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Ferguson, Donald

Donald V. Ferguson

Army

Middle Island

 


 

 

Donald Van Dyck Ferguson was born October 25, 1893, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of William Cashman and Elizabeth Van Dyck Ferguson. He attended Princeton for a year and then transferred to the Cornell School of Agriculture where he studied fruit growing for three years. In April 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I, he enlisted as a Private in the U. S. Army. He was assigned to the Fifth Infantry and was sent to the Panama Canal Zone for Lock Guard duty. In January 1918, he was accepted for Officers’ Training School at Camp Gilliard in the Canal Zone. In April 1918, he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant with the 29th Infantry. Four months later, in August 1918, he was promoted to1st Lieutenant. He served as an Intelligence officer and was appointed Judge Advocate of special courts martial. He also served as Engineer, Personnel Adjutant, and Athletic Officer. He was recommended for promotion to Captain, but when the war ended in November 1918, promotions were frozen. He was discharged in April 1919.

In 1922 he married Eleanor Fullerton, daughter of well-known Long Islanders Hal B. and Edith Loring Fullerton. In 1923 they moved to Middle Island where they operated a fruit farm, Rainbow Ranch. They grew apples, peaches, pears, and raspberries, and sold all their produce at the Rainbow Ranch roadside stand, just down the hill from the Richard Bayles house on Middle Country Road. Old-timers in the area will remember the huge red apple sign that hung in front of the stand. It was a well-known local landmark, and the farm was often known as “The Red Apple.” There was also a sign with the motto, “Not a Worm in a Wagonload.” The quality of the Fergusons’ fruit was so outstanding that they had regular customers from all over Long Island and even from Manhattan. They had a mailing list to notify customers when a particular variety was ready.  Middle Island was visited by Russian royalty when Princess Alexandra Kropotkin came to Rainbow Ranch every year for her favorite variety of peaches. Her large black limousine had a crown painted on the door and was driven by a liveried chauffeur.

Ferguson served the community as Chairman of the East Middle Island Board of Education for many years, and was instrumental in the hiring and retention of Ruth Larsen Jones, an exceptional teacher who educated an entire generation of Middle Islanders. He also served as a Special Deputy Sheriff of Suffolk County.

When World War II started, Ferguson was 48 years old and was too old for service. However, he considered it his duty to re-enter the Army in order to release a younger man for combat duty. After some effort, he succeeded in being accepted back into the Army in 1942 and was assigned to the Military Police. He started at his World War I rank of 1st Lieutenant but soon received a promotion to Captain. He was a Plant Guard Officer, in charge of training and inspecting guards at defense plants in the New York and Long Island area. He taught marksmanship and judo, and laid out procedures and protocols for the plant guards.

 In 1943, he was transferred to a military prison, the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Greenhaven, New York. The Army needed an officer with some knowledge of agriculture to establish a farm at the prison, both to provide work for trusties and to produce food for the prisoners. As Ferguson had a farming background, he was made Greenhaven Farm Officer. He was well respected by the inmates, but always carried a roll of pennies in his hand and a blackjack in his pocket when he was on the cell blocks. During his service at Greenhaven, he suffered a serious back injury in a vehicle rollover while pursuing an escaped prisoner. In December 1946, he received a medical retirement with the rank of Major.

Rainbow Ranch was put up for sale after Ferguson entered the Army, and was purchased by Leo Lentin, a clothing merchant from Patchogue. Lentin built two highly successful women’s clothing stores across the road from the farmhouse, using the name of Rainbow Ranch for one of them. The orchard, sadly, was eventually swallowed up by a gravel pit.

After his discharge from the Army, Ferguson taught fruit growing at Farmingdale, at what was then called the Long Island Agricultural and Technical Institute. After his retirement from teaching, he and Eleanor moved to St. James where he grew raspberries and kept bees. He died at St. James in 1971. Their three children, Edith, Anne, and William Ferguson, all grew up on the farm in Middle Island. William enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where he served with distinction in the Korean and Viet Nam wars, was highly decorated, and retired after 30 years of service with the rank of Colonel.

Written by,
Mrs. Anne Nauman
August, 2006

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