David Ferrell is the oldest of five children who, during his freshman year, put college on hold to help his ailing mother. A mentor, Charles Minor, helped him during this time. David joined the Job Corps, won a college scholarship, became a college football star and attracted the attention of an NFL team. After college he returned to the Job Corps, this time helping to run camps and, in many cases, became the catalyst to help improve centers. A chance meeting took him in yet another direction, this time as a Forest Service law enforcement officer. Today, David leads the Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations, which has 650 sworn officers.
You have an interesting story about how you became involved with the Job Corps, a path you had not planned on taking.
I originally came for one summer working with a contractor building two dormitories on the Flatwoods Job Corps Center in Colburn, Va., on the Jefferson National Forest. I grew up in South Boston, Va., in Halifax County. When I went there to build the dorms, I had just finished high school. My goal was to go to college, so after that summer I actually did. But my mother got ill. I withdrew from college to go back home to Virginia.
I was going to try to go back to college but stay close to home, and I had to work. The summer that I worked at the Job Corps Center in Virginia I met a man who would become very influential in my life, Charles Minor. Everyone called him Junk Man. He tried to get me to come to Job Corp to play sports because I was a pretty decent athlete. He stayed in touch with me and eventually convinced me to become a Job Corps student and, if my academics were good, he would help me get a scholarship to college.
It was a risk, I guess. I took the carpentry trade in Job Corps and completed it. Mr. Minor’s offer still had me focusing on my goal – getting back in college. My forward thinking at the time was that if I were good enough in sports and academics and could get a scholarship, then I didn’t have to get a loan to go to college. That meant it wouldn’t add a burden on me or my family. It was a risk worth taking.
I was in the Job Corps program about 10 months, and then graduated in December 1980. I started college in January 1981 at East Tennessee State University on a full football scholarship, playing defensive end/outside linebacker. In my last year, I was All Southern Conference Player of the Year. I actually got invited to pro camp with the St. Louis Cardinals as a linebacker in 1985. After an injury in pro camp, I decided to go to work. Mr. Minor thought he could get me hired on at the Job Corps Center. After all, it had been where I worked summers all through college. I volunteered for two or three months then got hired on as a “call when needed.” That was the beginning of my career with the Forest Service.
Working with the Job Corps students who were close to my age helped to mold me because when you are doing counseling sessions on teaching them conflict resolution, how to resolve things without fighting, you have to reflect about what you are teaching other people. It influences how you view life.
You did well, working your way through the Job Corps, including running or helping to run centers. Then a chance encounter with a deputy chief of the Forest Service sent you on a different path, law enforcement.
Law enforcement was always something I was interested in, and I think it was in sync with what I did. A number of centers I went to had been in trouble, and I was part of the group that helped to make those positive changes on those centers. I expressed my interest in law enforcement and this deputy chief assisted me in getting a law enforcement position with the Forest Service. I was reassigned to North Carolina as a trainee criminal investigator, and my training plan included my being a patrol officer to get versed in law enforcement.
You certainly led a life most people would envy.
I have to attribute it to being blessed and driven. My drive was to put myself in a place to help my family, particularly my mother. During this time my mother become disabled, unable to work after working so hard for us. I wanted to be in a place where I would be able to help her. We all control our lives to some degree and are responsible for the decisions that we make. The good ones and the bad ones.
But what do you attribute your success in choosing the right path?
I don’t know if it was any particular thing. I know that my mother was not thrilled that I left home, but I wanted to be in a position where if my mother needed or wanted something I could help. And there’s Mr. Minor. If I could have picked a father, I could not have done any better. He made a significant impact and changed my life. Hopefully I, too, have touched people’s lives, and I believe I have. One message I leave with people is, “If anyone has done anything that made a difference in your life, the repayment is to reach out and make a difference in someone else’s life.” As Mr. Minor did in my life.
The Faces of the Forest is a project of the U.S. Forest Service Office of Communication to showcase the people, places and professions within our agency, which is responsible for 193 million acres of forests and grasslands in 44 states and territories. If you know someone you would like to have profiled here, send an email with the person's name, work location and a bit about to Faces of the Forest.