Carl and Stephany Ferguson, fixtures in Hempstead, killed in car crash
Dennis Carl Ferguson — known to friends as Carl — and his wife, Stephany Ferguson, were pillars of the Hempstead Village community that was their home for four decades, immersed in church activities and community service.
And they were loving, doting grandparents who also reached outside their own family to mentor young people.
"When he was at 1199 [SEIU, the union], he ran a fatherhood group for young men who needed support," said Carl Ferguson's daughter, Ziedah Ferguson Diata, of Brooklyn. "He loved that work."
Stephany Ferguson, her mother, was a longtime schoolteacher in New York City. "My mom was always a teacher. She brought that through all that she did," Diata said.
"They were surrogate parents to so many young people who had parents who had challenges," Diata said.
Now, with her parents' unexpected deaths, "there are so many people who are heartbroken," she said.
Carl and Stephany Ferguson died Jan. 25 in a car accident west of Delray Beach, Florida. He was 71, and she was 73. The couple, who maintained their home in Hempstead, had recently rented a place in Boca Raton, Florida, Diata said, to be near friends and other family during the winter.
They were married for 49 years, having met as students at what is now Hampton University in Virginia.
They were active parishioners at Jackson Memorial AME Zion Church in Hempstead.
"My mom, for a number of years ... directed the drama club. That was really important to her. She supports the kids in drama and poetry ... teaching them how to perform. She would actually write the scripts for Christmas plays," Diata said. She also directed the church's Vacation Bible School for many years.
"She and my dad loved to sing" and both were in church choirs, their daughter said. Her father also taught Sunday school.
Carl Ferguson, who was born in Miami and grew up in Piscataway, New Jersey, retired nine years ago as outreach manager for the National Benefit Fund of the 1199 SEIU health care union, his family said. He previously worked as an auditor for what was Chase Manhattan Bank.
"He didn’t get tired of talking and he didn’t get tired of listening. He wanted to hear the details of your story," Diata said.
Stephany Alexandra Townsend Ferguson, who was born in Detroit, retired 16 years ago from New York City public schools, where she had been a middle school math teacher.
Diata said her mother retired as soon as she became a grandmother for the first time.
"My parents set a ridiculously high bar for parenting and grandparenting," Diata said. Instead of Diata putting her infant daughter into day care — something she didn't want to do until the child was a year old — her mother retired to help take care of the baby, she said.
"My mom would meet me on the [LIRR platform] tracks. I would hand the baby over. I would get back on the same train to go to work. She did that every day," said Diata, now chief administrative law judge, director of the Office of Administrative Hearings at New York's Department of State.
"My dad was so happy for the second grandchild. This time, he was retired and had an opportunity to engage even more deeply in the very early years," she said.
Carl Ferguson also had been a volunteer since 2010 at The INN, a Hempstead nonprofit addressing hunger, homelessness and poverty. "He just felt serving was important, and serving people who had challenges," his daughter said.
Mamie Ashley of Hempstead, a friend of the couple for 35 years, recalled their friendship that developed in church, where Ashley is the Black history coordinator.
"They were actually 'people' people," Ashley said, "very loving and kind and compassionate. No fuss. They didn’t ruffle the waters. To know them is to love them."
In addition to their daughter, survivors include their son, Titus Ferguson of Hempstead; two grandchildren; Carl's father, Robert Lee Ferguson of Boynton Beach, Florida; Carl's brother, Craig Ferguson; and several of Stephany's siblings — Charles Townsend Jr., Myrna Peterkin, Charellise Coleman, Alexander Townsend, and Elvira Townsend Moon.
A memorial service for the Fergusons is scheduled for noon Saturday at Jackson Memorial AME Zion Church in Hempstead. It also will be livestreamed.
The family said that lieu of flowers, memorial donations "In Memory of Carl & Stephany Ferguson" can be made to The INN, 211 Fulton Ave., Hempstead, NY 11550.