75 years: Wendell Foster still caters to the same mission

By Christie Netherton Messenger-Inquirer

After 75 years, Wendell Foster still has the same mission as day one, to empower those with disabilities, a mission that it has not fallen short of and that continues building on through every decade, according to CEO Doug Hoyt.

The local nonprofit works to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It’s a rich history and we’re really proud of it, to think about how we began with Wendell and Edith Foster caring for seven children,” he said. “Those are just really humble beginnings, through which 75 years, we have found different ways to support people, needs that people have that they never anticipated, and we’ve grown into those needs.”

The nonprofit was founded in 1947 by Wendell Foster and his wife, Edith Foster.

The couple was inspired to start the organization to provide care for individuals with cerebral palsy, inspired by their daughter Louise Foster who was born with the same condition.

“That was a disorder that not too many people really understood and they really didn’t want to let others know that their children had a disability, so it was really common back then that they would hide their children,” Hoyt said.

Wendell Foster, who was drafted into World War II as a cook, was able to learn medical techniques from medics tending to wounded soldiers. He took that knowledge back to Owensboro to help his daughter and eventually opened up Wendell Foster to give that same care to other individuals and offer them a better quality of life, according to Hoyt.

“When they returned to Owensboro, he and Edith decided they wanted to do this as their life’s work, so they went knocking door-to-door,” he said. “They started the first facility with seven total children, not knowing how they were going to make it.”

The first building was purchased soon after his return at 815 Triplett Street, and although it is no longer standing, the current campus is located in the same place.

In an oral history interview with Henry Wilson in 1984, Wendell Foster stated that he and Edith had many difficult financial times, but were always able to pull through with the help of the community.

When he retired in 1977, Foster said the home had 124 children it assisted, compared to the seven it started with just 30 years prior.

It had grown to offer educational opportunities, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and other services to clients.

“The school grew fast,” he said in the interview. “We went in with seven, and you know you have to be pretty careful what you pray about because you might get it. I wanted a big school, and … so many children came to us for help that we almost out-growed ourselves.”

The outcome, Hoyt said, was a long-lasting effect on the community and the many children who needed the services that Wendell Foster has provided all these years.

“It was an opportunity for Wendell and Edith to be all-encompassing for those children who were previously hidden away and been left out of society and had not been given the same opportunities that somebody else had been given,” he said. “They gave the opportunity for those children to have a fulfilled life.”

Now, Hoyt said, the organization still has that same mission to empower those with disabilities, but on an even larger scale.

“It’s kind of exciting to think about how we’ve grown over those 75 years and what we have become from Wendell and Edith providing therapy to their daughter Louise and six other children, to now, we have 370 employees and serving thousands of people a year,” he said. “Our mission today is the same mission; it’s to empower people with disabilities to reach their full potential. That’s what they did then and that’s what we do now. Throughout those 75 years, that’s never changed.”

Christie Netherton, [email protected]irer.com, 270-691-7360