Billy R. Foster
Bill R. Foster, Sr., businessman, philanthropist and community leader, died in his sleep of natural causes on July 24, 2014, at the age of 86 years. Born August 29, 1927, in Springfield, Missouri, he was the second son of Robert Earl and Martha Francis Culpepper Foster. He was preceded in death by his parents, his older brother, Robert Earl Foster, Jr., and by his first wife Eva Juanita Jones Foster.
Mr. Foster has been a lifelong resident of Springfield, MO, where his family has resided since the early 1800s. He was married to Eva Juanita Jones Foster for 25 years until her early death in 1975. In 1987 he married Juanitha M. Henkel, who survives him. He attended school in the Springfield School district, graduating from Springfield Senior High School (now Central High School) in 1935. He attended Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) for a brief time but did not receive his degree. Rather, because he could not enter the armed forces during WWII, he joined the merchant marines to support the war effort. He traveled the world during that time, fighting briefly in the Venezuelan Civil War. Realizing the dangers of such an occupation, Foster returned to his duties as a merchant marine, eventually landing in New Orleans, LA, where he gained the inspiration for what would later be his first successful business in Springfield: a help-yourself laundry.
Mr. Foster began his entrepreneurial career in Springfield as a paperboy for the Springfield News and Leader at the age of 10. He started with just one route, eventually expanding his routes to employ a number of other boys whom he paid with chocolate milk and fresh donuts. He managed the route into his teen years. After his term in the merchant marines, he made his way back to his hometown to begin building of a series of businesses, including a root beer and hot dog drive-in on Glenstone Ave., Springfield's first help-yourself laundry, and Foster Realty, a real estate company founded with long-time partner Robert H. Greene. Mr. Foster was known for his ability to make deals, as is evidenced by his entry into the real estate business which began when he traded a used car for a house in need of repair. He eventually moved the entire house to a more desirable location and sold it for a profit. He always loved buying and selling of property, believing that real estate is the most stable investment.
In 1956, Mr. Foster and his wife, Eva, opened their first nursing home for the elderly on Irving Avenue, which with the real estate company, became his main occupations until the 1970s, when he started a construction company to build affordable housing in Springfield and to act as general contractor for his expansion of the nursing home business. His model was to build a facility ahead of schedule and under budget, then work relentlessly to gain enough clients to make the business profitable. In the intervening time, Mr. Foster often funded the daily operations from his own resources, forgoing a salary until the business could stand on its own. He eventually sold the nursing homes and shortly after formed Foster Hospitality Group, which builds and operates senior care and assisted living facilities in the Midwest.
Mr. Foster has been an avid, if quiet, advocate for the fine arts, including support for The Springfield Symphony, The Springfield Art Museum, and the Springfield Little Theater. He loved vocal and choral music, especially opera, and watercolor paintings. He was a strong supporter of Watercolor USA and sponsor of many major vocal/choral concerts of the Springfield Symphony. Following in the footsteps of his parents and grandparents, Mr. Foster was also a noted supporter of education, physical fitness, and quality healthcare, donating significantly to Missouri State University, Ozark Technical Community College, the Good Samaritan Boys Ranch, Cox Medical Center, Cox Nursing School, among others, as well as providing scholarships and support for young people entering the health professions. His most notable contributions of late include the Bill R. Foster and Family Recreation Center at MSU and the Bill Foster Student Services at Ozark Technical Community College.
Mr. Foster was a longtime member of the Gate of the Temple Lodge, the York Rite, the Scottish Rite, and the Abou Ben Adhem Shrine. He was also a member of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, and the Springfield Baron's. He served for many years on the Governor's Advisory Council on Aging (Chairman), Springfield Council of Churches Foundation (Chair), The Missouri State University Foundation and The Cox Health Foundation Board of Directors.
In recent years, he was recognized as "Springfield's Best-kept Secret," by the Springfield Business Journal as well as receiving numerous honors, including being named Missouri Heart Association Missourian of the Year 2006, Chamber of Commerce Springfieldian of the Year 2009, Ozark's Region Philanthropist of the Year 2011, Missourian of the Year 2012, Baron's Giants of the Community Award 2014 and the Springfield Business Journal Lifetime Achievement Award.
Mr. Foster will be remembered as a kind, generous, and humble man, who worked hard every day of his life. He believed that by building businesses he could help his community, providing jobs, providing affordable housing, and building a better social and cultural environment. He was always eager to help the underdogs by offering them opportunities and the means to help themselves. He leaves behind a loving family and a legacy of kindness and generosity that sets high standards for those who remain to carry on his work. Family, friends and community members will miss his smile, wit, and generous spirit.
Mr. Foster is survived by Juanitha M. Foster, his wife; and his children, John Douglas and wife, Susan; Kaye Foster-Gibson and Terry Stoops; Bill R., Jr. and wife, Kathy Kuper (both of St. Louis, MO); Robert Anthony and wife Lyn; and Mark Bradley. He is also the grandfather of John, Jr., Amanda, Leaster, Megan, Christopher, Brennon, and Parker. He is the great-grandfather of Christian, and Nathan.
The funeral service is on Wednesday, July 30th, at 10:30 a.m. at St Agnes Cathedral where Mr. Foster was a long time member, 533 S Jefferson Ave, Springfield, MO 65806 (417) 831-3565.
Visitation is on Tuesday, July 29, 2014, from 6:00 until 8:00 pm at Klingner-Cope at Midtown, 1635 N Benton Ave, Springfield, MO 65803 (417) 862-0511
Mr. Foster will be interred at Greenlawn North Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Foundation - Council of Churches, 3000 E. Chestnut Expressway, Ste. A Box 3, Springfield, MO 65802
Online condolences may be made at www.klingner-midtown.com.
KLINGNER-COPE FAMILY F. H. AT MIDTOWN - Springfield
1635 North Benton Avenue Springfield, MO 65803
Published in the News-Leader from July 27 to July 29, 2014