Woodbridge Nathan Ferris
Woodbridge Nathan Ferris was born Jan. 6, 1853 in a log cabin near Spencer, Tioga County, N.Y., the son of John Ferris, Jr. and Stella Reed Ferris.
As a child, Woodbridge attended a rural public school, which he claimed, was the horror of his life. He did learn to read fairly well there, however, and by the age of 10 was reading the Civil War news to his father. His father was slightly deaf and Ferris had to learn to speak clearly in order for his father to hear, because his father objected to the practice of merely reading loudly. The practice of clear enunciation, learned at an early age, was a great help to Ferris in his later life as a speechmaker.
When he was 14 years old, Ferris entered the academy at Spencer, where he spent 9 months.
At the age of 16, Ferris attended his first teaching institute at Waverly, N.Y., and shortly afterwards began his first teaching job.
Later, in early spring of 1871, Ferris entered the Oswego Normal and Training School at Oswego, N.Y. At Oswego (now the State University of New York at Oswego) Ferris came under the tutelage of Hermann Krusi, instructor of drawing and geometry. Krusi was the son of the chief assistant to Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi at Pestalozzi's school in Switzerland.
Oswego Normal, during its formative years, was pushing the Pestalozzian theory of learning by doing rather than through theory, and W.N. Ferris was considerably influenced by it. At Oswego, Ferris met Helen Gillespie, who later became his wife.
In early 1874 Ferris became the principal of Spencer Free Academy. He married Helen (Nellie) Gillespie who also served as a teacher at Spencer. At the end of the second year at Spencer the Ferris family decided not to continue in public school work but rather to follow his dream of founding a private school.
That dream led Mr. Ferris through several ventures involving private education. In 1879, Mr. Ferris once again entered public education as superintendent of schools in Pittsfield, Ill. He held this position for five years, leaving it vowing never again to be involved in public education. In May of 1884, he moved his family to Big Rapids, Mich., with the intention of opening a private school. The Big Rapids Industrial School, forerunner of Ferris State University, opened on Sept. 1, 1884.
In addition to his role as an educator, Mr. Ferris ran for and was successfully elected to the office of governor of the state of Michigan in 1912. His overwhelming popularity also got him elected to the office of U.S. senator in 1922.
Woodbridge Nathan Ferris passed away on March 23, 1928, 11 years to the day of Helen Gillespie Ferris' death. A thousand Ferris students and townspeople gathered at the train station standing in the drizzling rain in silent tribute as the funeral train pulled in. All businesses and schools, including the Institute, were closed the day of the funeral. Many state elected officials attended the funeral, including Gov. Fred W. Green. Six military companies and the 126th infantry band marched in the funeral cortege to Highland View Cemetery in Big Rapids, where Mr. and Mrs. Ferris are both interred.
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