Friday, February 6, 2015

WASP Eileen Wright Ferguson, 44-W-7 | December 10, 2014

"My mother had an amazing memory for facts and details.  She could converse about Latin, opera, or horticulture, then turn around and name her students from all her years and their parents, sisters and brothers, then tell you about her travels naming sights, histories, the food, the people, and a plethora of detail on a vast range of subjects."             
             /s/ Scott Ferguson

Eileen Elizabeth Wright, daughter of Joicie Fay Wilson (Wright) and William Henderson Wright,  was born in Baltimore, Maryland on September 11, 1920. 

As a young girl growing up in Baltimore, Eileen was bright and active.  Her mother fashioned her daughter’s  handmade dresses with matching bloomers underneath, because the young girl loved doing handstands.  

During 4th and 5th grades, Eileen was moved ahead of her class, skipping several semesters of school.

After graduating from high school, she worked for an insurance company and attended secretarial school, eventually taking a job with Baltimore Gas and Electric.  

When America was thrust into World War II, Eileen wanted to do more for her country, but her job was considered essential.  When her childhood friend, Lila Moore, told her about the WASP training program, the two young women began taking flying lessons on weekends until they had the required number of hours to apply for the WASP. 

After applying and passing the entrance exam, the physical exam, and the required personal interview, Eileen and Lila were both accepted into the WASP training program as members of WASP Class 44-W-7.

In February of 1944, one of the coldest winters in West Texas history, the two friends, together with 101 other hopeful young women pilots, arrived in Sweetwater, Texas.  Over the next seven months, Eileen completed WASP training and graduated on September 8, 1944.

Eileen's Army orders sent her to Columbus Army Air Field in Columbus, Missouri, where she reported for duty with the 30th Flying Training Wing, which was a   part of the Army Air Forces Eastern Flying Training Command.  There she flew AT-10's (flight testing, ferrying, and as an administrative pilot).  

Eventually, Eileen was sent to Avenger Field for advanced training.  She remained there until the WASP were disbanded on Dec. 20, 1944.

Although her Christmas that year was sad, Eileen remained hopeful, applying to 30 different airlines for a flying job.  Unfortunately, the only job she was offered was as a basic flight simulator instructor.

In 1948, on a cross-country trip to California, Eileen decided to enroll at Pasadena City College.  She soon earned her Associate's Degree.  After graduation, she enrolled at UCLA, where she earned her B.A. Degree in Education, with a minor in Latin.  In 1950, she began teaching school at Repetto Elementary School and continued her education at Cal State.  Eventually, she earned a Master's Degree in Education.

As a teacher, Eileen was free each summer to travel, which is one of the reasons she chose teaching as a career.  On one of her trips, she met and fell in love with artist Ben Ferguson, a decorated, medically retired WWII Army Captain, at a local art show.   After dating for several months, they were married at the American Cathedral in Paris in 1956.  

Eileen eventually returned to the US to begin teaching again.  Her husband,  Ben,  joined her in California for a short time.  Scott Todd Ferguson, her only son, was born in August, 1959,  Soon after, the couple divorced.

For three decades, Eileen Wright Ferguson served as a teacher:  16 years of first graders, one year of teaching combined 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades,  and thirteen years teaching 2nd graders.  At one point, she was chosen the “Southern California Representative for the National Education Association”.   
As her son, Scott, said:

"She had an amazing memory for facts and details.  She could converse about Latin, opera, or horticulture;  then turn around and name her students from all her years in teaching and their parents, sisters and brothers;  then tell you about her travels-- naming sights, histories, the food, the people, and a plethora of detail on a vast range of subjects!  She also had a sharp wit with a ready wry comment.  She was interested in Art, Science, and Current Events;  was a voracious reader;  she played bridge; and was a  letter writer with hundreds of friends and pen pals.”

After retiring, Eileen traveled extensively, visiting art museums, gardens, and galleries, and attending plays and operas.   She was invested in sharing the culture of her community, serving as a docent at a Pasadena museum until her health kept her from climbing stairs.    Eileen was also a life long member of the Methodist Church.

Eileen Elizabeth Wright Ferguson passed away December 10, 2014 with her son, Scott, by her side.  Her ashes will be partially scattered over her parent's graves at Woodlawn Cemetery in Baltimore, MD and inurned in a niche at Arlington National Cemetery, date tbd.

Eileen's legacy of service, not only to her country, but to her community and to the lives of countless young students she inspired with her colorful stories of remarkable things she had witnessed, will live on.

Our hearts go out to Scott and to all of those who were touched by this WASP: patriot, teacher, mother.  God bless you all.

Respectfully posted by Nancy Parrish
with Scott Ferguson