After Centenary’s first president, the Rev. Dr. G. H. Whitney retired, the Board of Trustees selected Wilbert P. Ferguson as his successor. Whereas Dr. Whitney was a Centenary institution for over a quarter of a century, unfortunately Dr. Ferguson would only remain at the school until 1900, a mere five years.
Ferguson became Centenary’s second president in 1895. He seemed well suited for the position, having earned “a reputation as a ‘hustler’ ” during his time as a member of the New York East Methodist Conference (Custard, 71). Centenary’s Trustees thought he would be the perfect man to take the reins and steer Centenary Collegiate Institute towards even greater heights, and he entered this new role with bold ideas.
President Ferguson was eager to boost the school’s enrollment. He closed the Ladies’ College and rearranged the school’s main courses, expanding the Commercial Department and introducing the Department of English Literature. Students with fewer than 7 cuts from class and a final grade above 75 no longer had to sit for final exams.
Athletics became a major feature of student life, starting with the addition of an Athletics Director in 1896 (see Athletics). The grounds behind the Main Building were transformed into a running track, baseball diamond, football field, tennis courts, and croquet and quoit grounds.
Another new addition for Centenary Collegiate Institute was a student publication called The Hackettstonian. This magazine, published monthly, included original stories, essays, and poems by students and faculty, editorials, news and joke items, and information about alumni.
Dr. Ferguson’s five year term was coming to a close when the Main Building was razed by fire on October 31, 1899. The timing of his resignation was unfortunate. While it implied he was abandoning the school in its greatest time of need, this was far from the truth. He had always planned to move on after his single term and followed through, submitting his resignation in January of 1900. Ferguson split his remaining time at C.C.I between his presidency and a new position in Newark until a new president could be found. On June 1, 1900, the position of Centenary Collegiate Institute President was passed on to Charles Wesley McCormick, who had arrived at the institution the year before as a teacher of English and History.
The momentum the school had gained in Dr. Ferguson’s five years as president was dimmed by the fire but was not lost. The Hackettstonian and the school’s enthusiasm for Athletics were both back in full force once the institution was rebuilt, and Ferguson’s early ambition to boost enrollment had been an invigorating force that continued to move the school forward, long after Ferguson’s departure.