For more than five decades, Don Foster has helped keep the wheel of the North Fork Rotary Club turning. He has shaken countless hands, attended more than 2,500 meetings both here and abroad, helped raise money for scholarships, non-profits and other notable causes, dropped many a dollar in the donations can and sung a lot of silly songs.
Foster is recognized as one of the longest-serving members in the club's 93-year history. Citing a loss of hearing which makes communication difficult, Foster sent a letter in late September announcing his resignation, "with a lot of regret and memories. Rotary has been a big part of my life for the last 56 years. I am proud to have been a part of it."
Foster joined Rotary in 1959. "Way back then," wrote Foster in an email, "there were a couple of dedicated Rotarians, Merle Dale and Shorty Hunteen, who were the official truant officers for the club," and were good at rounding up suitable prospects for membership, including Foster. Rotary urges 100 percent attendance from its members, and upon missing a meeting, he and Hobart Knight were taken for a ride to Montrose by Dale and Hunteen to make up for the missed meeting. "For many years back then our club held the distinction of being No. 1 in the district for attendance, bless their souls."
Foster served as president 1964-1965, and was editor of the weekly bulletin for 23 years, handing off the honors recently to Sarah Bishop. "Why I haven't been treasurer I'll never know," said Foster, a retired banker.
Four times he was recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow for contributing $1,000 or more in a calendar year to The Rotary Foundation.
"I just think Rotary International is tops worldwide," wrote Foster. He praised its many philanthropic projects and programs, including the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which began in 1988 and partnered with governmental and private organizations to end the debilitating disease.
Foster has also seen "great change" in his 56 years with Rotary, the greatest being the admission of women into the club. While women were first considered for membership in 1950, according to Rotary.org, they weren't officially allowed in worldwide until 1989. Prior to that, the local club had an active "Rotaryanns" organization. The club benefited greatly by their admission, said Foster, "not because the men were lazy, but those women just had so much enthusiasm and ambition ... and imagination."
Since then, five women have served as club president, including Peggy Herndon (1994-95), Peggy Szveteca (2003-04), Jackie Parks (2010-11), Bishop (2006-07), and current president Marsha Grant.
An avid traveler, Foster attended meetings and collected banners from a dozen countries, including Japan, the Netherlands and Great Britain.
When asked of his favorite memories, he replied, "Gosh, there are a hundred favorite memories of Rotary." But the best were when his family hosted two high school students through the Rotary Youth Exchanges program. One of those students, Rear Admiral Miguel Jose Rodriguez, who retired with honors from the Philippine military, stayed with the Fosters in 1972. In July, Rodriguez, who went on to become a long-standing Rotarian, returned to Paonia with his family to visit the Fosters and attend a meeting. He pointed to Rotary and his time in Paonia for instilling in him a sense of service.
Foster is considered the second-longest sustaining club member. The longest-serving member, L.E. "Doc" Bradshaw, joined in 1936 and resigned in 2007. He died at the age of 103. While he'll turn 94 soon, Foster is not the oldest current member. At 97, Felix Belmont joined in 2003. He is currently club secretary, and the one who dug up this historical information.
"I have been trying to catch up with Felix ever since he joined up, but I can't get the job done," said Foster. "I have never seen a guy (other than Doc Bradshaw) that kept so active."
Foster said he is proud to have been a part of Rotary, and of the local club, which now boasts about 40 members and recently changed its name from The Rotary Club of Paonia to Rotary Club of the North Fork Valley in order to be more inclusive. He hopes to have his hearing restored enough to be able to attend meetings again in the future. In the meantime, wrote Foster to his fellow Rotarians, "I'll remember all of you, and keep cheering for you."