Larry and Emma Ferguson Scholarship encourages students to pay it forward
Larry and Emma Thaxton Ferguson’s love story began at Tennessee Tech, and for the next 60 years, the two remained grateful to the university that played a significant role in their lives. While the Fergusons had ties to other universities, Tech always held a special place in their hearts.
Larry and Emma both came from modest backgrounds and were the first in their families to attend college. They wanted to help future generations of students achieve their educational dreams and chose to include Tech in their estate plans. The couple designated their nephew, Mikell Thaxton, as the trustee and executor of their estate.
After almost six decades of marriage, Emma passed away in 2019 and Larry in 2020. While Executive Director of Planned Giving Tiff Rector knew the Fergusons had included Tech in their will, he did not know to what extent.
“Mr. Ferguson notified us in 2006 that Tech was included in his estate, but he didn’t share anything about the amount,” Rector explained. “He wanted no accolades or follow-up. When I shared this with Mr. Thaxton, he indicated that this sounded like his uncle.”
The Larry and Emma Ferguson Scholarship will be awarded to students with financial need. Thaxton has worked closely with Tech to ensure his aunt and uncle’s wishes are honored, that a scholarship in their names is established and that students know their incredible story.
The Fergusons’ story began at Tech’s Memorial Gym swimming pool. That’s where Larry and Emma met and began their lives together.
“It was a little scandalous,” Thaxton joked. “Larry, five years Emma’s senior, was her swim instructor! Apparently, it was love at first sight.”
After graduating from Tech in 1962 with a degree in industrial technology, Larry obtained a job out of state with the Southern Railroad Company. He soon realized, however, that he could not be apart from Emma, so he returned to Tennessee and the couple got married. The Fergusons then moved to North Carolina where Larry accepted a position as a safety engineer with DuPont. This was the beginning of a 30-year career with the company. Emma finished her education at East Carolina University and graduated with a degree in elementary education. She later earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern Mississippi as well.
For the next three decades, the couple lived in 12 different cities, from Delaware to Texas, due to Larry’s position with DuPont. Emma worked as a teacher in multiple different schools. She was also a self-taught investor in the stock market and handled the couple’s finances. The couple bought and sold a house in nearly every city they lived in, every two to three years, and they often remodeled the house and added landscaping and gardening. Emma became savvy in real estate.
“You might say she was ‘flipping houses’ long before it became popular on television,” said Thaxton.
Thaxton says his aunt and uncle followed Tech’s success throughout the years and were proud of the university’s reputation, especially the fact that it is consistently named one of the best public universities in the south.
“Larry said it was nice that the rest of the world finally figured out what he has known for the past 50 years,” said Thaxton. “Tennessee Tech is one of the best universities in the country – period!”
Thaxton says that considering an estate gift of this magnitude, it might surprise people that Larry and Emma came from humble beginnings.
“While they made a very comfortable living, by no means did they accumulate great wealth,” Thaxton said. “What they did do is decide early on that they wanted to make a real impact, in a meaningful way, on young people’s lives by providing a college education, and they were intentional about doing it. They were just regular people who knew they were blessed and set out to pay it forward.”
Thaxton wants the Tech community to know that his uncle was a character and the coolest 82-year-old man he knew. Larry loved classic cars, especially his 1972 Corvette Stingray, and often said, “A car is not worth having unless it is red in color.” He enjoyed playing golf at his neighborhood country club, but when he was banned from wearing blue jeans, he traded his golf clubs for a Harley.
Thaxton also recalls driving Larry to Tennessee for Emma’s funeral. Thaxton asked Larry if he would like to listen to some country music on the way, and Larry agreed. After a few songs, he turned to his nephew and said, “You got any Kid Rock?”
But Larry also had a heart of gold. In 2005, Emma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Larry cared for her in their home with no outside help for 13 years, until 2018 when the couple moved into a senior living facility. The disease affected Emma both mentally and physically, but Larry believed “in sickness and in health” means for a lifetime, not just in the good times.
The Larry and Emma Ferguson Scholarship is a testament to a love story that began at Tech, an appreciation for the education Tech provided and a desire to pay it forward so that others might have similar opportunities.
Thaxton says his aunt and uncle would be proud of the students who receive a Larry and Emma Ferguson Scholarship, and their only request would be that the recipients find a way, someday and in some way, to pay it forward.