UPDATE, October 21: A memorial for Bill Ferguson will take place Monday, November 16, at 11 a.m. in the First United Methodist Church of Jupiter-Tequesta in Jupiter, Fla. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in memory of Bill to Albion College, 611 E. Porter St., Albion, MI 49224 or online at www.albion.edu/giving.
October 16, 2015 | By Jake Weber
A testament of leadership and love: As a student, athlete, parent, alumnus, donor, professor, board chair and even acting president, Bill Ferguson made a powerful and lasting impact on Albion College.
William C. Ferguson, '52, former longtime chair of the Albion College Board of Trustees and former acting president of the College, passed away October 14 in Florida at the age of 84.
A native of Detroit, Ferguson was the first in his family to be educated beyond the ninth grade. He held factory and construction jobs throughout high school and college to pay his Albion tuition. Ferguson earned a degree in mathematics with minors in physics and economics and a secondary teaching certificate. He joined Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and was a four-year member of the Britons baseball team.
Following graduation, Ferguson spent two years in the Army teaching electronics at the Signal Corps School, returning in 1954 to his trainee position at Michigan Bell. He advanced in the industry through decades of technological advances and structural changes, eventually becoming president and CEO of NYNEX (now Verizon), a position he held until his retirement in 1995.
Despite the pressures of running a Fortune 100 company and his lifelong service to various home communities, Ferguson's unwavering commitment to Albion College was legendary. His College "roles" included student, parent, trustee, professor, donor, campaign volunteer and president.
A member of the Board of Trustees from 1980 to 2004, Ferguson served as board chair from 1989 to 1996. During that seven-year period, Ferguson also oversaw the College's most successful capital campaign to that time. He was both acting president and visiting professor in economics and management during the 1995-1996 academic year, along with serving as the 1996 Commencement speaker.
"He was board chair while also running a major U.S. corporation, and he handled both with grace," recalls former trustee Ed Jenkins, '57. "He did his homework for the board but he never forced his own opinions. At that time, our executive committee included five or six CEOs and he recognized we were used to being leaders ourselves. He always got us to a consensus and a conclusion that we were doing the right thing for the College."
"As the acting president of Albion College, Bill applied his executive talents and experience to solving problems that, before he addressed them, had proven intractable and in all likelihood would have remained so," said professor emeritus and fraternity brother James Cook, '54, in 2005. "The students, faculty, alumni and administration of Albion College owe Bill Ferguson a continuing debt of gratitude."
Ferguson and his wife, Joyce, were equally generous with their resources for Albion. The Fergusons have established scholarships for students in education, the Gerstacker Institute, communications studies and music, along with endowments that support faculty development, the Whitehouse Nature Center and the Art and Art History Department.
An especially important gift was the Ferguson Center for Technology-Aided Teaching. At its inception in the mid-1990s, the Center placed Albion College among the earliest institutions to offer a formal curriculum focused on using and developing computer-based classroom materials. The Ferguson Center not only helped propel Albion to the top 10 of Yahoo! Internet Life magazine's "Most Wired Colleges" in the early 2000s, it also led to an Albion student receiving the first certification issued by the Michigan Consortium for Outstanding Achievement in Teaching with Technology.
While encouraging future-focused initiatives on campus, Ferguson was also responsive to the College's more prosaic needs. The William C. Ferguson Student, Technology and Administrative Services Building is a testament to Ferguson's support of the College's day-to-day functions.
In recognition of Ferguson's professional achievements, civic involvement in Michigan and New York, and service to his alma mater, Albion College awarded Ferguson an honorary doctorate in 1996 and a Meritorious Service Award in 2005. Joyce Ferguson is the recipient of one of Albion's first Briton Medallions. Bill Ferguson is also a two-time inductee to Albion's Athletic Hall of Fame, both individually and as a member of the 1950 MIAA-champion baseball team.
"Bill played first base and he used to ride me about throwing the ball too slowly," recalled classmate and longtime Albion coach Frank Joranko, '52. "He was a leader in athletics and an outstanding student and he loved Albion College. He was outstanding in every way."
Ferguson is survived by his loving wife of 63 years, Joyce Ferguson; his three daughters Laura Ferguson, Ellen (Bob) Keleman, '80, and Joanne (Shep) Gerrish, '89; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. There are tentative plans for a memorial service at a later date. According to the family, in lieu of flowers, if you would like to honor Bill's life, donations can be made to Albion College in his name at www.albion.edu/giving.