Oklahoma State University alumni family donates $50 million to college of agriculture

Loyal and true—those are the words that come to mind when considering the $50 million gift Oklahoma State University alumni Larry and Kayleen Ferguson presented to the OSU College of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources at a ceremony on Jan. 15. The contribution is among the largest in OSU’s 130-year history and because of its impact, the college will be renamed the Ferguson College of Agriculture as a thank you to the Ferguson family.

Larry Ferguson earned his bachelor’s degree from OSU in animal and food sciences in 1975. He is the retired president and CEO of Schreiber Foods, the world’s largest employee-owned dairy company. Kayleen is a retired teacher and the couple lives in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Larry was named the OSU Animal Science Graduate of Distinction in 2002 and recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources in 2016. The OSU Alumni Association recognized both the Fergusons as Distinguished Alumni in 2017.

According to OSU, the fund will create a $25 million endowment for the college and set aside $25 million to begin a fundraising campaign, called New Frontiers, to fund a modern research and teaching building. The university has a goal of raising $50 million in private support for the planned $100 million facility. Construction on the building is expected to begin in spring of 2021 and completion is expected in the fall of 2023. University leaders anticipate the new facility will strengthen OSU’s place as one of the top agriculture colleges in the nation, attract even more potential among students and faculty and prepare a new agriculture generation for the workplace.

“Oklahoma State has a reputation in the country that really puts us in a position to be national leaders in a number of ways,” said Thomas Coon, OSU’s vice president for agricultural programs and dean of the renamed college. “Certainly in being innovative in how we teach and how we use technology and our Extension programming. I think it puts us in a position to be attractive not just to students, but also to faculty because they can come and not just have a new facility, but a facility that really supports innovation, teaching, research and Extension.” 

According to OSU, to date $30 million has been raised for the facility portion of the building, including the Fergusons’ gift and commitments from five Cornerstone Donors, who have given at least $1 million to the initiative. 

The Fergusons are not new donors to the OSU College of Agriculture, in total they have already given almost $55 million through the Ferguson Family Foundation. In 2015, their gifts toward the OSU dairy farm resulted in the building of the state-of-the-art Ferguson Family Dairy Center, which had its grand opening in 2017. 

A new building for a new era

The building will be located north of the Henry Bellmon Research on the east side of the Monroe Street and diagonally across from Agricultural Hall, which has served as the Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources since the 1950s.

OSU says the new facility will boast innovative and flexible teaching and research laboratories, dynamic classrooms, faculty offices, student service programs and strategically planned spaces to encourage collaboration, development of new OSU Extension programming and community. 

“One of the things we’ve said from the outset is that we want to build classrooms and teaching laboratories that are flexible to adapt to changes in teaching methods and impart to be as efficient as we can with our limited resources,” Coon said.

Coon said the faculty is very much involved with designing the new building and classrooms. Additionally, he said all of the classrooms and teaching labs will belong to the college of agriculture in the new building.

“I think it will really change the student experience,” Coon said. “We really want to focus on student’s active engagement in the learning process. Not just sitting and listening to a lecture, but actually getting their hands on data and involved in the research process.” 

In addition, the state’s 4-H headquarters will be located in the new building as well as a re-envisioned Dairy Bar, for students to eat and have a glass of milk near their classrooms.

“We talk about our college being a family or a home-away-from-home and this kind of space for students to come and hangout between classes is part of the design,” Coon said.

There is no doubt the Ferguson family is cowboy through and through, and their gift shows their pride in their amateur and the agriculture industry. 

“As the Fergusons said in their comments at the ceremony, they see this is as a way to invest in higher education and land grant institutions and help address issues that lead people to go to bed hungry at night,” Coon said. “It’s a very bold mission, but it’s so critical and it really gets at who they are. Larry talked about family, faith and a call to service and that really motivates the Fergusons. They are certainly committed to Oklahoma State but even beyond that, they’re committed to the mission of Oklahoma State.”

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 580-748-1892 or [email protected].

Sign up for HPJ Insights

Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.