Those who knew Fred Forster often heard him sign off conversations with a send-off of, “Blue skies.”
“For a pilot, that’s what you want,” Forster’s daughter Joy Carver said Thursday with tears in her eyes as she recalled her dad. “I looked up today and saw blue skies.”
The occasion was a dedication of a seating area at the Clayton Center for the Arts in Forster’s name. After the community leader died in November, friends and colleagues began sending memorial donations to Maryville College to honor the man who served as 134th Air Refueling Wing and president and CEO of the Blount Chamber Partnership.
On Thursday, Sept. 1, a dedication ceremony showcased the visible results of those donations. About 50 folks turned out to see two plaques, three planters and two benches that have been installed on the plaza of the Clayton Center, overlooking downtown Maryville.
“What a fitting memorial to Fred to have another gathering place,” said his wife, Carolyn Forster. “It recognizes Fred’s efforts to bring us all together. He brought people together, that was his philosophy.”
As she stood at the podium, Carolyn said she was humbled by how many friends were on-hand for the mid-afternoon dedication ceremony. “This is the first time I’ve looked out at the whole group, and I see so many friends. Thank you for your generosity. Thank you again for honoring Fred by your gifts to the Clayton Center and for this place where we can enjoy being together as a community,” she said. “So many people chose to memorialize him in such a special way. It means a lot to our family.”
Carolyn said one of her husband’s lasting legacies will be the manner in which he got things done. “Fred had the ability to bring the right partners together for projects or an issue, and the Clayton Center for the Arts is just one of the many partnership efforts in our community,” she said. “As you all know, Fred was all about partnerships.”
When Eric Bellah, director of the Maryville Fund at Maryville College, suggested the benches as a way to use the funds donated in Fred’s name, Carolyn said she like the idea right away. “I said, ‘I like that. That fits,’” she said.
Rebecca Forster recalled how her father enjoyed dining out so he could be out in the community. “The idea of benches as a gathering spot is the best tribute I could imagine. He was a social person who loved to be with people,” she said.
Joy Carver said Eric Bellah and the Maryville College staff were very good to work with in determining how best to memorialize her dad. Carver said they gave such suggestions as endowing a scholarship or doing a lecture series. The college came up with the idea of the benches and planters, and it resonated with Carver. “So many people donated from different parts of his life. The college and Eric Bellah did a phenomenal job,” she said. “This is the perfect example of people coming together to do something for the greater good.
Several members of a prayer and Bible study group Fred started about six years ago contributed to the fund to underwrite the cost of the planters, Carolyn Forster said.
Bill Beaty, a member of the Bible study group Fred started, praised his late friend. “We’re fortunate in Blount County we had somebody of Fred’s caliber,” he said. “We’re pleased to honor his legacy.”
Joy Bishop said it was a good day to think about her friend. “I loved Fred. He was a friend, and I miss him very much. I look forward to coming here often, sitting and reading and thinking about Fred,” she said.
Steve West said the new gathering place was symbolic of the man who created community connections. “He brought people together and made things happen. His love of community was only surpassed by his love of his family,” he said.
Maryville city councilman Tommy Hunt said Fred Forster was a good friend. “He always had the community at heart, whether it was with Nine Counties, One Vision or with Blount County. He always was willing to work behind the scenes to help get things done,” Hunt said.
Bryan Daniels, president and CEO of the Blount Chamber Partnership, said Fred Forster was his mentor and that he was honored to work closely with him over the years. “Anything I can do to further his memory and honor his legacy, I want to do that. Today is about Fred’s legacy, and I’m honored to be a part of it,” he said.
The dedication plaque reads: “This seating area is provided in memory of Major Gen. (Ret.) Frederick H. Forster, through generous donations by his many friends.
“Fred served his community, state and country with distinguished honor. The needs and desires of the community and people around him fueled Fred’s servant spirit. His wisdom in service stamped a legacy on each organization he served, but above all else, Fred was a man of tremendous and unwavering faith. His faith was always evident, whether he was leading the 134th Air Refueling Wing, guiding the Blount County Chamber Partnership, mentoring countless young people in our community or in his everyday life with his family. Fred’s prayers always ended with, ‘Make us ever mindful of the needs of others,’ and his passion for people motivated him to develop and cultivate lasting relationships.”