Major General Donald Forrest Ferrell, 1929-2024

May 1, 2024


Major General Donald Forrest Ferrell, USAF, Retired, was born January 6, 1929, to Forrest Shea Ferrell and Theresa Cooper Ferrell in Oklahoma City. He died at his home in Chandler, Oklahoma, on March 15, 2024, surrounded by his family.

He grew up in Oklahoma City and graduated from Central High School in 1946. He told his parents that he wanted to join the military. At age 17, he had to get their permission. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1946 and would continue to be affiliated with the USAF until he retired in 1991.

When he returned home after being honorably discharged from active duty in 1949, Don became a student at Oklahoma A&M College, now Oklahoma State University. After a start as an engineering student, he transferred to the journalism school. He completed his coursework in May 1952 and received his bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1953.

While at OSU, he was initiated into Kappa Sigma fraternity. In 2010, he was recognized for 60 years of membership. He was commissioned as second lieutenant in the USAF in May of 1952.

Attending a 7:30a.m. psychology class during summer school at Oklahoma City University in 1952, he met Sally Bourne of Oklahoma City. They were married on August 29, 1953. At the time, Don was a reporter for the Daily Oklahoman. He later worked on newspapers in Muskogee and Henrietta before returning to the Oklahoman in 1954.

In 1962, Don and Sally purchased the Lincoln County News in Chandler, Oklahoma. They published the weekly newspaper until 1988. During that period, Don served a term as president of the Oklahoma Press Association and later as president of the Oklahoma Newspaper Foundation. In 1985, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.The newspaper received many honors during the Ferrell years. The last year they owned the paper, it was named Sweepstakes Winner, the best newspaper in its class.

Don wrote a weekly column called Front Page Ferrell. It appeared on the left side of the front page, below the mast, and never jumped inside. He was a prolific writer. He wrote about happenings in Lincoln County; local, state and national elections; world events and poignant stories about friends and family members who had passed on.

During his presidency of the Oklahoma Press Association in 1984, the newspaper was heavily damaged in an arson fire. The newspaper never missed an edition, thanks in large part to the outpouring of help from numerous OPA members. The following year, the newspaper moved back into its renovated and updated building, which had been resurrected from the fire.

Don joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard in 1954. He retired from the Guard in 1991 with the rank of major general. His last assignment was as the state adjutant general, in command of both the Army and Air Guard. He had completed over 40 years of active and reserve service with the U.S. Air Force.

Don also had a political career. He was a member of the Oklahoma State Senate from 1966 until 1974 and was Republican floor leader the last two years. He represented Lincoln, Logan and Noble counties, and later Seminole and part of Pottawatomie counties.

He served as Governor Henry Bellmon’s press secretary in 1965 and 1966. Don was active in Bellmon’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1968 and 1974. He served on his senate staff in Oklahoma and Washington, D.C., for several years. In 1980, Don and Sally moved to Washington during Bellmon’s last year in office. As neither computers nor cellphones yet existed, Don called the newspaper staff back home on the telephone every week and dictated his column.
In 1985, Don helped form a committee to urge Bellmon to run for another term as governor. He later served as chairman of the 1986 campaign when Bellmon again became Oklahoma’s governor. After the election, Don was chairman of the transition team before the inauguration. He was later appointed as state adjutant general and was the cabinet secretary for safety and security and veteran’s affairs.

After the Oklahoma City bombing, Don was appointed by President Clinton to a nine-member board of trustees who coordinated the construction and operation of the Oklahoma City National Memorial. He also was the first chairman of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism and served in that capacity for six years.

Don had a lifelong interest in flying and aviation history. He held both a U.S. and Australian pilot’s license. On a military exercise in Thailand, he was awarded the Royal Thai Army master aviation badge. He owned several airplanes over the years and was particularly fond of his Cessna 170. He won several awards for his landings.

He was a longtime member of the Sooner Region Horseless Carriage Club and owned several vintage cars. On Saturday mornings, he enjoyed meeting club members for coffee, doughnuts and stories.

He and Sally restored several historic buildings in Chandler over the years. In 2014, Preservation Oklahoma awarded them with the Lifetime Achievement Award for their outstanding work.

In 1990, Oklahoma State University recognized Don as a Distinguished Alumnus.

Don served 42 years on the board of directors of the Union Bank in Chandler until it was sold in 2010 to BancFirst. Don was named Citizen of the Year by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce in 2012.

He served on the Chandler public library board and was past president of the Lincoln County Historical Society. Don served as vice president and a board member of the Oklahoma Heritage Association. He also served as an elder for the Chandler First Presbyterian Church. In 2010, he was named to represent Lincoln County on the advisory board of the Salvation Army in Shawnee. He thought highly of its mission and often helped with fundraising.

Don had many titles, but his family knew him as Dad, Daddyo, Papa and P-Pop.

He made it a point to introduce himself to people he met and he was genuinely interested in other people’s lives. He had an uncanny ability to remember names and faces.

Don was extremely active and could often be seen striding down Manvel Avenue to the bank to solve the world’s problems with his coffee buddies. He went to his office downtown every day and kept going strong until his health started to decline this past year.

Don was preceded in death by his parents; his daughter Susan Jane Ferrell, who died in the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, and his two brothers James (Jimmy) Richard, a Navy veteran who died in 2001, and Joseph Bryan, a retired USAF rescue pilot, who died in 2010. Survivors include his wife, Sally, of Chandler; daughter Cynthia Ferrell Ashwood and her husband, Albert, of Chandler; grandson Donald Ashwood; Donald’s wife, Heather; and great grandson Aiden James, all of Chandler; granddaughter Rachel Ashwood Scott and her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Scott, of Elgin, Oklahoma; cousins, nieces, nephews and many friends.

The family wishes to thank Kaleen Strickland, La-Donna Stockholm and Jennifer Helms, who helped Don these last few weeks. They also wish to thank Luminos Hospice for the medical and spiritual guidance during the last days of his life.

In remembrance of Don’s life, the family asks that any charitable donations be made to the Oklahoma City National Memorial or The Salvation Army, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

A celebration of Don’s life was held on April 6, 2024, at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church, 912 W. First Street, Chandler, Oklahoma.