professor, says "First I was his [Ferguson's] dean and soon I was one of his closest friends." Ferguson joined the University of Akron staff in 1965, becoming department chairman of elementary education until 1984.
"It broke my heart when he died," Barker says, "because he was a very dedicated educator - someone who genuinely cared about teachers and kids."
Ferguson's wife, Katie, taught second grade in Cuyahoga Falls for many years. She says her husband was never too busy for former students.
"He touched the lives of many generations," she says.
Mayor Don L. Robart lauded Ferguson for his community service with a proclamation in April. Ferguson also received The College of Education Deans' Award from the University of Akron this spring.
A diabetic, Ferguson made sure to incorporate walking into his daily routine. His faithful companion was his beloved dog, Kasie.
A native of Pennsylvania, Ferguson possessed a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from Kent State University. He received his doctor of education degree from Case Western Reserve University.
Ferguson served on the Cuyahoga Falls Library Board and was a past president and Board member of the Cuyahoga Falls Kiwanis, past president of the Torch Club of Akron, a member of First United Methodist Church and The Association of The University of Akron Retirees.
Ferguson served as director for the Argentine Exchange Teacher Program at the University of Akron and as a consultant to the Firestone Plantations School in Liberia. He and his wife, Katie, traveled extensively with "Classrooms Around the World," sponsored by the University of Akron.
Mary Gulledge remembers Ferguson as being "a very caring principal" at Richardson Elementary School.
"I was very much a mama's girl," Gulledge confides, "and was very timid [about] going to school. Our previous principal had been a very no-nonsense, strict man ...
"When Dr. Ferguson came to the school," Gulledge says, "he was like a breath of fresh air. He always smiled and had a kind word to say to the children. If they were fearful, as I was, he always had a way of easing fears and [helped us] be able to start the day on a happy and more relaxed, less fearful note."
Ferguson was Connie (Oliver) Woods' principal at Price Elementary in the 1960s.
"He knew each child by name in the school,' Woods says, adding, "Even after I graduated from Falls High in my late teens, he remembered me when I was working at Acme as a cashier." Woods is now a special education instructional assistant for Woodridge Local Schools.
Evelyn P. Yovich says she had "the pleasure of knowing Dr. Ferguson for many years, as a student and later as a professional colleague.
"It was always a pleasure to be in his company," Yovich says, "He was always so kind and pleasant and upbeat."
"He was truly one of the finest men I have ever met," Robart echoes, "so well respected."
During a memorial service conducted in Ferguson's honor June 7 at First United Methodist Church, Robart recalls the minister saying, "'Nobody's perfect - but he was as close as you get.' How many of us can the same be said of?"
Memorials may be made to First United Methodist Church, 245 Portage Trail, Cuyahoga Falls 44221, Hospice of Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care Center, 3358 Ridgewood Road, Akron 44333, or the University of Akron Foundation for Robert E. Ferguson Scholarship Fund, Akron 44325-2603.