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Eugene Arthur Ferguson | Obituary

Eugene Arthur Ferguson, Music Educator

By Renee Ferguson

Eugene Arthur Ferguson was born to Mary and Eugene K. Ferguson on November 19, 1939. Jim Crow was the law of the land at the time of his birth. Historical documents show that there were only 89 segregated hospital beds for Oklahoma City's 30,000 African American citizens at the time. So Eugene was born at home. His mother’s best friend and close neighbor, Evelyn Williams, a first grade school teacher, acted as midwife. Eugene died on June 28, 2010 in Chicago from the effects of a series of strokes, diabetes and renal failure.

"Gene Arthur" was raised on Northeast Seventh street in Oklahoma City. It was a racially segregated working class community. Neighbors on both sides and up the street were all related. He grew up surrounded by a tight knit family of aunts, uncles and cousins who would each leave their imprint on Eugene's life. His aunt, Elizabeth White, who lived in the house west of the family home was a teacher. An uncle, Clarence Griffin, who lived on the other side, was a locally famous baritone singer. Eugene grew up with music played, sung, composed, taught and performed all around him every day. He played clarinet, piano, flute, and most of the woodwind instruments.

Ferguson graduated from Douglass High School in Oklahoma City in 1957. His membership in the famous Douglass Marching Band was career- defining. He received his undergraduate degree in Music from Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio in 1961. While in college he became a proud member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and recently received a citation for 50-years of membership. His first teaching job was at Gary Indiana’s Westside High School where he was the band instructor. Among his students was Tito Jackson of the Jackson 5. In 1975, Eugene received a Master's degree in Music Education from the University of Iowa.

In 1976 the racial integration of America's public schools was an extremely difficult social challenge. Eugene was recruited by a small mostly white city near Seattle to begin the process of school integration there. He was the first African-American male teacher in the school's system. He worked for more than two decades developing music programs for the school system. He was band director at the Mercer Island Middle School where he introduced thousands of students to the love of music. In 2000 he was inducted into the Washington Music Educators Hall of Fame.

In 2001 Eugene was selected as Citizen of the Year by the Mercer Island City Council.

Here’s what city council members wrote about him at the time:

Eugene “Gene” Ferguson receives the Council’s appreciation for his 25 years of service to the children and families of Mercer Island. As a school band director and long-time music educator, Eugene worked tirelessly to introduce music into the lives of thousands of Mercer Island students. He made great contributions to the success of the music program in the Mercer Island School District bringing it national, state and local acclaim.

Upon learning of Ferguson's death Mercer Island City Clerk, Ali Spietz wrote "He was an institution here on Mercer Island and his talents and service to the children and families of our community will not be forgotten."

While living in Seattle Ferguson joined the Mt. Zion Baptist Church where he served on the board of trustees, sang with and served as director of the church’s acclaimed Brotherhood Chorus. He was active at Mt. Zion for 25 years.

In 2003, Eugene retired from the Mercer Island School system and returned to Oklahoma City to care for his elderly father. In Oklahoma City he joined St. John's Missionary Baptist Church where he helped raise money for the church's scholarship ministry and sang with the Ambassador’s Concert Choir.

Shortly after his father died Eugene became ill, suffering a series of strokes that took away memory and verbal acuity but not his love of music. In 2007 he went to live In Chicago with his sister Renee, and her family along with a new family at Pioneer Gardens Supportive Living Facility. The residents of Pioneer never knew Eugene as he “had been” but accepted and loved him "just as he was." He told everyone who asked how much he enjoyed living at Pioneer which provided an on-going music centered program for residents.

During the concert held in his memory held in Chicago, Eugene's sister said "He was born with music inside of him. It was as much a part of him as his heart and his lungs. His heart pumped a downbeat, every breath an upbeat. We would often see him tapping his fingers to some internal accentato or hear him singing in what seemed a fantasy falsetto. It was music that only he could hear. When all else failed him, the music was always there. Today he would remind us that even after the heart stops, the beat goes on. The music never dies."

Memorial services in Oklahoma City are scheduled for August 8 at 7 p.m. at Temple and Sons Funeral Home. Internment will be August 9 at Memorial Park Cemetery and Mausoleum.

Eugene is survived by his sister Renee Ferguson, brother in law Ken Smikle, nephew Jason Smikle , cousins Helene and Caroline Griffin of Oklahoma City and Vivian Goodson of Houston, Texas and a host of cousins and friends all over America.

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