DECATUR – The first time Richard “Dick” Ferry's picture appeared in the Decatur Herald, he was with 17 other newsboys, enjoying a picnic in Nelson Park, before heading downtown to begin his route.
The year was 1940, his age was 13, and he was nowhere near done with newspapers.
Besides a distinguished career as an education professor at Millikin University for more than 40 years, the Decatur native was a prolific contributor to the Herald & Review's “Prairie Talk” column, publishing nearly 185 of them since the feature debuted 30 years ago. “I absolutely have to write,” he said when submitting the first in 1986.
Ferry died Nov. 10, about three months shy of his 90th birthday.
Gerald “Jerry” Redford, 85, of Decatur, the dean emeritus of the College of Arts and Sciences who joined Millikin's faculty the same year as Ferry, in 1961, remembers his friend as an enthusiastic teacher but also as a frustrated journalist who couldn't get his hometown newspaper to hire him after three years running the Wood River News Bureau for the Alton Telegraph.
So Ferry went back to Millikin, where he graduated in 1949 and was encouraged to pursue a graduate degree in education, Redford said. “The rest is history,” he said. “Even though he was short of stature, we all looked up to him.”
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Retired philosophy professor Arvid Adell, 81, of Roscoe, Ill., was longtime friend who told funny stories about their campus escapades at a memorial service Nov. 19 at First Presbyterian Church. “Dick had an unabated zest for life,” Adell said.
The first line of Ferry's first “Prairie Talk” about a Bo Derek relative was hard to resist: “Who would have thought that Mary Collins someday would become the grandmother of a sex goddess?”
The Herald & Review's Jeana Matherly remembers enjoying Ferry's columns from the start and liked working with him after she became Life editor in 2000. “He was one of my favorites,” she said. “I didn't know him very well but felt like I knew him through his writing.”
Perhaps Ferry's best-known column appeared on Feb. 4, 1988, when he declared his infatuation with the Scottish voice of an automated teller machine downtown. The Herald & Review tracked down the owner of that voice: Sally Masterson, who subsequently visited Decatur, which led to a stint as co-host of WDZ radio's “Breakfast Club.”
Ferry's last Prairie Talk appeared on July 23, 2014.
His younger sister, Alice Wasem of Decatur, said Ferry used to give her a quarter a week to help him deliver newspapers. “He was very caring and always looked after me,” she said. “He loved to write and was writing all the time.”