Safety director retires from job, not people



For Don Foerster, helping people is his love language.

“I’ve been told that I help too many people. But I won’t stop,” he said. “I care about people too much to stop.”

That caring attitude is the basis of his career. The 70-year-old Ferdinand man retired Friday as Huntingburg’s safety and risk management director, having served in that job for 24 years.

“I’m protective of people,” he said. “I’ve grown to be that way over the years.”

He has also been, and still is, involved in many community groups, especially activities involving children. He worked with the Little League in Ferdinand and Jasper. He coached basketball at Ferdinand Elementary and Cedar Crest Intermediate. Foerster helped start the Southern Indiana Junior High Soccer Conference in the 1990s, as well as the Forest Park Youth Soccer program. He still coaches junior high soccer and is involved with the Teen Outback board and Dubois County Triathlon.

Foerster has worked in the safety field since taking on the safety director position at JOFCO in 1972. He had worked at different furniture companies, including JOFCO, doing design and inventory work. But in 1972, JOFCO put him in charge of safety.

“That’s when I learned to put rubber gloves on, put masks on, protect the workers,” he said. “I’ve had an orientation for safety and believed in safety since then.”

Foerster joined the City of Huntingburg in 1995, when then-Mayor Connie Nass hired him as the city’s first safety and risk management director. She knew him through the Dubois County 911 Advisory Board, of which Foerster is still a member.

“Before, safety matters were being done by someone in each department,” he said. “It wasn’t a combined effort. I was hired and all that was combined under one person.”

In this job, Foerster took care of the safety matters involving the city employees and facilities, which in turn covered various safety matters in the community.

“The people here are my family. When they’re sick, I want to make sure they get better,” Foerster said. “And think of it like this: If I keep a healthy employee, that means the city doesn’t have to pay overtime for someone else to take their place. So we’re saving money in the long run, taxpayers’ money.”

He also took care of the health care and insurance matters for employees, which included holding health fairs and providing free health checks.

“Working all those things make people safer and healthier,” he said. “I don’t want to have to go home at night and say, ‘Dang, if I just done that, that person would be home with their family and kids.’”

A native of Perry County, Foerster married his first wife in the 1970s and moved to Jasper; they have since divorced. He lost his son, Brad Hudson, to suicide in 1989.

“That is when I decided to become involved with Survivors of Suicide,” Foerster said. He is still with the group, which means he is also active with the county’s health partnership.

Foerster is also involved with the Dubois County Substance Abuse Task Force, the Dubois County 911 Advisory Board and the American Red Cross Board. In the past, he has also served as district commissioner of the Amateur Softball Association, district representative of the Pony League for five states, chairman of Ferdinand Optimists and a member of Jasper Lions Club and Huntingburg Kiwanis Club.

Foerster now lives in Ferdinand with his wife, Kathy. They have three adult sons, Anthony, Michael and Tyler, and three grandchildren. In 1984 he joined the Ferdinand Plan Commission and Ferdinand Board of Zoning Appeals. In 1987, he took over issuing all the permits for the town.

He plans to keep doing that. “It’s my home,” he said. “I want to be a part of serving my community.”

Foerster also plans to continue meeting and getting to know people. “I’ll likely get a part-time job somewhere. I’ve been asking around,” he said. “I like to meet people. I like to be around people. I like to associate with people. That’s my key to being happy.”

Foerster also plans to get involved in more activities and groups, “if they’ll have me,” he said.

And he is confident that the new safety and risk management director, Travis Gentry, will do a great job. He and Gentry have been working together since the beginning of July. And with a city staff that has grown from 55 people when he started to 70 people now, that makes him feel good.

“The city is in good hands with Travis. He will do well,” Foerster said. “That makes me happy, because I know my family is in safe hands.”

Still, leaving the City of Huntingburg is bittersweet.

“I know it’s time,” Foerster said. “But my car may start up Monday to come here anyway. This is my family. I’m going to miss them.”

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