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Four about Ferguson

I appreciate, greatly, the article about Dean O.J. Ferguson in the Fall 2002 issue of Contacts.

I have a clear memory of the meeting for freshmen students in September 1939, sponsored by the Engineering Department at the Avery Laboratory Lecture Hall. Dean Ferguson spoke to the incoming freshmen and gave his annual admonitions.

“Look to the right of you, look to the left of you, those individuals will not be here when you graduate in 1943.”

In my case, the person on my left was Robert L. Sorensen. The person on my right was Verne Gritzner. All three of us graduated.

I started post-war courses at the University and received excellent counseling from Maude Melick.

Antioch, Tennessee

The story about O.J. Ferguson brought back some vivid memories, not only of the Dean but also of his secretary, the formidable Miss Melick!

I attended the University of Nebraska from 1936 to 1941, graduating with a bachelor’s in EE (it took five years because I worked the equivalent of a full-time job while taking a nearly full course schedule). I had previously been a student in the Business Administration college for one semester in 1931-32. Along with many others, I had to drop out because I ran out of money and there were no jobs to be had. However, I never gave up hope for a college education. Finally in 1936, I registered in the engineering college, certain I wanted to be an electrical engineer specializing in electronics (a brand new, gee-whiz field at the time).

About a month after classes had started, I was notified by one of my teachers that Dean Ferguson wished to see me. This was like a summons to appear before God! I was certain that I must have violated some law of this magical place and would be summarily banished to outer darkness, never to attend the “U” again. (My fears were not eased by having to sit facing Miss Melick for 15 minutes while waiting for the dean.)

When ushered into Dean Ferguson’s office, the dean was quite cordial and his remarks were more or less as follows: “Many students spend a semester or two at the Engineering College, find it not to their taste and transfer to Business Administration. I just wanted to meet someone going in the other direction.”

I ran into the dean many times during the next five years. He always knew who I was and invariably wanted to know about my progress. Even Miss Melick occasionally smiled when we met.

In later years I learned that Dean Ferguson, while at GE, had done a theoretical analysis of the synchromous converter (an awesome machine that when supplied from an AC source, would produce DC and vice versa). It was used to power DC motors in factories, etc., while being supplied from AC transmission lines. It fell into disuse when the large power rectifier became available. This was accomplished in the days of pencil and paper without computers of any sort. Think about it!

St. Paul, Minnesota

I enjoyed the article about O.J. Ferguson in the Fall 2002 issue of Contacts. He was dean of the Engineering College while I attended college (1927-1931). There were a few times that I spoke to him directly. Each contact was short, but he took time to understand my problem and give me a very good answer.

Understandably the names in the magazine are all strange to me. Sometimes I wonder if the person is a child or grandchild of a classmate of mine.

I retired in 1975 and am in good health.

Citrus Heights, California

The article [on Ferguson] is so true. I remember remarks made by O.J. Ferguson at the engineers’ banquet the year the lawyers burned the engineers’ zeppelin.

You had a quote from Donald Othmer that read: “The reward of the educator lies in his pride in his students’ accomplishments. The richness of that reward is the satisfaction in knowing that the frontiers of knowledge have been extended.”

This fact should be better understood by all educators.

Queensbury, New York

Wernher von Braun

On reading Mr. Provost’s letter on Wernher Von Braun, I must say that I was not surprised at the sang-froid of Von Braun at the disappearance of the pile into the ground. After all, he was used to making quick decisions. When his slave labor in Germany disappeared, due to inhumane treatment and starvation, he simply ordered up a new batch from the streets of occupied countries and the concentration camps. He didn’t bat an eye!

Lincoln, Nebraska

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