LEONARD E. FERGUSON Jr. had to deal with problems many kids face in the sometimes-mean streets of a big city.

So he was in an ideal position to help new generations of youngsters cope with the same challenges.

As a juvenile-probation officer for the city of Philadelphia, Len saw it as his life's purpose to give troubled kids a chance to overcome the situations that got them into the toils of the law.

"Growing up in the city, he knew what a lot of these kids were going through," said his son Lateef Ferguson, a Pennsylvania state trooper. "He saw them getting in with the wrong crowd and taking the wrong track, and it was his job to put them back on the right track.

"It was a challenge for him, to turn the lives of these kids around."

Leonard Ferguson Jr., whose emphasis on the value of education encouraged his three sons to graduate from college, a devoted family man who was always there for his children, died Thursday of heart disease. He was 57 and lived in West Oak Lane.

"He was a loving father," Lateef said. "He always attended the activities and events we were involved in. He always put his family before himself."

As a probation officer, "he established many good and lasting relationships with both clients and co-workers," his family said.

Len was born in Philadelphia to Delores and Leonard Ferguson Sr. He graduated from Overbrook High School in 1973, and went on to Lincoln University. He received a bachelor of science degree in 1977.

He became a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, and remained an active brother.

In 1984, Len married the former Donna Askew. Although the marriage ended in divorce, they remained friends and shared in raising the children.

Besides his son, ex-wife and parents, he is survived by two other sons, Jerel and Atbia, and a brother, Ronald Ferguson. He was predeceased by another brother, Michael Ferguson Sr.

Services: 11 p.m. Thursday at Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church, 4301 Aspen St. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Fernwood Cemetery.