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bear with me L


By Kathy Holsonbake


ife is a lesson best learned by the telling of stories. And Wanda Foster can sure tell some colorful tales. Whether it was working on her family farm in Canadian county, raising wheat and dairy cattle or helping to preserve the Centenni- al Farm awarded to her mother-in-law when she was a four-year-old Creek orphan in 1903, Foster knows how to peak your interest.


Foster was married to Bill Foster, a Cabinet mem- ber of Governor David Boren. The pair worked side by side as they designed and built their dream home. Foster also worked alongside him in the political realm, serving Oklahoma and learning about county, state and national issues. Bill Foster died unexpect- edly of a heart attack in 1989. The fi rst woman elected to the board of trustees at Indian Electric Cooperative in 1991, Foster is not only active in her community, but she also cares for some unusual pets including a llama, wallaby, ante- lope, zebra, Celebes Apes and two black bears named “Huggy” and “Snuggy.” These pets have helped Fos- ter fi ll the lonely hours that followed her husband’s death. Huggy and Snuggy are the only exotic animals left on the farm in Silver City, west of Mannford. They’ve outgrown the cute, cuddly cub phase, but are still Foster’s ‘children.’


Foster obtained Snuggy, a female bear, almost by accident in 1990. A friend had fl own into Oklahoma from California. The pair drove to an exotic ani- mal auction in Missouri. “The next thing I heard was the auctioneer saying, ‘Sold to the woman


in the trench coat.’ I was the woman in the trench coat,’” Foster said.


Snuggy was only four months old and Foster had


a crash course in baby bears. She acquired the license she needed immediately and the knowledge needed to raise the baby came over time. Twenty-two years later, Foster has many memories to share of her bear-raising experiences. She still re- members she mixed the bear formula too rich at fi rst and had to deal with some big messes, but eventually found the perfect combination. She also realized a baby girl bear needed company. So a baby boy bear joined their family a few months later. Those ‘ba- bies’ are now 22 years old and weigh more than 500 pounds. Although Foster can no longer cradle and love them, she still considers the massive animals her babies.


Foster has cared for 35 of Snuggy and Huggy’s off-


spring; bottle feeding and keeping each one in a baby crib in her home until they were old enough to be sold to zoos, exotic animal parks or individuals. The pair can no longer have babies, but the fact that so many of their offspring survived past their fi rst year is a testament to the loving care she gave them at a very early age. In the wild, bears will have an average of two cubs every other year; up to half of them die before they turn one, Foster said. While Foster enjoys taking care of her animals, she remains highly involved in her local community. At 76 years, Foster is an active member of the Oilton Chamber of Commerce, Oklahoma Farm Bureau and Indian Electric Coopera- tive. In 2009, she was elected presi- dent of the Okla- homa Association of Electric Coop- erative’s Direc- tor s ’


As so- ciation, the


co-op board director makes tracks in her Community


fi rst woman to serve in that role as well. She received widespread recognition for her work in countless community activities and was named Outstanding Senior Citizen of 2000 in a national competition. Foster donated half of her $20,000 prize to the Oil- ton Chamber of Commerce. Mike Spradling is thankful to have served on the Indian Electric Cooperative board for more than 18 years with people like Foster.


“We should all be thankful that she sees value in the rural electric co-op systems. All the years of service she has given to Indian Electric, as a volun- teer not as an employee, tell me something about our co-op and about her,” Spradling explained. “It says our co-op is something she believes in and has high respect for. She sees its importance to our com- munities and our members. She realizes that being a trustee is more of a responsibility than an honor and takes her responsibility seriously. Second, it tells me something about what kind of person she is. Her ac- tions tell me she is responsible, dedicated, and com- mitted to serving things and people she fi nds worthy of an individual’s most cherished possession—time.” Foster taught school in Tulsa from 1959 to 1987, including special education classes. In 1970, when she taught special education in Oklahoma City, she was selected from 5,000 applicants and named the Outstanding Young Woman of Oklahoma. Foster and her husband also helped young women through college by offering housing and employment. Two of those girls graduated from college and became teachers.


Foster’s colorful life continues to unfold as she strives to help educate co-op members about the ris- ing cost of electricity and the importance of coopera- tives to rural America. She’s done extensive research on the town of Oilton and often speaks to civic groups about the early 1900s and the oil boom days of Oilton and Silver City. As a teacher, Foster has never really retired. She continues to educate by telling stories and painting pictures. “She is the type of person who will put her com- munity and co-op before herself. Life is made better by the people we know as our friends. My life has been better because I’m able to call Wanda Foster my friend,” Spradling said. OL


Foster feeds animals at her farm in Silver City.


Foster has cared for “Snuggy,” a black bear, for 22 years. 32 OKLAHOMA LIVING


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Photos by Kathy Holsonbake


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