I first met Russ Ferguson when I attended a family bar-b-q in 1965. I was dating his son David and it was the first time I was to meet my future in-laws. The family was warm and welcoming and I loved them at first sight. When introduced, I was asked to call him Russ and his wife Betty. Even though they were more like mother and father to me, rather than in-laws, I always called them by their first names.
Russel Carrol Ferguson was born December 16, 1912 at the family home in Webster Groves, Missouri. The fifth child of six born to Thomas and Lola Ferguson, he lived in Webster Groves at the beginning of his life and the end of his life until his death in 1990. He had two older sisters, Mildred and Dorothy, an older brother Clyde and a younger sister Mary.
In 1914, as the city of St. Louis was celebrating its 150th anniversary, people were moving to the suburb of Webster Groves. Webster Groves, about eleven miles from downtown St. Louis, was dubbed “Queen of the Suburbs” by developers and was a fast growing community. By that time the family had lived in the community for several years. I’ve seen pictures of Webster Groves at the beginning of the 1900s and many of the roads were still unpaved. In fact, Grandma (Lola) Ferguson stated this in a history she wrote about Webster Groves. It was a great place to raise a family; the houses were large and away from the smog filled skies that plagued St. Louis at the time.
Russ went to Avery Elementary School, which was one of the first schools in the area to have a kindergarten. Russ was left-handed, and the teachers forced him to write with his left hand. His father tried to get the teachers to let him write with his left hand, but they refused to listen. This gave Russ a bad taste for school and he eventually dropped out of school in the 11th grade. He worked as a soda jerk for a local pharmacy which allowed him access to “premium” liquor during prohibition. Apparently doctors could write prescriptions for “medicinal” alcohol. I’m sure Russ was the hit of many parties as he pulled out his “Bottled in Bond” whiskey while everyone else had home-brewed alcohol.
Russ and Betty met each other on a blind date to Cahokia Mounds, Illinois, an Indian burial grounds across the river from St. Louis. Russ knew Bob Wood; Betty worked with Esther Church. Bob and Esther knew each other and set them up on the date. They liked to party and many times went dancing and gambling at a place called the Whitmore in St. Louis County.
Russ married Mary Elizabeth Parry on September 4, 1936. They married in the parlor of the home of a minister in Union, Franklin County, Missouri. They were able to keep their marriage a secret for several years. During those times it was likely that a woman would lose her job if she married. Betty’s mother was ill with cancer and Betty, her sister Jane, and brother Howard, lived at home and helped financially provide for their mother. Unfortunately Betty’s mother died of colon cancer in 1937. By 1940 Russ and Betty were living at 231 Oakland Avenue, a four-family flat, in Maplewood, Missouri.