Bob Ferguson, a longtime Tri-Citian, energy executive and entrepreneur, contributed $500,000 to Washington State University Tri-Cities to endow a faculty, position and set the stage to turn the Richland campus into a center for clean energy development.
Bob Ferguson’s career took him from reactor physicist at Hanford’s B Reactor to the U.S. Department of Energy to CEO of the Washington Public Power Supply System (now Energy Northwest).
Ferguson said it’s a way to give back to a community that is supported him and his family, including the companies he started.
“Energy is the source of all economic development.”-Bob Ferguson
“Now I’m old,” he joked. “I try to take care of my family first. But you can’t take it with you.”
The gift continues Ferguson’s long-standing interest in WSU Tri-Cities. The campus began 70 years ago as the General Electric School of Nuclear Engineering.
Ferguson, according to WSU, played a key role in expanding it into a full-fledged WSU branch campus.
With the gift, he challenged the Tri-Cities to fulfill its role as the center for carbon-free energy development in Washington and the Northwest. It is the key to a future that does not depend on spending on the Hanford site cleanup, he said.
“Energy is the source of all economic development,” he said in a prepared statement. “We need a curriculum. We need a workforce for the future. WSU Tri-Cities is uniquely positioned to integrate all these areas. WSU could lead this effort for the state and the nation.”
In an interview with the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business, Ferguson said the Tri-Cities has always been a strong candidate to lead the energy industry. Its past, present and future focus on nuclear energy coupled with the abundant solar, wind and hydroelectricity make it an obvious choice.
“This community has such potential,” he said. “Now with the movement to the need for a carbon-free economy, the notion of an energy park and WSU institute came up.”
Ferguson encouraged others to make contributions to support the energy institute.
WSU said it will focus on shaping the Northwest’s energy recourses and will build on WSU research strengths in water resources, the environment, agriculture, policy and economics.
“We are incredibly grateful to Bob for his generous gift and its vast potential impacts for the Tri-Cities region and Washington state as a whole,” said WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Sandra Haynes.
Haynes announced the gift locally March 24 during the monthly Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon, held via Zoom.
The gift to WSU is the latest act of philanthropy from the Ferguson family.
In 2020, Ferguson and his family supported construction of the Ferguson Education Montessori facility at Richland’s Christ the King Catholic School.
The preschool education center honors his late wife, Katie, who died in 2018. She taught at Christ the King and was its first lay principal.
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