Retired professor remembers Wayne State students in her will

Wayne State University has received a $5 million bequest from the estate of Tamara van den Bergh Ferguson, who served as adjunct associate professor of sociology at Wayne State's School of Medicine for three decades. A mentor to many students in and around Detroit, she saw the impact of escalating costs in higher education and specified that her gift be used to ease their financial burden. Though Ferguson was part of the School of Medicine, the scholarship created by her gift is available to undergraduate students across the university.

Jack Ferguson and Tamara van den Bergh Ferguson

The bequest will fund the John D. Ferguson and Tamara van den Bergh Ferguson Endowed Scholarship and will provide support to students for whom the cost of attendance is a barrier. The van den Bergh Ferguson Scholars will receive a renewable scholarship that may include tuition, fees, and room and board.

Ferguson's route to Wayne State was unique. Born Tamara van den Bergh in The Hague, Netherlands, in 1914, she was raised primarily in Paris and educated there and in Switzerland. Her higher education included two years at Oxford University, accompanied by programs at the Sorbonne and École Libre des Sciences Politiques in Paris.

She fled France with her family in June 1940, escaping the Nazi occupation with Portuguese visas obtained from a caring supporter. The family settled in England, and Ferguson served the Allies' cause in various capacities, including joining the Free French Forces and, after the war, serving as deputy director of a United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration mission where she worked with survivors of the concentration camps.

Ferguson emigrated to the United States in 1955 and earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University. She met and married Jack Ferguson, a fellow Ph.D. student, and the couple pursued careers in academia in New York and Boston before moving to Detroit. She began at the School of Medicine in 1978, with research focused on the challenges of widowhood, equal rights, and how past life events influence behavior. She authored many papers and articles with her husband, who was a professor of sociology at the University of Windsor.

In 1998, Ferguson received a certificate of recognition from the School of Medicine, and in 2004 she was nominated to the Michigan Governor's Honor Roll for "exemplary efforts to improve the lives of others." She continued to work into her 90s and lived a quiet life following the death of her husband in 2016, but her legacy at Wayne State continues with her generous commitment to students, as expressed in her will.

"We are fortunate to have had Dr. Ferguson as part of the Wayne State community," said Yolande Herbert, senior planned giving officer at Wayne State. "This generous gift ensures the Fergusons' legacy will support students far into the future."

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