Crete Mayor Roger Foster, who devoted years to public service following the tragic death of his 8-year-old daughter in 2004, died Wednesday. Foster was 50.
A lifelong Crete resident, Foster spent three years on the Crete City Council before becoming mayor in 2010. He was reelected in 2014 and again last November, only months after learning he had lung cancer.
Survivors include his wife of 27 years, Julie, and daughters Jasmine and Brooke.
A third daughter, Alexa, died of injuries when a cinder block wall collapsed while she was refilling a water gun in a public park bathroom while attending an after-school picnic.
Foster's sister-in-law, Debbie Foster, described the tragic event as a catalyst for Roger Foster becoming an advocate for his hometown.
After learning there was no state law mandating inspections of small public buildings such as the restroom, Foster founded "The Alexa Check," encouraging people to look for hidden dangers in public places and report anything unsafe.
After meeting with legislators, Foster helped push for a state law that would hold cities, counties and other public entities accountable for some accidents that occur in public parks or buildings.
It was approved in May 2007.
"When Roger could've taken something really tragic and internalized it and stayed out of the spotlight, he decided to take something really terrible that happened to him and every day he turned it into something positive," Debbie Foster said. "He made sure he used his life and the title he had as mayor to be impactful."
During his tenure, Foster embraced the community's evolving population in a rebranding effort. He also worked toward strengthening regulations for city buildings, improving the city's operations and further developing its park, according to City Administrator Tom Ourada.
"He was a very positive person. He was a very good leader, and he was nonjudgmental," Ourada said. "He empowered and encouraged."
Ourada described Crete's rebranding as one of Foster's proudest accomplishments. Working with an outside consultant to take an empirical and impartial look at the community, Foster helped create the city's new logo and its tagline, "Community in Motion," with the letters "unity" in bold.
"It just made us rethink what we were all about and where we wanted to go and what we represent," Ourada said. "He was especially proud of that."
An outpouring of community support followed his diagnosis, Debbie Foster said, and after entering hospice care, an online fundraiser was launched to help the family cover medical expenses.
By 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, more than $20,000 had been pledged by 237 donors. Many of the messages came from friends and family, community members and cancer survivors offering prayers and encouragement.
"Roger, thank you for your tireless community advocacy and for speaking up whenever you see or read injustice," Camie Nitzel said in one post. "You've defended me on more than one occasion, and I am grateful. Breathe easy, friend."
Ourada said he expected Foster to be remembered in the community for years to come.
"I think there will be reminders everywhere of his legacy and what he wanted for the community and all the things that were accomplished during his time here," he said.
Services will be Saturday at 10 a.m. at Sacred Heart Church, 515 E. 14th St., in Crete.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or email@example.com.