Jim Ferguson Sr. (1885–1978)
aka: James Garland Ferguson Sr.
The Marshall (Searcy County) library owes its existence to James Garland Ferguson Sr., a man with roots in the Ozark Plateau. This son of homesteaders who valued education above all else, having worked hard to secure an excellent education and great wealth for himself, had previously made generous contributions to several local schools and churches, Arkansas Baptist Hospital and St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock (Pulaski County), and several colleges, including scholarships to the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville (Washington County) and Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County). But to the people of his home county, he gave a library and, with it, an educational opportunity in a rural environment.
Jim Ferguson was born on February 26, 1885, in Silver Hill (Searcy County). He was the eighth and youngest child of James Wiley and Mary Elizabeth Jones Ferguson, who as newlyweds had migrated to Arkansas in 1866. They reached Tyler Bend in Searcy County on the Buffalo River in early 1868, and there they homesteaded eighty acres.
Ferguson was educated in rural schools, at Western Grove Academy in Newton County and at Marshall Academy. As a young civil servant, he taught in a one-room schoolhouse. By saving from his small salary, working odd jobs, and tutoring, he was able to afford Valparaiso University in Indiana for four years, graduating in 1910. He returned to Arkansas, where he was director of Western Grove Academy, superintendent of Marshall High School, and assistant state superintendent of public education. He also received a law degree from the University of Arkansas Law School at Little Rock.
Ferguson married Hattie Maude Mays on June 12, 1914. They had two sons, Jim G. Jr. and Bill, and two daughters, Winfred Lee and Sarah Elizabeth.
He served three terms as state commissioner of mines, manufacturers, and agriculture (1919–1924). In 1924, he made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. He went into insurance in 1927 and rose from agent to executive vice president with Continental Life Insurance Company in St. Louis, Missouri. During the Depression, he joined Washington National Insurance Company in Evanston, Illinois. This financially rewarding association lasted the rest of his life.
In 1959, upon learning that the Searcy County schools were not accredited because of their lack of a proper reference library, Ferguson offered to donate two dollars for every dollar raised by the citizens for a new library. Although the citizens’ contributions fell short, he, family members, and business associates paid to complete the project. The early-American-style building was dedicated on April 23, 1961, and later named the Jim G. Ferguson Searcy County Library.
Ferguson died on August 18, 1978, in Evanston. He is buried at East Lawn Cemetery in Marshall. On February 18, 2005, a groundbreaking was held for the construction of an addition to the 1961 building, using funds from the Ferguson Family Trust and the Mays Foundation.
For additional information:
“Dedication of County Library is Big Event for County.” Marshall Mountain Wave. April 27, 1961, p. 1A.
The Ferguson Family History. 1959. Searcy County Library, Marshall, Arkansas.
“Jim G. Ferguson Sr. Last Rites Monday.” Marshall Mountain Wave. August 24, 1978, p. 1A.
“Library Board Plans Drive For Building Funds.” Marshall Mountain Wave. September 17, 1959, p. 1A.
Tudor, James R. “$30,000.00 Library Building Assured If Citizens Will Contribute $10,000.00.” Marshall Mountain Wave. September 10, 1959, p. 1A.
Geraldine Whyte and Jim G. Ferguson
Searcy County Library
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