Bill Foster Dies at 84; Taught at Sitka High

William Luther Foster

William Luther Foster, 84, a Sitka High teacher for many years, passed away November 9, 2023.

 Bill was born March 14, 1939, in Desota, Missouri, the youngest of three children of Dr. Luther and Grace (Moody) Foster. He grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, and spent most of his childhood exploring the banks of the Mississippi River. He graduated in 1957 from Hannibal High School and shortly afterward he and his best friend, Bob Miller, planned a road bike trip from Hannibal to Havana, Cuba. After 2,750 miles and 63 days, they completed the round-trip journey, that was later documented in Adventure Cycle Magazine as one of the greatest feats accomplished by two inexperienced young cyclists.

After returning from Cuba, Bill graduated from William Jewel College in Liberty, Missouri, in 1965 with a degree in education.

One of his first teaching jobs was in Petoskey, Michigan, where he taught high school biology and marine ecology. While there, he met and married Sharon Croff, an elementary school teacher.

Bill and Sherry shared a dream of visiting Alaska. In 1968, with the support of their families, they traveled there after securing teaching jobs in Craig and later taught in Klawock and Nome. Their first child, daughter Brooke, was born in Nome in 1970. A year later, they returned to Michigan,  where son Birch was born in 1972.

 The family lived at the University of Michigan Biological Station where Bill was working on his master’s in biology studying behavior of the yellow-bellied sapsucker (a woodpecker) and was a teaching assistant. His time spent at the station was foundational for him and the memories and friends he made during his time there were lifelong. Soon though, he felt the call back to the North.

 The family returned to Alaska in 1976 when Bill received an offer to teach science at Sitka High School. Sherry also began teaching and they made Sitka their full-time residence.

Bill’s passion for teaching was evident in every aspect and he claimed he never missed a day of school in 26 years. In his biology and oceanography courses, his ability to promote learning through positive, entertaining, and exciting lessons plans was a master class in engaging education.

His high school room smelled of saltwater aquariums, rehabilitating owls, formaldehyde, gummy bears, recently de-fleshed whale bones, and of course coffee. Frequently, there were disco balls on the ceiling, moon river playing in the background, a  toy boat filled with chocolate syrup depicting the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and a taxidermy ermine outside his classroom window in celebration of groundhog’s day.

His enthusiasm was contagious, and his ideas and influence  expanded outside the classroom with the Incredible Edible, tide pooling excursions at Halibut Point, bird banding, Allen Marine science cruises, student government, coaching the cutters basketball team and the infamous David Letterman assembly, to name just a few.

Bill loved boating, fishing and simply being on the water with his family and friends, spending countless weekends exploring the islands surrounding Sitka. His affinity for the water eventually led to establishing a fishing and sightseeing charter business in the 1980s. He was active with the Sitka Charter Boat Association and also garnered a seat on the Northern Panel of the Pacific Salmon Commission in the 1990s, receiving recognition from Governor Tony Knowles for his work with treaty negotiation.

 After retiring from teaching, Bill continued to stay busy with other jobs and careers and thoroughly enjoyed staying active and the camaraderie of these positions. He worked at Allen Marine as an onboard naturalist among other capacities over the next two decades. He also joined the team at Alaska Airlines Air Cargo in Sitka where he worked for 10 years.  He was recognized by Alaska Airlines in 2010 and give The Legend award, for his blend of spirit, resourcefulness, integrity and professionalism. The time Bill spent at the Yellow Jersey bike shop fueled his rejuvenation and passion for cycling and outdoor activities.

 Bill loved Sitka and the community  and was proud of Sitka’s progressive attitude. He was an advocate and board member of the public library, involved in the creation of Whale Park, helped create walking tours for visitors, enjoyed the wearable arts show,  and had loved being a part of the local biking, kayaking and hiking community.

He was a history buff and occasionally even an expert on state and local history, with one of his many passions being old books – books about everything but arctic or Alaska in particular.

He also took pride in his extensive Alaska license plate collection. He enjoyed exploring villages and obscure locations to find one-of-a-kind license plates to complete his collections.

Bill traveled to the most southern, eastern, western and northern point in Alaska just because. In a cold twist of irony, his highlight trip of his life was visiting Antarctica with Sherry in 2013.

More than anything else, Bill Foster was a kind, generous and spirited man who always had a smile, a good joke to share, or a positive message for a friend, an old student or even a complete stranger.

His family is planning a celebration of his life and a memorial in Sitka in July.

Survivors include his wife, Sharon D. Foster, Sitka; daughter Brooke M. Walk, of North Carolina; son, Birch Foster of Kodiak; sister Marjorie Hooper, South Carolina; grandchildren Foster Hugo Walk, Piper Anna Walk and Skyler Charlotte Walk, all of North Carolina, and Cassidy Skye Foster and Kevin W. Foster, both of Kodiak.

For those wishing to make donations in Bill’s honor, the family suggests KCAW, Sitka Fine Arts Camp, Sitka Public Library, Sitka Trail Works, Fortress of the Bear, Sitka Sound Science Center or the Alaska Raptor Center.

 

 

Mr. Foster Fondly Recalled

As an Outstanding Teacher

By Roald Helgeson

Sitka High School Class of 1988

I heard that Bill Foster passed away. I stopped what I was doing as a flood of memories came to me about his impact with his family, in our community, and in my life.

We had so many great teachers in Sitka. Many made permanent impacts in our lives that will never be forgotten. They helped shape who we are today. Bill Foster was one of those teachers.

He made high school interesting, especially for those of us that weren’t particularly good students. Mr. Foster wore his distinctive white lab coat with “57 Rules” on the back. He was kind, outgoing, and a whole lot of fun. He would race students down the hall when Shepherd’s Pie was on the lunch menu, making sure he was near the front of the line.

He engaged his students in learning. The classrooms could be set up as Lituya Bay to study the mega tsunami, have toy boats and buoys to teach marine navigation, or include Mr. Foster dressed up in an outfit to punctuate the lesson plan. He would run his annual oceanography class out in the field on Allen Marine boats. He had us help the experts dissect a small whale washed up on the beach near Old Sitka. You never knew what you would find when you entered his class.

The only serious day I remember was frog dissection. He wanted to assure no remnants ended up in the lunch salad bar. Although I also remember a field trip to learn about the Sitka water treatment (aka sewer) plant after a particularly unruly class. We all ran home to take showers to wash the stench away during lunch. Somehow our next class was well behaved.

Mr. Foster had our back. We ran into challenges trying to start the Students

Against Driving Drunk as a risk reduction group. Unfortunately, our community was impacted by drunk driving deaths. Some adults wanted our program to address any alcohol and drug use. We wanted a targeted strategy to save our classmates that chose to drink, but we didn’t want them to drive. We nearly didn’t have a club as we could not get an adviser. Mr. Foster stepped up and we had our group.

He was also our student government adviser. We were active locally and across Alaska. If chaperoning all those swim club trips with his kids wasn’t enough, he did it again for us to participate in the region, state, and national level.

I saw Bill many times since high school, often in an airport. He always asked about how things were going, genuinely interested in his past students. It amazed and inspired me to hear about his latest adventures.

Mr. Foster taught us about sciences, but also taught us about being a good person. Like many teachers, he cared deeply for his students. He also left his mark on many of us.

Sherry D. Foster, Brooke Walk, and Birch Foster, I am sorry for your loss. The pain of your loss must feel unbearable. I hope that even in this sorrow, your memories of Bill’s life and impact make you smile. I hope the memories of your many adventures as a family hold you up during this time. Please know that Mr. Foster made a difference to many of us in his lifetime.

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