Cover photo for Julia M. (Locke) Ferguson's Obituary
Julia M. (Locke) Ferguson Profile Photo
1940 Julia 2023

Julia M. (Locke) Ferguson

June 23, 1940 — March 23, 2023

June 23, 1940-March 23, 2023 – Julia M. (Locke) Ferguson was born in Mineral Wells, Texas, and she grew up in Odessa, Texas. Julia was the drum major for the band and played the bassoon in the orchestra, and she graduated from Odessa High School. She was a long-time resident of Sallisaw, OK. She went to be with her Lord and Savior on March 23, 2023. She lived an abundant life full of amazing opportunities and experiences, plentiful friends, and loving family. Her extraordinary life is characterized by her devotion to God, love of family and friends, and joy in public service.  Julie’s daughters, Nita and Teri, have written the following letter of honor and remembrance to all who knew and loved her.

As Leonardo Di Vinci once said, “It is the responsibility of us all to leave the society in which we live with more than we took from it.” Mom’s service to eastern Oklahoma, residents of Sallisaw, her church, and her family shows she did just that.

It is hard to summarize 60 years of public service in a few paragraphs for the newspaper, as Mom served in so many capacities in her career. Most notably, she held various positions of increasing responsibility with Eastern Oklahoma Development District (EODD) in Muskogee, OK. For 22 years, she created teams of people who could work in cooperation with and under the guidance of the EODD Board of Directors to address the needs of member entities in the seven-county district. Through state and federal funding and local talents and resources, she stimulated economic growth and development in eastern Oklahoma.

After EODD, Mom served the City of Sallisaw as a grant administrator.  She administered millions of dollars for organizational staffing, equipment, and community improvement. Later, she was deeply proud to serve the citizens of Sallisaw when they elected her as their mayor. Though her service as mayor was in the twilight of her work life, she embraced the opportunity to continue to serve and help others.

Mom was truly devoted to her family and knew no strangers. When we were little, Mom enrolled us both in church fashion shows, often sewing matching outfits for the three of us. When we lived in Kentucky, Mom worked as an advisor to international students and faculty at Western University in Bowling Green. She and Dr. Margaret Curtis, a British national and fellow lover of life, “did so much to care for international students as there was no international office at the time. Julie was always generous to the extreme with her time and talents.  Margaret remembers trying to teach a crowd of us to sing ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.’ And building a float each year for the big procession! She was full of creative ideas and ways and means to get things done! Not to mention the fireplace full of candles and her wonderful cooking projects.”

Every Tuesday evening, the international students and faculty, often a group of 25 or more, came to our house for a fish fry and volleyball games. Daddy loved this, of course, because his fishing habit provided the main course for these events. Mom organized many other activities, including an international food festival on campus with the student group where students and faculty shared their favorite home recipes with the rest of the university community. She even produced a cookbook of their favorite fare. Perhaps one of her fondest memories of that time was when a young Persian lady named Lili came into our lives. Her brother attended Western while she lived with us for two years. Lili recalls arriving in Bowling Green in April 1971. “If it were not for her, I would not have been able to survive my first year in the U.S.A. She was courageous, adventurous, open-minded, and above all caring and kind. May God bless her soul and your dad’s as well for being such wonderful human beings.”

At home over the years, we celebrated holidays, birthdays, special occasions, and no occasion at all, in Mom’s signature style of good (and plentiful) food, pretty décor, and class. She often said she did not know how to “not cook for an army,” and she was right! Daddy once convinced her to go out to dinner for Thanksgiving. When I (Nita) asked later that night what we were having for dinner, that was the end of eating out for holidays. Subsequent holidays were replete with a table full of food, and later leftovers, surrounded by family and friends. Anyone Mom knew without holiday plans was always welcome at our house. She cooked, for an army, and decorated the house inside and out like it was a Macy’s store window display. This is not to say that the décor came down immediately after the holidays. Christmas trees were frequently seen in our house going into spring. While we did not understand this practice as kids, we now appreciate the tremendous amount of work and love involved in making such magic possible.

As we grew up, life became increasingly hectic for her. I (Teri) cannot remember a time when Mom missed a school play, performance, or home game half-time show. When we moved to Sallisaw in 1973, she and Betty Aydelotte became fast and lifelong friends. Betty A., as Mom called her, wanted to produce a musical with all third graders from the elementary school. Mom organized a group of other mothers, including Carol Armstrong, as an army of seamstresses to make costumes, so every child could play a part and had a costume to wear. I was a purple tulip complete with purple robe and upside-down tulip hat. She loved being an involved mom for school projects, so when I (Nita) asked her if she minded if we stored a truck of goo-goo bars in our living room for a school fundraiser, she said, “Sure!” in her customary way.  What she did not know was that the truck had 18 wheels. That did not matter to Mom. She adopted her usual “Blessed are the flexible” attitude towards the unexpected, and life went on.

Music played an integral part of our lives for as long as I (Teri) can remember. Mom and I played the piano together, and we also played music together (organ and piano) on Sundays at First Baptist Church in Sallisaw where she was proud to be the “substitute” organist for more than 30 years. She started playing the organ at a small Texas church when she was 16, and she recounted fondly the many services her Daddy would lead in song while she played. She also attended countless piano recitals and musical events and was often the default audience to years of my mistake-riddled practices at home.

Perhaps the most important part of Mom’s life was her faith. We know without question Mom is in heaven doing whatever needs to be done. She often recalled with fondness the numerous “pickin’ and grinnins” at church socials when she was young. There was music, food, and time to slow down and share what she believed were the most important parts of life: having faith in God, following the plan for Christian lives found in the Bible, and loving others as He loved us. Because of Mom’s faith, Nita and I grew up in the church and came to know Christ as our savior. I cannot think of a better gift to give her kids than the opportunity to know a loving God and have eternal life with our Creator.

Mom’s daddy used to tell her she was “big enough to go bear huntin’ with a switch.” She took him at his word. She jumped out of hay lofts, drove a big truck (in a skirt and high heels), rode a bull (and won a contest!), raced cars, raced boats, and circled Sonic in a F-14, and later F-16, fighter jet. She drove almost 130,000 miles across three countries in RV travels with Daddy, visiting every state except Maine in the contiguous 48 states and all the lower provinces of Canada except Nova Scotia. She protected her family from a malicious automotive union, defended her daughters’ rights to wear their hair and hemlines how they pleased, supported organizations that provided services for at-risk youth, and put services in place to protect victims of domestic violence. She brokered agreements with local tribes, particularly the Cherokee Nation, and the State of Oklahoma for economic growth and development for eastern OK counties, and organized services for underserved populations. She mentored students, young people, musicians, and women of all ages, and she was never too busy for anyone, from governors to elementary school children. She was truly larger than life, and her distinct laugh was as bold as her personality and 1980s Texas hair.

To Debbie Washington, our adopted “sister” and dear friend, your love and support helped us keep Mom in our family home for as long as possible. We are forever grateful for you and your devotion to our family. Sometimes family members are chosen instead of born, and the Ferguson family certainly chose you.

We are deeply indebted to the nursing staff at Grace Skilled Nursing and Therapy in Norman, Oklahoma. Specifically, we want to thank Isaac and Gretchen for their tender loving care during Mom’s last weeks and days. I (Teri) was often deeply moved to see you whispering in Mom’s ear, stroking her hair, or squeezing her foot before leaving her room. We will always remember you with special fondness and appreciation. Crystal and Carol provided peace in her last hours and offered us comfort and reassurance.  Finally, we want to publicly thank Gwen, Avian, and Leslie, nurses from Good Shepherd Hospice, for their genuine support and expert treatment of Mom in her final weeks and hours. We know caring for the dying is your job, but we believe you have all found your calling. Each of you made the tragic a bit more bearable.

In recounting the highlights of her life, I (Teri) have no doubt neglected to mention important people in her life and ways she left her mark on this earth. It has often been said we who live stand on the shoulders of the giants who have come before us; I know without question Mom’s shoulders are broad and strong. Her service will be in Mineral Wells, Texas, and she will be laid to rest alongside Daddy and her family in Gordon, Texas, on March 29, 2023. A celebration of life event will take place in Sallisaw, OK, on April 29, 2023 (details to be published later), and Nita and I want to extend our invitation to attend to all who knew and loved her. It will be our honor to hear your stories and see you again.

Per her wishes, in lieu of flowers, please make donations in her honor to the Sallisaw Boys and Girls Club, the Sallisaw Animal Shelter, or the Sallisaw Police Department Crime Victims Unit. Julia M. Ferguson is preceded in death by her beloved husband Wayne Ferguson, her parents, one sister, one brother, and one four-legged “son,” Sparky. She is survived by her two daughters, two grandsons, two brothers, and one four-legged “son,” Snoopy.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Julia M. (Locke) Ferguson, please visit our flower store.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

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