Web Exclusive: Memories from the White House

By |  April 17, 2019
White House - PHOTO: ISTOCK.COM/OLEGALBINSKY

PHOTO: ISTOCK.COM/OLEGALBINSKY

Editor’s Note: If you’re of a certain age, chances are you can recall where you were when you first learned Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Bob Fergus knows exactly where he was the next day, too — because he was scheduled to treat the White House for termites. Fergus, branch manager of Sentinel Pest Control, Effingham, Ill., had a very special pest control account from 1967 to 1979. This industry veteran took care of pests in the nation’s house — the White House — under the Johnson, Nixon and Ford administrations. Here, he shares a few memories about this special account. Be sure to read 5 questions with Bob Fergus.

Bob Fergus, branch manager, Sentinel Pest Control, Effingham, Ill.

Bob Fergus

I have many outstanding memories of those trips to the White House. The first one was when a termite problem arose in the West Wing where the indoor swimming pool was located. President Kennedy’s family had donated a beautiful mural of Hyannis Port, Mass., that covered three walls of the pool. Termites had gotten in the furring strips that supported the mural. Because the pool came up to the wall on two sides, the only way to treat those furring strips was for me to get in the pool, swim over to those walls, and treat the strips with Woodtreat-TC. I also remember being in the President’s dressing room and seeing a pair of bathing trunks with “LBJ” inscribed on them.

Another step in that termite treatment involved drilling some concrete slabs. Because this was close to the President’s office, we had to schedule it at a time the President would be out of town. So, we had arranged to do it when President Johnson was leaving for Hawaii.

We got to the job just as the Presidential helicopter was landing to take him to Air Force One. We waited for the helicopter to take him away, which did not occur for over an hour. I went to the groundskeeper’s office to see when we would be able to start drilling. He informed me that they were not sure the President was going to leave because it was the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and they were anticipating riots. He told me that we could start treating the soil outside, as long as we didn’t make drilling noise.

I proceeded to the North Portico to treat the soil. Behind me were national news crews filming their reporters with the White House — and me treating the soil — in the background. Of course, I had on coveralls that had a big company patch on the back!

After finishing the outside treatment, I went back to the groundskeeper’s office. I asked him when he thought we would be able to finish the job. He asked me if I had looked out at the streets, which I had not. They were pulling city buses nose to tail around the outside of the White House grounds. He told me that unless I wanted to be held in there until things cooled down, we should leave. We did leave just as the last buses were being pulled into place. I went home that evening and watched myself on national news. It was the only time I have had national advertising!

Now, at the ripe age of 74, I am still involved daily in pest management. I still enjoy going with the guys on bed bug jobs and occasionally running a hammer drill. I am able to enjoy my family, my church, riding my motorcycle, and all the other fun stuff. The pest control industry has been good to me. It has been a good ride, but I do miss walking the halls of the White House with the Presidents of the United States.

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