Tom Ferguson, 75

OPRF High School history instructor, dept. chair

Opinion: Obituaries

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High school history teacher, world traveler, bibliophile, and longtime Oak Park resident Thomas Dudley Ferguson, 75, died peacefully at home on March 16, 2014. The cause of death was pulmonary fibrosis.
Born on Aug. 23, 1938 in Hinsdale to Mildred (née Whitt) and James Carroll Ferguson, a construction engineer for the Link-Belt Company, his older brothers, James and Richard, introduced him to jazz, a lifelong passion he shared with sister, Martha and best friend, John Armstrong. Raised in LaGrange, he graduated from Cossitt Elementary School and Lyons Township High School, where he met the love of his life, Carole Lindner Ferguson. They were married in 1959.
Mr. Ferguson received a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana in 1962, and began his teaching career at Elmwood Park High School the same year. With their daughters, Sarah and Heather, Tom and Carole moved to Oak Park in 1965, in time to become active in the movement advocating open housing policies there. Tom joined the history department at Oak Park and River Forest High School in 1967, where he taught until his retirement in 1994. He was the chairman of the history department from 1986 to 1994.
A popular, iconoclastic teacher, he led his students on field trips all over Chicago. His assignments often helped students understand how they themselves were a part of history, teaching them, as he put it, "to see through time." He assigned block reports, for which kids went door to door to learn their neighbors' stories. He asked students to interview a family member who had immigrated to the U.S., often a grandparent. In 1988, he started "Interpretations," an annual publication of the finest scholarly history writing by OPRF students.
He was always delighted to hear from former students, who would stop him on the street decades later to tell him how much they had learned in his class.
In 1970, Mr. Ferguson was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to teach for a year at the Sherborne School in Sherborne, Dorset, England. In the summer of 1971, the family embarked on a memorable six-week-long camping trip through western Europe, Scandinavia and the former Soviet Union.
A gifted conversationalist, he was genuinely interested in everyone he met. He had a subtle sense of humor and an astonishing memory. He was also a brilliant photographer, and a lover of road trips, good food, family history, hometown newspapers, C-Span, the Civil War, old movies, tennis, and the White Sox. Tom and Carole traveled together to all 50 states, the Middle East, Costa Rica, and Canada.
In addition to his wife, Carole, Tom is survived by his daughters Sarah (William Neuman) and Heather (Annika Fjelstad); his beloved grandchildren, Max, Emma, and Romy Neuman, and Josiah and Gabe Fjelstad Ferguson; and a large and loving extended family. Daughter Christine died in infancy in 1960. Tom's ashes will be interred near her gravesite at Woodlawn Cemetery in Urbana.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 5 at First United Church of Oak Park. Memorial gifts can be sent to First United Church of Oak Park; the OPRF Alumni Association Summer Enrichment Program, Maureen Kleinman; or to the OPRF College Scholarship Foundation (both at 201 N. Scoville Ave. Oak Park, IL 60302.

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Mary Rita Earle from Oak Park  

Posted: March 28th, 2014 7:57 PM

Tom Ferguson had that special magic to make you feel your connection to the past and that of everyone around you. He had profound impact on my experience at Oak Park River Forest. Immensely engaging and engaged with his student. RIP and happy trails Mr. Ferguson.

Andrew Wheat  

Posted: March 27th, 2014 3:41 PM

The recent death of bright, energetic OPRF teacher Tom Ferguson gives the rest of us a chance to catch up (though we who studied history with him during the first Cold War have limited time to do so). Being a sharp, jovial raconteur made Tom a good teacher. His genuine interest in his students made him a great one. There goes a man who inspired purpose and who secured his passage into history before availing himself of it. Peace, Andrew Wheat

Liz from Oak Park  

Posted: March 26th, 2014 9:49 AM

As my Freshman History teacher, Mr. Ferguson introduced me to George Orwell's 1984. While reading the book he gave the class the assignment to stop watching TV for two weeks. When he asked who succeed at this challenge, I proudly raised my hand. He quized the other few kids who said they had mostly done so, but simply looked at me & said "Well, I knew you'd do it." Teased by my peers for not knowing modern pop culture, I condidered that, & still do, a great compliment, from a great man.

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