Communication Builds Our Community

Walter Elder Ferguson III, 1952-2024

Librarian

Farewell to Walter Elder Ferguson III, a gallant human being, who passed away at age 72 on April 26, 2024, of natural causes. A Celebration of Life will be from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 8 at Lake Howard Heights, 650 North Lake Howard, Winter Haven, presented by his family and classmates.

Born on Feb. 26, 1952, with cerebral palsy, a lifelong condition that affects movement and coordination, Ferguson lived an extraordinary life.

When his mother died in a car accident when he was 21, he moved to Lake Alfred to live with his late grandmother, Mary Louise Shriver, a reporter for the Winter Haven News Chief.

In 1986, his father married Iris Hill. After his father died at age 80 in 2006, she watched over her step-son, making sure he had everything he needed.

"Walter never once complained or said anything negative about his disability. He just went with the flow."

Walter was close to his brother, John, three years younger, who served in the military for 20 years, worked in the Pentagon for 13 years and moved to New Braunfels, Texas in 2011.

"He was a voracious reader from an early age," his brother recalled. "He read comic books as a kid and then moved up to JRR Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings' by fifth grade."

"What a brain he had! He was an awesome and incredible person who was always friendly to everybody. He never met a stranger. It was just his personality. That's why everybody loved him."

In addition to his family, Walter's classmates watched over him and picked him up the numerous times he fell.

"I was there when he fell down the new classroom building concrete steps onto the first flight landing," said Jody Miller, who rallied classmates to donate funds for a new computer, not once but twice, cable TV, a Lazy-Z-Boy recliner, numerous gift cards and covered other expenses. It was always easy to raise money to help Walter."

"We just picked him up, gathered his books together and went to the next class without calling for Medical help. He was skinned and banged up, but tough. He was never depressed and never felt sorry for himself, but was always optimistic and very independent."

"I remember him being three or four years old and he was walking low to the ground," says Susan Hardy Simonds, who grew up with Walter as a member of his church, St. Paul's Episcopal, as well as a high school classmate. "I was kind of amazed watching him at the time and then never gave it another thought."

After attending Inwood Elementary and Westwood Middle School, his social life blossomed at Winter Haven High. His love of books came in handy when he volunteered for the school library. His love of dancing made him a hit at the teen social organization, Winter Haven Cotillion, where gatherings helped bond the classmates.

The year was 1967 when he entered Winter Haven High School. The Vietnam war was raging on, split school sessions during his senior year caused chaos and a graduating class of nearly 1,000 divided his classmates. But Walter was a unifying force for the Blue Devils.

"We're all blessed to have known him," said Miller, who taught public school for 37 years. "We did not have special education classes until 1975 when the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), Public Law 94-142, was enacted. Walter did it all on his own and never gave in or complained."

A bit of a radical who never was one to bite his tongue, Walter was not shy about sharing his thoughts on politics in his online blog at http://walfergie.blogspot.com. He also wrote an underground newspaper.

"I often teased him about not trying to overthrow the government," Miller said.

Walter, who was very savvy with technology, served on the student council in high school, and made it his mission to round up as many of his old friends as he could find to attend class reunions, which he never missed. "He never wanted charity so we gave him a legitimate job tracking down classmates on social media," added Miller.

Perhaps his greatest love was the Lord. "He was a devout Christian," described Simonds.

After studying Library Technology at Polk State College, class of 1975, Walter studied Theology at Baptist Bible College (Springfield, Mo.) class of 1978, and Bible at Tennessee Temple University, class of 1983.

With 1,000 friends on Facebook, Walter was a social butterfly described by his many friends as "the most beloved person in our class."

Walter was embraced by classmates including Larry Fowler who organized outings with the late Dino Bagley. "We called ourselves 'The Three Amigos' and had a blast going to attractions like Arabian Nights Dinner Show and always celebrating Walter's birthday with dinner at Azteca De Oro Mexican Restaurant."

His best friend, Paul Ezell, and the Cypress Gardens Ski Team hosted a barbecue at an adaptive clinic for 40 disabled people and 10 wounded warriors a few years ago.

"He was so excited to meet everyone and loved riding on a tube in Lake Silver," said Ezell. "We grew up together and his dad would bring him to our house to hang out. He always had a smile and a joke to tell."

Another friend, Nanette Rodgers, was instrumental in Walter excelling in adult Sunday school at First Presbyterian Church in Winter Haven.

"Walter took his assignments very seriously and he was prepared for them but the class didn't last long enough for him to express his opinion because he had a voice spasm," Miller recounted.

"Nanette and I came up with a plan to get him the questions ahead of time so he could answer them through emails. They were good answers and the teacher would share them so Walter got to participate but not take up the entire class."

The man of many talents also wrote music and played the piano, entertaining his fellow residents after dinner occasionally. One of his proudest moments was when the First Presbyterian Church choir performed his 1984 composition, "Safely Home."

During the isolation of the pandemic, Walter's memory was failing and he declined drastically.

"I was privileged to share a class with Walter from first through sixth grades at Inwood and in junior and senior high schools," Merry Lancashire Stewart commented on Facebook. "He was an inspiration in courage, dedication to music and commitment to scholarship. He knew his Bible! I thank God for knowing him in my lifetime."

"I knew Walter all my life, too," said Patti Pierce Young. "Our dads had a business together in Winter Haven. He will be missed, but I know he is dancing and singing with the Lord and I will see you again!"

"He was always happy and always smiling!" Rhonda Gernert Bennett said. "No matter how long it had been since we last saw each other, it's always like it was only yesterday."

Ferguson is survived by his brother, John (New Braunfels, Texas), John's children Stephanie and Robert; sister, Julia Gardner (Charlotte, N.C.); stepmother, Iris Ferguson and her children, Venetia Reed (Auburndale, Fla.) and Jay Hill (Winter Haven, Fla.).

"Safely Home"

(Copyright 1984, by Walter E. Ferguson III. All rights reserved.)

"By faith I am seeking a city

Where the streets are paved with pure gold.

But now I'm only a pilgrim

And I must live like a sheep in the fold.

Chorus:

Oh, this world is a desert, a wilderness:

There's temptation wherever I roam.

But I know that my Shepherd will guide me

And by His Word I'll be led safely home.

Because the Lord God is my Shepherd,

He'll provide whatever I need.

To pastures green and still waters

Now, then in time, safely home He will lead.

In anguish, in pain and temptation

There are times when I lose my way.

But Jesus never forsakes me

He is my Shepherd Who guides night and day.

Someday, at the end of life's journey

I will hear the Shepherd say "Come,

'A place I have built here for you

'And now it's time you arrive safely home."

 

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