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Marilyn Foster, 1929-2012

Marilyn Hanson Foster
Community Activist and “Island Jewel”

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CORONADO – During the Vietnam War, Marilyn Foster, as wife of the commanding officer of her husband’s squadron, had the unenviable job of informing other Navy wives when their husbands had been shot down, and either killed or declared missing in action. Marilyn didn’t enjoy this odious responsibility, but she handled it with great grace, dignity and compassion.

Marilyn was a loyal and conscientious Navy wife. Her husband, Wynn Foster, was frequently away on six-to-nine-month deployments. Like so many other Navy wives, she stayed home to raise the children and keep home life as normal as possible. Later on, she became a pillar in her community of Coronado, well loved and admired as a woman who generously volunteered her time for a multitude of causes and passions.

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Marilyn Hanson Foster died July 10 of complications from congestive heart disease. She passed in the comfort of her own home, surrounded by loving family in her final hours. She was 83.

First birthday. February 8, 1930, Minneapolis, MN.

Marilyn Hanson at 19, 1948.

Marilyn was born February 8, 1929, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the third of four children to Ida and Carl Hanson. Her father supported his family throughout the Great Depression as a barber. Her mother was largely responsible for the Minneapolis Public Schools’ first biology program.

After a couple years of college, Marilyn married Wynn Foster, a young ensign in the US Navy. Wynn’s orders took them around the country for 20 years. Duty stations included Pensacola, FL; Corpus Christi, TX; St. Simons Island, GA; Monterey, CA; Norfolk, VA; Memphis, TN; Lemoore, CA; and Coronado, CA.

March 19, 1949, Wynn and Marilyn cut their wedding cake.

Commander Foster, once a wingman to Admiral James B. Stockdale, was shot down over the Tonkin Gulf in 1967. He lost his right arm in the incident, and the family spent the following year in Washington DC as he waged a successful battle to remain in the Navy. He was subsequently promoted, and became known to many as “Captain Hook”.

The story of how he battled to stay in the Navy, and was eventually declared fit to return to active duty, has become legend. He captured the story in his book, “Captain Hook: A Pilot’s Tragedy and Triumph in the Vietnam War.”

In 1968 the couple transferred to Coronado, which would be Captain Foster’s final duty station. Like so many other Navy families, the Fosters quickly recognized Coronado as a paradise, and happily settled in with their three children.

Former wingmen unite. From left, Marilyn and Wynn Foster, Sybil and Jim Stockdale.

Marilyn had a lifelong thirst for knowledge. She viewed life as a long series of possible new and entertaining activities. If she didn’t like a particular experience, such as when she and a friend spent the day picking cotton in Memphis (just so she’d know what it was like), Marilyn would simply say, “Well, checked off that box,” and she would move on.

Fearless and insatiable in her search for new experiences, Marilyn took classes or taught herself to do a wide variety of arts and crafts – sewing, tailoring, knitting, embroidery, tole painting, ceramics, jewelry making. She loved trying new activities, and demonstrated great aptitude at most of them.

She loved to read, and her taste was eclectic – from fiction to history and everything in between. Just a few months prior to her death she went to the Coronado Friends of the Library’s Book Sale and came home with a large bag full of fresh reading material – an annual adventure she always looked forward to.

The Foster family in 2012, from left, Amy, Scott, Marilyn, Wynn and Cori.

Marilyn loved keeping busy, and her calendar was continually jam-packed. The word “no” didn’t seem to be in her vocabulary. As a result, her agenda remained consistently filled with copious activities.

Among her many community involvements, Marilyn was an active member of the Coronado Women’s Club (40 years), twice serving as its president, and in other years chairing most of the club’s numerous sections.

Most recently, she worked to establish the “Night Section” of the Coronado Women’s Club, which encouraged younger women with daytime careers to become active by joining, and attending evening meetings of the Coronado Women’s Club.

For many years she acted as liaison to the Coronado Junior Women’s Club. Marilyn’s peers touted her as a role model for younger women in the community. In 2010, the Coronado Junior Women’s Club honored her service by setting up the Marilyn Foster Scholarship for Coronado High School students.

“I feel fortunate to have known Marilyn as a friend, said Ann Knoche. “I thought many times how nice it would have been to have her for an older sister. She was a role model, a confidant, an advisor, an energizer and a leader.”

Daughter Cori (left), Marilyn, and a dolphin friend in 2003.

The community of Coronado gave her strength, and Marilyn seemed to have no limits to what she was willing to give back in return. She was actively involved in the Coronado Hospital Foundation as a board member for many years, and volunteered in numerous other capacities at the hospital as well.

A long-time member of the Coronado Bridge and Bay Garden Club and Coronado Floral Association, Marilyn held the role of president and chaired numerous committees within the group.

She was an avid gardener, taking great pride in her orchid house, succulents, birds of paradise, and other floral wonders in her own yard. She was particularly pleased that her large, tropical plumeria was judged “Best in Show” for potted plants for two years running.

An active supporter of the San Diego Zoological Society for many years, Marilyn took great pleasure in escorting visitors to the Zoo and Wild Animal Park, and loved to go on behind-the-scenes tours to learn more about animals and zoo operations.

The 2007 Foster Family Reunion for Wynn’s 80th birthday. Everyone wore a shirt that said,

“Captain Hook Is 80.” Everyone, that is, except Wynn. His shirt said, “I’m Captain Hook.”

Anyone who knew Marilyn was well aware of her huge collection of hippopotami. The genesis of her love for that enormous beast came from a 1978 event when a 4,000-pound hippo named Bubbles won national attention by escaping from an Orange County wild animal park and eluding capture for 19 days.

Marilyn saw the hippo as a cross between a symbol of the liberated lady and comic relief from the day-to-day world crises. Over the years, friends and family delighted in adding to her collection of hippos of all shapes and sizes on gift-giving occasions.

Most mornings you’d find Marilyn at the table in her breakfast room with a cup of coffee, her well-worn dictionary, almanacs, and most recently her electronic friend Google, working on crossword puzzles. She especially loved the challenging New York Times puzzles.

Beneath her gentle exterior was a spine of steel, but friends knew Marilyn as gentile and unfailingly gracious. She always had a smile and kind words for people she knew and met, which prompted at least one of her friends to exclaim upon hearing of Marilyn’s passing, “The Island’s crown has lost one of its jewels.”

Marilyn Foster is survived by, and will be greatly missed by, her husband Wynn Foster, children Cori Walker (Norm Gordon) of Ann Arbor, MI; Scott Foster of Prescott, AZ; and Amy Beaupre (Russ) of Prescott, AZ. Her granddaughters Holly and Annie Beaupre of Prescott, AZ, and her brother Carl Raymond Hanson of Minneapolis, MN also survive her.

Marilyn as a flamingo during the July 4th,

1999 Independence Day Parade.

In accordance with Marilyn’s wishes, there will be no memorial service. Instead, the family invites her many friends to attend a “Celebration of Marilyn’s Life” on Thursday, Sept. 13, from 4-8 p.m., in the Nautilus Room at the Coronado Community Center.

The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Coronado Junior Women’s Club’s “Marilyn Foster Scholarship Fund”.

[This article is reprinted with permission

from the Coronado Eagle/Journal Newspaper]

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Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler is a professional writer, publicist and Coronado historian. Formerly a writer with the Los Angeles Times, he has been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Europe. He also owns Part-Time PR (a subsidiary of Schooner or Later Promotions), specializing in helping Coronado businesses reach larger audiences with well-placed public relations throughout the greater San Diego County. He writes obituaries and living-obituaries under the cover "Coronado Storyteller." To find out more, write or call, or (619) 742-1034.


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