Stella Ray Ferguson Gehrt was born in the northeast corner of Georgia, at home, in the very small town of Livonia, in 1921. She was the sixth born and last surviving sibling of eight children. In 1926 the family moved to Decatur, just outside Atlanta, Ga., so her father could secure a more lucrative position that would better support their now-large family.
Stella Ray's parents, both born in 1888, were a very formal Presbyterian couple, always referring to each other as "Mr." or "Mrs." Ferguson in the presence of the children. This would prove embarrassing to Ray as a 6-year-old on her first day of school. As a class newcomer she was asked the first names of her parents and she did not know them.
In 1940, Ray enrolled in college, as had four of her five older siblings, as a physical education major. Her dream was to be a recreation counselor on a cruise ship, although she had never seen one, and to travel the world. An excellent swimmer and diver, she taught Red Cross safety classes in the summer, along with instructing first-year Emory medical students in swimming and water rescue. A diving accident, with Ray going off the low board simultaneously with a male friend from the high board, broke her back and changed the course of her life.
In 1942 Ray transferred to Draughon's Business College in Atlanta. She finished a two-year business skills program in 10 months with money she borrowed personally from the local bank.
With World War II ongoing, Ray's new goal was to join the WAVES, a plan that did not meet with her father's approval. Instead she took the Civil Service exam after graduation and, a week later, received a letter notifying her to report to Washington, D.C. Once again, her father disapproved, so her brother drove her to the train station.
Her instructions were to report to the Hotel for Young Women near the massive rail station in Washington. She was told upon arrival that she could stay for a maximum of five days and was given a list of homes with families who had agreed to rent rooms to the "government girls." On the fourth day of searching, but finding nothing affordable (using her $1.25 per week bus pass) she found herself on V St. N.W. and, while walking to another possible lodging, she happened to catch the eye of one of four sailors sitting on the stoop of No. 68. Two doors further down, Ray found her temporary home, for $22 per month, but the family offered no meals. However, she was told that two houses back, the family there would provide breakfast and dinner for $11/week. This happened to be where the sailor Ray had ignored - Warren - was living before being shipped overseas. Thus began a 73-year friendship and a 70-year marriage! All this at a time when Ray's starting salary was $100 per month. A big day!
During her time in Washington, Stella Ray found her faith and converted to Catholicism. She also discovered her love for dancing (especially Jitterbug) and live music. She and Warren spent many Friday and Saturday nights at the no-cover dance halls - often until the last bus at 3 a.m. They garnered many a free meal by agreeing to dance for the patrons.
Married in 1945, Warren and Ray began a family while he attended college on the GI Bill. Four children were born between 1946 and 1952. While Warren pursued a career in public service, there were moves to New York and then Claymont, Smyrna and Dover, but never back to the South, where she could not abide the prevailing attitudes of that time period.
It was in Dover that Ray discovered her passion for golf, which she pursued avidly, especially after their retirement in 1983. Often playing once or twice per week, Ray was active into her 88th year, with her biggest claim to fame being that in a family of golfers, she was the only one to have made a hole-in-one! Ray and Warren also loved to travel, and would often play their way across country - driving four hours and then stopping to play a round - to spend winters with her daughter in Arizona or Florida.
Ray was predeceased by her husband Warren; and son Kenneth in 2015. She is survived by her other three children: Bonnie and husband Gary Davis, Tom and wife Vicki Gehrt, and Russ and wife Kathy Gehrt - all of whom were at her side during her last day. In addition to her children, Ray will be forever loved and remembered by grandsons Michael Brennan (with spouse Francelle, Oona and Flint), Matthew Gehrt (with spouse Elizabeth, Jacob, Ben and Will), and Aaron Gehrt.
Stella Ray Ferguson Gehrt will be interred at the Delaware Veterans Cemetery in Bear with her husband Warren and son Kenneth. Services at the cemetery will be private and the family wishes to extend a warmly felt thank you to the staff of Genesis Healthcare - Brackenville Center in Hockessin, and to Compassionate Care Hospice for helping her family make our mother's last weeks comfortable.
For online condolences please visit Chandlerfuneralhome.com