Dr. Donald "Don" James Foster


OREGON, Ill. - Dr. Donald "Don" James Foster, B.S., M.S., Ed.D., professor, President Emeritus, passed away on Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, at Serenity House, in Oregon, Ill., following many years of battling cancer.

A native of Paw Paw, Lee County, Ill., Don was born on Nov. 24, 1938, the second of five children. His parents were Ethel L. Merriman and Thomas L. Foster, of rural West Brooklyn, Ill. Paternal grand-parents were Lillian G. Tice and John E. Foster, of Grinnell, Iowa; maternal grandparents were Annie B. Shaddick and James H. Merriman, of Paw Paw. The Merriman family being long-time residents of the area, his great-great grandparents, Mary French and Peter Merriman, migrated to Paw Paw in 1846.

Don attended several rural Lee County elementary schools and was a member of the last graduating class of Lee Center High School in 1956. He farmed with his father for two years; then joined the U.S. Army (1958-1960). Being trained as a tank-radio mechanic, he was assigned to Company C, 1st Medium Tank Battalion, Combat Command C, 32nd Armor, 3rd Armored Division and stationed in Friedberg, Hesse, Germany. Don enjoyed re-counting stories of Elvis Presley, who often visited a mutual friend in Don's barracks.

Following his military service, Don attended Illinois State University, receiving his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees. In 1964, he began his career in education as a history teacher at Sterling Township High School (1964-1968). In later years, he was a member of the Sterling Unit-5 school board, serving as board president for two years.

An early proponent of Illinois community colleges, Don joined the faculty of the newly established Sauk Valley (Junior) Community College in 1968. He taught courses in western civilization, world geography, economics and anthropology - receiving academic rank of professor in 1976; and, becoming Dean of Education in 1981.

Continuing his education during summers and night school, he was also a recipient of several National Science Foundation and National Defense Education Act Summer Scholarships where he attended graduate courses at Indiana University, University of Illinois, Western Illinois University, Southern Illinois University and University of Colorado. Don received his Doctorate in Education from Northern Illinois University in 1979.

In 1987, Don accepted a position at Waubonsee Community College as Vice President of Education, in Sugar Grove, Ill., in the Aurora, Ill., area, becoming Executive Vice President in 1986.

Leaving the Illinois community college system in 1995, he moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to become President of Gogebic Community College, Ironwood. At his retirement in 2005, he had the distinction of being the college's longest-serving president and was subsequently awarded President Emeritus status.

A dedicated community-service volunteer, Don gave his time and talent to many service groups wherever he lived, including while at GCC: Lion's Club of Hurley, Wis .; Ironwood-Hurley Rotary Club, member, president and a Marvin Harris Fellow; Ironwood Chamber of Commerce; Gogebic County Sustainable Forestry Committee; Grandview Hospital Finance Board; Ironwood Theatre Board; Knights of Columbus Council 1396; Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church; and GCC Foundation.

Following his retirement in 2005, Don and his wife moved to Winnebago, Ill., where he was a member of Rockford Rotary Club; Winnebago Lion's Club; Winnebago Public Library board; Knights of Columbus 4739; St. Mary Catholic Church in Byron, Ill .; and was a board member of SUAAction, the political action committee of State University Annuitants Association.

Family-members preceding him in death include: his parents; an older brother, Thomas E. Foster, of Dixon, Ill .; and a brother-in-law, John W. Tutlis, of Brooklyn, N.Y.

He is survived by his wife, the former Eugenia Tutlis, whom he met at college and married on Sept. 2, 1961. Three children also survive: Virginia S. Gibson (Jerome M. Gibson), of San Antonio, Texas; Joseph E. Foster of Oswego, Ill .; and Mary P. Zuwala (Mark L. Zuwala) of Celebration, Fla. He is also survived by five grandchildren: Hannah C. Gibson and Grant M. Gibson; Mary N. Foster and Nicholas T. Foster; and Jillian C. Zuwala; sister-in-law, Mrs. Tom Foster (Shirley A. Schnell); brother, David A. Foster (Susan E. Erickson), of rural Ashton, Ill .; sister, Barbara L. Wager (Dennis L. Wager), of Towanda, Ill .; brother, William H. Foster (Katherine M. Burhenn), of The Villages, Fla .; and brother-in-law, Paul H. Tutlis, of Danville, Ill.

Christian funeral Mass will be held Friday Jan. 30, 2015 at 10:30 a.m. in St. Mary Catholic Church, Byron, Ill., with Father Howard Barch celebrating. Visitation will be held Thursday from 5-8 p.m. in the Farrell-Holland-Gale Funeral Home, 506 W. Merchant St., Byron, with a prayer vigil at 7:45 p.m. There will also be visitation Friday at the church from 9:30-10:30 a.m. Committal Rite of Christian Burial will be at 2 p.m. Friday in Wyoming Township Cemetery, Paw Paw, next to his parents and amongst several generations of relatives.

May God grant him eternal peace.

The Foster family respectfully requests that memorial contributions in Don's honor be made to Rotary Club's "Polio Fund," a world-wide effort to eradicate polio. Please make checks payable to: Polio Fund, Rotary International Foundation, c/o Rockford Rotary Club, P.O. Box 1323, Rockford, IL 61105 (on the memo line: "Don Foster memoriam").


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