Friday, November 11, 2005

Obituary: Marvin Foster

EAU CLAIRE - Marvin Foster, veteran performer and conductor in the early days of the Madison Theater Guild and pioneer in the development interdisciplinary college curricula in Wisconsin and San Francisco, died in his hometown of Eau Claire on Sept. 26, 2005. The cause of death was cancer. Mr. Foster was an active participant in the early days of Madison Theatre Guild musical productions as a director, conductor, singer and actor. Of the many roles he played, he is most remembered for his portrayals of the King in The King and I and Harold Hill in The Music Man. He also conducted several musicals with the Theater Guild including Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, Carousel, The Boy Friend, Little Mary Sunshine, Damn Yankees, and Most Happy Fella. In addition, he directed the first off Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof in Madison. At the time of his death he was professor emeritus of Creative Arts at San Francisco State University. During the 1960s, Foster was director of the Bureau of Lectures and Concerts at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he produced art programs for schools throughout Wisconsin and the Midwest. These programs integrated different art forms into single productions with common themes. In 1969, he joined the faculty at San Francisco State University as chairman of the Center of Interdisciplinary Arts in the School of Creative Arts. At San Francisco State, he created an interdisciplinary program that merged the performing, visual and media arts. This innovative approach to educational curricula broke down traditional departmental barriers and created a model for interdisciplinary programs that has been adapted by other colleges throughout the country. While in San Francisco, Foster joined and became very active in the Bohemian Club, where he continued his theatrical interests and produced and directed dozens of shows. Foster was born in 1921, the son of Charles Foster and Elsie Toy Foster. He attended both high school and college in Eau Claire, where he was very active in all aspects of music. During World War II, he served as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy. He was the commanding officer of a landing craft in North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and Southern France. After the war, he moved with his wife, the former Ruth Augustine of Eau Claire, to Madison, where he entered graduate school in the Philosophy of Education at the University of Wisconsin. While a graduate student, he served on the faculty at Madison Central High School for several years before taking the directorship of the University's Bureau of Lectures and Concerts. His time in Madison also included the directorship of the Jane Addams' Hull House touring theater and the Hull House Fine Arts Camp at East Troy. In the early 1960s he served as a consultant for the performing arts for the governments of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and Greece. He returned to Eau Claire in 1992 for the 100th birthday of his mother. He met and married another Eau Claire native, Katherine Garnock Gilbertson, and remained in his hometown until his death. He is survived by his second wife, Katherine Garnock Foster; three children, David Foster (Betsy Jacaruso) of Rhinebeck, N.Y., Deborah Foster (David Eppstein) of Brookline, Mass., and Thomas Foster (Annie) of Blaine, Wash.; three stepchildren, Julia Colvin (Michael) of Durham, N.C., Philip Gilbertson (Jan) of Blacksburg, Va., and James Gilbertson of Richmond, Va.; three grandchildren, Laura and Daniel Eppstein of Brookline, Mass., and Tonya Howe (Joe) of Dubuque, Iowa; a step-grandchild, Cara Hamill of Rhinebeck, N.Y.; and four great-grandchildren

Originally published in the Wisconsin State Journal on November 11, 2005

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