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South Carolina man repays California for its assistance in 1964

Dennis R. Ferguson wrote a check for $10,000 to the state treasury in November, in thanks for unemployment aid that allowed him to retrain for a new career in computers. The money will be spent on schools.

December 17, 2010|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Dennis R. Ferguson received about $1,100 and repaid $10,000.
Dennis R. Ferguson received about $1,100 and repaid $10,000.

California's budget crisis has eased a bit, thanks to a South Carolina man grateful to the state for helping him 46 years ago.

Dennis R. Ferguson wrote a check for $10,000 to the state treasury Nov. 23 as "repayment for what California did for me" when he was laid off from his aerospace engineering job in 1964.

Ferguson, a 74-year-old retired computer programmer who lives in the Atlantic coastal community of Fripp Island, S.C., said the four months' worth of unemployment benefits he collected after losing his job with Douglas Aircraft allowed him to re-train for a new career in computers.

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer said Ferguson's money will be spent on schools, as required by state law.

That's appropriate, Lockyer said, "because there's a lesson to be learned here about what it means to have a sense of shared sacrifice and commitment to the common good."

Ferguson was 26 and living in a run-down, $25-a-week West Los Angeles motel when he collected state aid. Officials of the state Employment Development Department estimate that his total benefits during the four months totaled about $1,100.

Ferguson said he wanted to show his appreciation for the assistance by adding "interest" to his repayment. He said he picked $10,000 because it is a "nice round number."

"Anyone who is helped out when they are down ought to give something back, especially now that California has budget problems," he told state officials.

The jobless benefits helped him go back to school, Ferguson said. He enrolled in computer programming at the now-defunct International Tabulating Institute in Los Angeles.

According to Ferguson, the school had one IBM 1440 series computer with 4K of memory that was shared by 10 students. That room-size data processor sold for $90,000 at the time.

But Ferguson learned programming on it, creating 21 programs during the three-month class. He earned an A grade and a certificate of completion.

After that, Ferguson went to work as a computer operator for Belmont Savings and Loan in Seal Beach. A year later, he landed a better-paying job as a programmer at Honeywell in Los Angeles.

Later, Ferguson worked in the Atlanta area before settling in South Carolina.

In the note to Sacramento officials that accompanied his check, Ferguson thanked the state for letting him collect unemployment while studying at the storefront computer institute.

"This allowed me to have a great career, and I've been ever thankful," he wrote.

Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for the state treasurer's office, said Thursday that Ferguson's check cleared and has been deposited in the public schools fund.

In a statement, Lockyer expressed his appreciation of Ferguson's gift.

"I hope that as we work together to meet our budget challenges, we keep in mind his act of generosity and the spirit it embodies," he said.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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