Gail and Warne Ferguson painting by Jeff Pierson
Warne Leon Ferguson
On Wednesday, November 5, 2014, Mr. Warne “Ponce De” Leon Ferguson, 87, passed away peacefully at his home in Institute, WV after a week of loving care from his daughters whom he shared with his beloved wife of 42 years, Gail Marie.
Warne spent his formative years in Institute, and reveled in the fact that he had been educated on the campus of WVSC exclusively, starting in kindergarten in a segregated normal school, graduating to the WV State High School, and continuing to WVSC; interrupted by a voluntary enrollment in the Army after the Pearl Harbor attacks where he served as an Air Corps Bomb Tech Specialist, at Hickam Field AFB in Hawaii. Upon his return, he earned his Bachelor’s degree from WVSC, graduating with a degree in Health, Fitness and Physiology, and became a letterman in 3 sports: Tennis, Golf and Basketball.
He relocated to NYC after his studies, where he worked and ultimately would retire from the NY Board of Education, having taught in the elementary schools of Harlem. Warne was regarded throughout Manhattan as a pioneer for children’s fitness, but his proudest moments came from work as the recreation director of various afterschool programs for the Children’s Aid Society. In later years, he would go on to champion tennis programs for underserved youth and coach as part of the Jr. American Tennis Association in both NY and Charleston, WV. While in NY, he utilized his proximity to the Univ. of Mass at Amherst to pursue his Master’s degree.
It was also in NY that he would meet the love of his life, Gail Marie Jackson, and start a family. Eventually, he would move his family back to WV, but not before he put his wife through law school at Georgetown University while advancing his career in NYC. Shortly before she graduated, he began his service to WVSC as the Director of Upward Bound and Special Services Programs, a position he would hold for over 10 years.
Upon his return to the WV area, he continued his quest for social justice by founding the grassroots organization, People Concerned About MIC (now People Concerned About Chemical Safety), as a community advocate and activist. Warne was particularly interested in protecting the communities of Institute and West Dunbar from the environmental racism they had been subjected to since the early 1920s. He persevered and lived to witness the dismantling of the MIC production units in his community.
Warne was also able to claim fame for being the first African American “allowed” to play in the WV Public Courts tennis tournament. Breaking through the color barrier, was his opportunity to become the first African American to win a division at those same tournaments. He would go on to win over 5 Championships in various divisions of the Public Courts. Although he was a natural athlete with a keen eye and talent for basketball, tennis, table tennis, and football punting, it was golf for which he had a passion. In his retirement he lived on the golf course, becoming affectionately known as “Sweet Swinging Ferg.” When he wasn’t playing golf, he would most certainly be attending to his wife who pre-deceased him, spending time with loved ones, and assisting infirmed friends.
In the twilight of years and even through his most recent illness, one could easily find him at the Kroger’s deli in Dunbar, coffee in hand, communing with friends and employees, joking and telling tales of his love of family, jazz and a life well lived. He will be missed.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Gail Marie (nee Jackson); parents Daniel L. and Katherine W. Ferguson; siblings, Jane E. Ferguson, Daniel L. Ferguson, Jr., Katherine L. Ferguson, Stewart Ferguson and Raynina Swann; 2 grandchildren; 2 great-grandchildren; and 2 nephews. He leaves to mourn his death a son, Ricky Bowles of MI; daughters, Deborah Lynn Powell of OH, Gregg Suzanne McAllister of WV, Kathy L. Ferguson of WV and Hillary Ferguson Jackson (Jodi) of DC; brothers, Joseph T. Ferguson and Gurnett E. Ferguson (Phyllis), both of OH, and sister, Sue Ann Davis of WV; 9 grandchildren; 6 great-grandchildren; 4 nieces; 2 nephews; and a host of cousins and extended family.
A wake will be held on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Davis Fine Arts Bldg. on the campus of WVSU, Institute, WV. Formal Funeral Services will be held Sat., Nov 15, 2014 at Ferguson Memorial Baptist Church, located at 12 Marshall Ave., Dunbar, WV. A viewing will be held from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., immediately followed by the services. The interment will be at Grandview Memorial Park in Dunbar. Arrangements entrusted to Preston Funeral Home of Charleston.