Actress Rita Moreno to visit Ironton May 26

Published 6:48 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Will take part in event at OUS, watch Memorial Day parade

In late May, as the city gears up for the annual Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade, it will also be visited by one of the most honored names in film and stage history.

Academy Award-winning actress Rita Moreno will be making a trip to the city, where she will take part in a talk at Ohio University Southern at 4 p.m. on May 26.

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Moreno, 92, is one of the last remaining stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age and still maintains an active career.

Actress Rita Moreno seen in a 1954 publicity photo. Moreno will be visiting Ironton in May, where she take part in a conversation event at Ohio University Southern and will stay to watch the annual Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade. (Public domain)

She has accomplished the Triple Crown of Acting, winning Academy, Emmy and Tony awards. In addition to her Best Supporting Actress win for “West Side Story” in 1962, she has appeared in classic films such as “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The King and I.” She is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of the Arts, a Peabody Award, the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award and the Kennedy Center Honors.

Moreno’s visit comes due her ties to an Ironton native, who recently returned home.

John Ferguson is a 1969 graduate of Ironton High School, and left the area soon after, going to Appalachian Bible College in Beckley, West Virginia, then Kent State University.

After pastoring for 17 years, Ferguson, then in California, said he then took his “last $500 to Sears” in 1988 and started a home contracting company, “More Than a Carpenter,” which was named one of the top 50 home remodeling companies in the nation in 2000.

And it was through his company that Ferguson was hired by Moreno’s husband, Leonard Gordon, to do work on their home.

Ferguson said he became friends with Gordon first, then Moreno, and they stayed in touch.

Following Gordon’s death, he was contacted by Moreno when she had a problem to resolve.

She was due to perform in southern California, but because of recent knee surgery, could not fly from the San Francisco Bay area, so she called Ferguson and said, “Can you help me figure out how to get to Los Angeles?”

Ferguson ended up using his motor home to transport Moreno to the engagement.

“I was blown away as her saw her perform her entire act from a wheelchair,” he said.

In 2009, Moreno asked Ferguson to manage her career, which has seen quite a resurgence, with roles including Norman Lear’s 2021 remake of his sitcom “One Day at a Time,” Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story” and the 2023 sports comedy “80 for Brady.”

“We’ve been like Mutt and Jeff ever since,” Ferguson said, speaking of the many projects they have done together.

Two and a half years ago, Ferguson decide to sell his company in California and retire to his hometown of Ironton and to be closer to family.

Since returning to Ironton, where he is active in the Rotary Club and the Lawrence County Museum, Ferguson continues to manage Moreno’s career.

Ferguson and Moreno will be in Boston, Massachusetts at the end of May, where she will deliver an address at Harvard University to be followed by a visit with the Fergusons in Ironton on Memorial Day Weekend.

“I told her about the parade and she said, ‘I love a small-town parade,’” he said. “And I told her you’ll get to see one of the oldest small town parades in the country.”

Founded in 1868 to memorialize Union soldiers who died in the Civil War, the Memorial Day parade is the longest-running, continuous celebration of its kind in the U.S.

Ferguson said he suggested while she was in town that they should stage an event to help support philanthropic efforts in the community.

“She loved it!” he said.

So with the help of Ironton Rotary and the Ohio University Southern the date of May 26 was set for “In Conversation with Rita Moreno.”

Ticket details will follow later.

Moreno said she is looking forward to her second visit to Ironton.

“I enjoyed my brief visit to Ironton a couple of years ago,” she said. “I always said I’d like to come back and I look forward to meeting people and experiencing the community.”

Lou Pyles, with the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade Committee, when told of the visit, said the news “made her day.”

“We’re so excited to hear this and welcome her to see our parade, which is so historic,” she said. “This is wonderful.”