Ken Ferguson is the grandson of a World War II veteran, son of a Vietnam veteran, and served as a United States Marine and an Illinois Guardsman. Being in service is a family tradition, one that Ken took forward into his own family, particularly after becoming the Chapter Coordinator for the Heroes on the Water “Wabash River Valley” Illinois chapter.
“My childhood was filled with attending and volunteering at every type of veterans’ event imaginable,” says Ken. “Once, I got to sit next to Michael Jordan on the bench as a ball boy for the Chicago Bulls during a game to honor and raise money for Veterans in the mid-1980s.”
Building a Positive Legacy
Ken comes from a very motivated military family. His father, a two-time Purple Heart recipient, was medically retired at age 19 after losing both legs from the knee down. That did not stop his dad from continuing to serve in his home State of Illinois as the chairman of the Illinois Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Springfield.
Ken’s service began in the Marine Corps Reserves while attending Eastern Illinois University on a full ride scholarship due to his father’s disability. His unit was activated in 2003 as a combat engineer with Task Force Tarawa, 1st Marine Division. He was able to return home for the birth of his daughter but was deployed again six months later in 2004 to Al Anbar Province and fought in the Battle of Fallujah with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
“I was missing a lot, especially when my children were older and graduating high school,” says Ken. His son and his daughter were growing up and he was only experiencing milestone events via Skype.
“It was important for me to serve, but I also wanted to be there for my children,” says Ken. “It was tough to be in Kuwait for a year and watch my child graduate on Facebook Live.”
After 11 years in the Marine Corps Reserve, and another 12 years in the National Guard, Ken decided it was time to make a more permanent adjustment to his schedule.
Now working as a project manager for a construction company, Ken gets more time at home with his family. He also spends a significant amount of time supporting veterans, first responders and their families through his Heroes on the Water chapter.
Fishing with the Fam
Before Ken knew about HOW, he found kayak fishing a cool, easy way to relax. He and his son purchased kayaks and would often fish together.
“We both found kayak fishing relieved stress,” says Ken. “I was always looking for ways to improve my kayak for fishing, and on a DIY site found HOW.”
Ken recognizes that kayak fishing provides a nice break from the daily stressors he experiences.
“As a teen, my son loved kayak fishing and was going all the time,” says Ken. “He has more commitments now as an adult, but we both still enjoy the relaxation and stress relief we get when we can go kayak fishing.”
Ken’s father believed in service, so it was something instilled in him as a young man. For Ken, starting the Heroes on the Water “Wabash River Valley” chapter made sense and gave him the opportunity to align two of his passions – service and kayak fishing.
Fishing is Freedom
Ken compares his kayak fishing experiences with early driving experiences:
“Kayak fishing works it reminds me of when you got your driver’s license, and you are in the car by yourself. It’s exhilarating and provides freedom of movement.
It is the exact same feeling every time I got out in a kayak. I can go anywhere I want and it’s an exhilarating feeling of freedom. Even if I don’t catch anything, just moving under my own will means so much.”
Ken’s chapter works diligently to provide kayak fishing for as many families as possible, whether working with National Guard units on family days or smaller events.
“It is wonderful to see everyone having a good time, decompressing together,” says Ken.
His daughter and her fiancé’ come to HOW events when they can, as does his former father-in-law.
Ken and his team are focused on providing the best experience for any participant, whether that is a veteran, first responder or family member.
“There’s nothing like kayak fishing and that feeling of moving under your own power,” says Ken. “When the whole family has that shared experience, we all benefit.”