Posted 12/08/15 (Tue)
By Sydney Glasoe Caraballo
It is difficult to tally every selfless act, every kindness. To take full measure of the man.
Do you start with the thousands of photos he took at games and concerts and proms and graduations and personally delivered so every mother in Divide County would have those mementos of childhood?
Do you add up the volunteer miles driving children on the bus for field trips and sporting events and state FBLA conferences?
Do you count the care packages he sent over the years to hometown soldiers fighting far away from home? Or the number of years organizing a community lutefisk dinner? Then there are the winter campouts for Boy Scouts, Dollars For Scholars service, middle-of-the-night-weekend calls to fix furnaces, Northwest Chorus rehearsals, youth group ski trips, combines repaired for fellow farmers, Sundays spent teaching school and funerals attended to honor fellow veterans -- the list goes on and on.
Longtime Crosby native John Fosland, 69, died Sunday after complications from heart surgery. Fosland, who leaves behind his wife, Sherill, their children and grandchildren, had a gift for making everyone around him feel worthwhile.
“John was the answer to a lot of people’s prayers,” says longtime friend Don Anderson.
Anderson says John didn’t like to talk about himself or his generosity, but John’s acts of service to others were impossible to ignore in the community to which he dedicated his life of giving back.
Anderson’s voice catches as he recalls the stories of others being without heat and John rushing out to fix their furnace and the times John lent him his vehicle with no expectation of how soon he’d get it back. When Anderson was expanding his photography business, John gave him a high-end lens that he figured Anderson could get better use from than him. He was generous with friends, community businesses, charity and youth.
“He was a 12-months-a-year Santa Claus,” Anderson says. “He just made everyone feel good and inspired you to do good things for others.”
“He was incredibly kind,” says Harlan Johnson, who sang with John in Northwest Chorus and recalls how John was 10 minutes late every year for the concert in Estevan because he was serving as Santa Claus in Crosby during its annual Light Up event.
“He was one of the most humble, modest and unassuming people I ever met,” said Johnson, who also shares that John stalled his own farm harvest to repair Johnson’s New Holland combine harvester for him and other neighbors more than once. He recounts the many times John repaired the furnaces at local churches and the theater. He always refused to be paid for his time.
“He saw more value in community and friendship than saving a buck,” says Anderson, who met John for lunch many weekdays and witnessed John spend almost as much on his tip as the lunch.
Anderson says he’ll never forget when he realized John was sending care packages overseas to soldiers from Divide County each month. When asked why, John responded, “I want them to know that people back home care about them and are thinking of them.”
John, who served and fought in Vietnam, was a familiar presence at every American Legion event and at the funeral of any veteran who served.
Anderson says, young or old, John wanted everyone he encountered to feel like they mattered.
“He knew rejection,” says Anderson, of John being adopted and the birth mother who declined to meet him after John wrote to her. “He also knew what it meant to have someone care about you.”
Kris Svangstu, whose boys had John as a Boy Scout leader, says his military background influenced his civic leadership. “He taught the boys love and respect for their country,” she says. “He loved all of those kids and had a way of teaching without preaching.”
John was incredibly fair and didn’t judge while holding every child accountable to the same standard, according to Svangstu.
“They were being molded and shaped by him while they just thought they were having fun,” she says.
Mitch Svangstu, Kris’s youngest son, says John was a living motto of the Boy Scout Oath, which centers on duty to God and country, helping others and exhibiting an honest and moral character.
He recalls the winter campouts that John led where he would often say, “It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it,” and “early is on time, and on time is late.” He remembers John’s long-term commitment to helping scouts earn Eagle Scout status. “
He was a real community builder and role model, says Mitch. “He was a good Christian, a good person. He lived it; he didn’t just say it.”
Dollars for Scholars President Mary Dhuyvetter, who served on the board with John for many years, as well as on the local Boy Scouts Council, agrees.
Dhuyvetter recalls John attending event after event and giving generously of both his time and money. She says John believed everyone should do his or her part to make the community better and led by example.
“He was wonderful with the kids,” she says. “He had a genuine interest in all of them.”
John’s time bussing and chaperoning children is a testament to that commitment. When the elementary or high school needed a bus driver in a pinch, John got the phone call and did the jobs for free. Wendy Grote, who is the FBLA adviser and teaches business education at DCHS, says John drove and chaperoned students for FBLA state conferences since the 1990s and only missed two due to family weddings in 20-some years.
John was also the one who would sit in the hotel hall at night to make sure no one decided to venture out past curfew. He not only earned kids’ affection but their respect.
“They didn’t want to get out of line and have to deal with his disappointment,” Grote says.
Grote says John strived to support children in their character growth and was proud when he saw them achieve it. She remembers when John’s daughter, Julie, qualified for FBLA nationals.
“John said, ‘We’ll sell the cow so she can go!’” says Grote. “He was selfless.”
Anderson says nothing brought a bigger smile to John’s face than “Sherill’s kids, Sherill’s grandkids,” as he gruffly called them.
John loved his family, his community and his country and acted on that love on a daily basis, according to Anderson.
Steve Andrist, another friend, says of John: “People like that are the quiet heart and soul of a community. They don’t come along very often, and when they’re gone, it leaves a hole that can’t be filled.”