Giving back to Purdue:
A Slam Dunk
From a third-story balcony in downtown Lafayette, Ind., looking west, one can see the skyline of Purdue University’s campus across the Wabash River.
But there is more than a scenic view of Ross-Ade Stadium on the horizon that keeps one Valparaiso, Ind., couple coming back to Boilermaker country and why they choose to keep Purdue in their long-term vision.
Although the two have traveled extensively throughout the seven continents, it is their beloved Purdue that beckons Dr. Robert Ferguson (S ’64, DVM ’68) and his wife, Jo Ann, to their home above the banks of the Wabash.
“A Purdue education prepares you to do almost anything you want,” says Ferguson. The couple credits his Purdue education for setting the stage for everything that came next. A successful career, a head for financial planning and an unwavering love for Purdue allowed the Fergusons to help the University and Purdue students by establishing a scholarship through a planned gift.
The road to philanthropy begins
Ferguson came to Purdue at the suggestion of his LaGrange, Ill., high school advisors and arrived on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus in the fall of 1960. “I had good grades so they told me I should go to Purdue and study to be an engineer,” Ferguson chuckles. “Engineering didn’t exactly agree with me. I had really good professors, and their advice included telling me that maybe I should think about doing something else.”
He took their advice to heart. His roommate, Alvin Dale (DVM ’65), was in veterinary school, and as he held study sessions at their apartment, Ferguson paid attention. “His courses seemed much more interesting than mine,” he explains. “So I transferred to preveterinary classes, and school got a whole lot more fun.”
When Ferguson applied to the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program, he was still considered an Illinois resident. “It was very unusual for someone from a state that has a veterinary school to get in to Purdue’s,” Ferguson recalls. “I was surprised and deeply grateful when I was accepted. This is just one of the reasons I love Purdue so much.”
And speaking of love, the Fergusons met at the old State Street Courts, Purdue’s first co-ed dorms. They were married while they were both still in school. Their two children, Terri Ferguson Dobbs (CFS ’85) and Scott Ferguson (M ’87), are both Purdue graduates.
With so much history at Purdue, it was inevitable that Purdue would be part of their future as well.
Vietnam veteran and veterinarian
After graduation, Ferguson enlisted in the United States Army Veterinary Corps and was sent to Vietnam for the second of his two years of active duty.
“There were a lot of scout and sentry dogs there, so veterinarians were badly needed,” he says. And because of the accelerated officer program at Purdue, he was able to go in as a captain.
With Vietnam behind him, and settled into life with Jo Ann and his young family, Ferguson joined his college roommate, now Dr. Dale, at his practice in Highland, Ind.
Once again feeling grateful to Purdue for the education that put him on his path to success, he began hosting veterinary and pre-veterinary students as interns in the practice. “It was a great way to work with the students and a good way for them to get a feel for what a real practice was like. It was so rewarding to see them later in life, working and being successful. I felt such pride and hoped maybe I had just a little to do with that.”
After 18 years, Ferguson sold the practice but was not ready for retirement. “I always liked and was good at the financial end of the business, and I wanted to help fellow veterinarians set up the most optimal business structure for their practice,” Ferguson says. “So I took classes to become a financial planner and started showing them how to fund their retirement goals.”
Although not a veterinarian, one of Ferguson’s first clients was a friend and neighbor, Paul Graegin (ChE ’55), who owned four construction companies. Graegin had so much confidence in Ferguson and what he had done for him personally that he offered him a job as controller for his companies, where Ferguson stayed for 12 years.
Still not ready for retirement, he launched a third career, this time with another classmate from Purdue, Dick Goebel (DVM ’68). “He had a business of appraising and brokering veterinary practice sales,” says Ferguson. Having known each other for many years, Goebel believed Ferguson’s financial planning and business acumen would be assets to his growing business. “Plus, I had been very active in the state veterinary association and knew a lot of people. Many of them were looking toward retirement and preparing to sell their practices.”
Helping veterinarians get their retirement goals in place set the stage for Ferguson to begin working with them to ready their practices for sale. “It was important for the sale to be structured properly,” he says “And that’s what I did for the next 10 years.”
A giving plan with Purdue in mind
With the children grown and three careers under his belt, Ferguson felt it was finally time to retire so he and Jo Ann could enjoy the fruits of their hard labor. Because of their love for all things Purdue, when it came time to do their estate planning, it made sense for them to establish a charitable remainder unitrust (CRUT), and in 2010 the Dr. Robert B. and Jo Ann Ferguson Women’s Basketball Scholarship was created.
The unitrust is a simple tool that enables alumni and friends to receive a percentage of the trust’s value each year for the rest of their lives, while making a significant gift to Purdue. In addition to lifetime income, establishing a CRUT could provide tax benefits such as a federal income tax deduction for the present value of the charitable gift and avoidance of capital gain on the initial transfer of assets to the trust. Furthermore, the CRUT acts as a hedge against inflation and allows contributors to diversify their assets.
“There is no real negative to a CRUT. By making an up-front donation, we get to designate where the money will go, receive tax benefits and a guaranteed income. We’d been giving to Purdue for many years, so we were already enjoying the perks of being in the President’s Council,” says Ferguson. “For us it was a win-win.”
“We love meeting our students and sometimes traveling with the women’s basketball team,” says Ferguson. “A Purdue education gave us so much, we were thrilled to be able to provide someone else with those same opportunities.”
Nancy Cross, senior associate athletics director – development and sports, asserts that the couple is more than mere fans. “The Fergusons have a true passion for Purdue sports,” she says, “But it is their incredible commitment to all areas of Purdue — especially their dedication to providing an educational opportunity to students by way of a scholarship — that I especially adore.”
On game weekends you may find the Fergusons riding the trolley across the bridge into campus, on their way to the stands cheering for their own Purdue.
“Deciding to give back to Purdue was,” says Ferguson, “a slam dunk.”
Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT): How it Works
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