Helen Foerster: Spirited co-founder of Federated Woman's Club of Los Altos

Courtesy of the Foerster family
Family and friends described Mrs. Helen Foerster as caring and resilient.

Helen Foerster, the heart and soul of the Federated Woman’s Club of Los Altos since its inception more than 60 years ago, died April 27 after months of declining health. Mrs. Foerster was 96.

Mrs. Foerster’s passing coincides with the end of the Federated Woman’s Club itself. Club members opted approximately six months ago to discontinue it.

“We decided it had run its course,” club member Ruthie Hanson said.

It was a decision that had the blessing of Mrs. Foerster, who co-founded the club in 1957.

“She supported the club like it was her baby,” Hanson said. “We wouldn’t have done it without her permission.”

A final farewell meeting is scheduled June 1.

Mrs. Foerster, a native of Hazelton, Pa., moved to Los Altos in 1954. Three years later, she co-founded the club with neighbor Margaret Reimer. It was a time when many women were expected to stay home with their children. The club provided an outlet for moms outside the home.

“We figured there wasn’t a ladies club around here,” Mrs. Foerster told the Town Crier last year. “Margaret was a member of the Federated Women’s Club of San Jose, so we decided to start one here.”

They attracted 32 members for the first meeting. Their number grew to approximately 150 the first year, then peaked at more than 200 members in the early 1960s.

Under Mrs. Foerster’s leadership, the club raised funds for the construction of the Los Altos Youth Center. Enlisting the help of other local clubs, the Los Altos contingent raised more than $60,000 in just over a year. The total included a $10,000 contribution from the Bing Crosby Foundation.

The youth center, dedicated in January 1961, operates to this day.

Club projects included everything from supplying furniture for El Camino Hospital’s pediatric ward to funding 23 benches for downtown Los Altos. Ongoing contributions included support for veterans, student scholarships, toy collections during the holidays for the nonprofit Help One Child and food drives for Community Services Agency.

Multifacted life

Club involvement was just a part of Mrs. Foerster’s multifaceted life. Her daughter Patricia described Mrs. Foerster as a loving mom who always put family first.

“She was always involved, in her club, in her gourmet (cooking) group – she played bridge, she played golf, she had a full life,” Patricia said. “But she always had dinner on the table at 6 p.m. She was always helping her kids in doing whatever we asked of her.”

Smart, organized, sociable and even a bit feisty, Mrs. Foerster’s community involvement reflected her love of people. A voracious reader, she was curious about others and the world around her. And though she was unafraid to voice her opinions, Patricia said Mrs. Foerster never pushed them on her children.

“She embraced who we were individually,” she said.

Added Mrs. Foerster’s son, Richard: “She taught me the difference between right and wrong, how to stay positive, to trust my instincts and challenge myself to do better.”

Perseverance and adaptability also were among Mrs. Foerster’s traits. Rather than run from technology, she learned to use email. She learned to become financially savvy all on her own.

Friends and family marvel at her overcoming numerous family tragedies to accomplish what she did, all the while maintaining her positive spirit.

She lost one child to a miscarriage. Another daughter, Joanie, died at age 3. Her husband, David, died of a massive heart attack in 1972 at age 54. Another daughter, Barbara, suffered a stroke at age 31 in 1986, leaving her disabled. Mrs. Foerster cared for Barbara at her home until the end of her days.

Mrs. Foerster managed to pull through each time with the support of family and the strong network of friends from her beloved Federated Woman’s Club.

“She feels such a devotion to the club,” said Marcia Adams of the Los Altos History Museum, who conducted a 2014 Oral History interview with Foerster. “She is so humble – she doesn’t realize what a great accomplishment her life has been.”

“Let me put it this way,” club member Denise Connell told the Town Crier last year. “It would be impossible to replace her.”


















Mrs. Foerster is survived by her daughters Patricia and Barbara of Los Altos; son Richard (Sue) of Boise, Idaho; three grandchildren, seven great grandchildren and step-great-grandchildren; and sister Dorothy Farrell.

A memorial service is scheduled 1 p.m. May 19 at St. William Church, 611 S. El Monte Ave., Los Altos. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Los Altos History Museum or the charity of your choice.

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