Cal Ferguson who built Casa de CalMar for homeless FeLV cats dies

Best Friends has lost one of its best friends.

Cal Ferguson, a compassionate, thoughtful and generous man, died October 24.

Casa de CalMar

Most people who visit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary know that Cal funded the building of Casa de CalMar, home to leukemia-positive cats who might otherwise have had bleak futures elsewhere.

Cal built it in memory of his wife, Martha (thus, CalMar), and her boundless love of cats. She used to feed every cat in their neighborhood, literally hundreds of them. Cal once said she had so many cat shirts that she could change shirts three times a day for a year and not wear the same one twice. One of the rooms in Casa de CalMar is dedicated specifically to Martha and filled with her memorabilia.

When the couple lived in California, Cal promised his wife that they would retire to southern Utah and have a home near Best Friends. Although she died of cancer before their dream could be realized, Cal kept his promise by building Casa de CalMar.

The love story of Cal and Martha is told to every person who takes a tour of Best Friends. Their memory will be kept alive and will continue to touch people as they hear about their love for each other and for cats.

On behalf of Best Friends, Tamara Berry, manager of planned giving, wrote a letter expressing our condolences to Cal’s mother, Jimmie Calderon. Tamara asked staff members to e-mail their memories of Cal to include with the letter. Although most are no more than a couple of paragraphs long, they filled eight pages.

Even more telling is that only a few mentioned the money he donated. Instead, people talked about the kind of man Cal was.

Memories of Cal Ferguson

"I remember this humble, dear man," wrote Barb Williamson, media relations manager. "He did so much for us and he never once demanded special treatment. He seemed almost embarrassed when anyone said thank you. It helps me to know he’s with Martha again."

Most of those who shared their memories of Cal were not, as you might expect, from Cat World. There were prayers, anecdotes and praise from people who worked in areas as diverse as landscaping, communications, member relations and housekeeping.

"Cal was a man with an eye for detail," wrote Lenny Domyan, caretaker at Angels Rest. "When he would visit his sites and chime tree at Angels Rest, he would take time to stop and talk with me. He noticed everything, and if something was a little out of line, he'd bring it to my attention. We enjoyed a bit of bantering back and forth over the years. I'm going to miss that guy."

And Cal was the kind of person you didn’t have to know very long to form a close bond. Sue Reeves, who works at the sanctuary greenhouse, met him last October.

"We hit it off immediately, mainly due to our mutual love of plants," she wrote. "I was planning a flowerbed at the time and didn’t want to set it up according to height and color. Cal suggested that I assign a number to each plant, write it on something, toss them in the bed, then plant each flower exactly where it landed, even if they were right next to each other. This I did, using old pieces of garlic and a purple marker, and it turned out to be one of the loveliest flowerbeds we’ve ever had.

"He missed his late wife Martha deeply but kept her memory alive by creating a memorial space for her at CalMar. He planted gardens for his beloved mother every year and prepared lavish feasts for her and their many friends, another way of showing how much he cared.

"I am saddened that I will no longer be able to see Cal and hug him, laugh with him. But I feel so very honored and blessed to have known him and I have no doubt that he is at peace now. He will live on in the hearts of many."

Whenever he visited Best Friends, Cal would pick up the tab at the sanctuary dining room for every staff member, visitor and volunteer who showed up for lunch that day. For staff who couldn’t leave their areas, the food was delivered.

In July when Cal sprang for lunch, the staff at Horse Haven was left out because of some little mix-up. "Cal was staying at the cottages, which are very near the Horse Haven office," wrote a staff person. "He came to visit us the day after and asked how we liked the lunch. Well, we told him that we had not received it, but heard that it was great. That evening, Cal personally made two large plates of sandwiches in his cottage and brought them to us the next day!"

Sanctuary editor and writer Elizabeth Doyle knew him perhaps as well as anyone at Best Friends. She tells the story of when they first met.

"When Cal visited Best Friends to inspect the ongoing construction of CalMar, I interviewed him for a story. At first, he was so serious, so particular about how the construction was going, that I thought he might be a difficult interview. He had a lot of opinions about each detail of the building, and a couple things that he felt grumpy about. I wasn’t sure how friendly he was. I tagged along behind him, smiling complacently, waiting for my chance to start asking questions for my story.

"Finally, I got my opening. He was looking around the room that would be dedicated to his late wife, and I said, ‘You must have loved her a lot. I wish someone would build something like this for me someday. It’s so romantic.’

"His eyes just melted; he became so warm. He said, ‘Someone will – you’ll see.’

"Then he told me the story of his wife, and explained that was why he was so particular about the building – because he loved her so much. We wound up talking for hours, much more than I needed for my story. He never seemed the least bit gruff again.

"We went around his wife’s room at CalMar, and I pointed out all the things I liked best. He told the stories behind each one.

"The next time he came to Best Friends, he brought a lace gown, old-fashioned hats and purses – things he knew I would like because of our conversation in his wife’s room. It became a tradition for me to wear one of these gifts every time he visited Best Friends.

"His gifts – most notably, the gift of CalMar to cats with feline leukemia and the gift of a memorial room to his wife – are a huge part of what defined Cal. And the pleasure it gave him was second only to the pleasure it gave to others.

"He was a devilish character sometimes – oh, the stories he told me! He was no goody-two-shoes, but I think it was Abe Lincoln who said that those who have no vices rarely have any serious virtues.

"I mailed him a quick note of my prayers and thoughts for him just a few days before his passing. I pray he saw it – I pray I was able to say goodbye."

Fortunately, at Best Friends we’ll never have to say goodbye because Cal will always be here – for the cats at CalMar and in the hearts and memories of all who knew him.

Photo by Clay Myers

Learn about the feline immunodeficiency virus in Best Friends resource section.