WALLA WALLA, Wash.-- Whitman College expects to break ground on its new fitness center in May, on the corner of Park and Main streets, and the college’s board of trustees recently announced that it will bear the name Baker Ferguson Fitness Center.
Ferguson, a lifelong avid skier and tennis player, is a Walla Walla native who attended Sharpstein Elementary School and graduated from Walla Walla High School. With Ferguson running the 120-yard high hurdles, the Whitman track & field team won three consecutive Northwest Conference championships from 1937 through 1939. He won the NWC title in the high hurdles as a senior, when he was also serving as president of the Whitman Ski Club.
After graduating from Whitman in 1939, Ferguson went on to earn a master’s in business administration from the Harvard Business School. During World War II he served in the Air Force in Europe as a navigator on a B-17 that was shot down. He was a prisoner of war for two years.
After the war, Ferguson taught at Whitman on the economics and business faculty, and later became a banker, eventually serving as president of the Baker Boyer Bank in Walla Walla, and then with his wife, the late Jean Ferguson, started a new career as winemaker of the renowned L’ecole label. (See Baker Ferguson bio, below.)
Ferguson, a longtime member of Whitman’s board of overseers and board of trustees, served as chair of the trustees from 1972 to 1982. “Few people have contributed more to both the success and the spirit of Whitman College than Baker Ferguson,” said Whitman President Tom Cronin. Ferguson, who learned of the trustees’ decision at his 86th birthday party at his Walla Walla home, declared it “a very serious honor.”
The $10 million, 38,000-square foot Baker Ferguson Fitness Center will significantly expand space for fitness, workout and cardiovascular programs and will house an 80 percent larger, and much more attractive swimming pool than the one currently available to the campus. The new pool will be named for Paul and Louise Harvey. Paul Harvey was director of food service at Whitman from 1953 to 1977. After taking care of Whitman students during his working years, Harvey went a step further in retirement. He and his wife, Louise, and son, Earle, left the college a generous bequest of $1.9 million, which will fund the pool in the new center. The 30-meter pool will have eight competitive lanes and three practice lanes. It will serve varsity swim teams, club water polo, kayaking practice, recreational swimming, and community groups such as the Walla Walla High School swim team.
More than 10,000 square feet of the fitness center will house equipment and machines for fitness training for all students, faculty and staff as well as for Whitman’s nearly 35 varsity and club athletics.
The center will be constructed on the corner of Park and Main streets, north of Cordiner Hall. The center will not replace Sherwood Center, but “will be a much-needed addition,” said Tom Cronin, Whitman president. Fundraising for the project has gone well, he said, and the college is very appreciative of the support from alumni, parents and friends of Whitman College.
CONTACT: Lenel Parish, Whitman College News Service, (509) 527-5156
Baker Ferguson Bio
Baker Ferguson was born November 4, 1918, in Walla Walla, Washington, the son of (William) Craig Ferguson and Mildred Baker Ferguson. He was educated in Walla Walla schools, attended Walla Walla High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Whitman College in 1939 and an MBA from Harvard University in 1941.
During World War II, he served with the Air Force in England. He was a navigator on a B-17 that was shot down over Germany and was a prisoner of war for twenty-two months. After the war he taught at Whitman, where he was an assistant professor of economics and business administration, 1946 through 1948.
He married Jean Thornton, a graduate of Washington State University, in 1949. In 1950 Ferguson joined the First National Bank of Oregon and in 1957 he became a member of the Whitman College Board of Overseers. Ferguson was vice president of the First National Bank of Oregon when, in 1965, he returned to Walla Walla to take on the presidency of Baker Boyer Bank, where he had been a director since 1956. In assuming the presidency, he succeeded his uncle, Dorsey S. Baker. Ferguson’s great-grandfather, Dorsey Syng Baker, was the founder of Baker Boyer, Washington’s oldest bank.
Ferguson was elected to the Whitman College Board of Trustees in 1966, and served as chair of the board from 1972 (succeeding Donald Sherwood) to 1983. During this time he also served on the steering committee for the record-breaking Campaign for Whitman, which raised $52 million for the college from 1980 and 1987. Ferguson was named a trustee emeritus upon his retirement from the board in 1989.
Ferguson’s extensive civic and business affiliations include the Executive Committee of Community Banks of Washington; Walla Walla Downtown Development Association; Walla Walla Grain Growers; PNW Ski Association (president and executive secretary); Alaska Committee of Portland Chamber of Commerce (chairman); Portland Freight Traffic Association (director); Inland Empire Waterways Association (director); Oregon Welcome, Inc. (director); Washington Citizens Council on Crime and Delinquency (associate member); Tax Advisory Subcommittee on Sales, Excise and Income Taxes (member); Citizens Committee on Washington Courts (member); Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce (director and treasuer); Washington State Highway Commission (member and chairman); Walla Walla Rotary Club; the Walla Walla Country Club; and the Rainier Club of Seattle.
After retiring from active banking, Ferguson made a career change to wine maker. He and his wife, the late Jean Ferguson, renovated the Lowden Schoolhouse Number 41, took up winemaking and became renowned members of Washington's wine industry, producing the award-winning L'Ecole 41 wines in Lowden.
Ferguson's other honors and awards include a 1963 Award of Merit Certificate from the Consulting Engineers Council of Washington in recognition of his outstanding service to the state's highway program and a 2000 Whitman College Alumni Association Gordon Scribner Award for Distinguished Service.