FOSTER EUGENE HEATH, Sr., 92
Founder Heath Funeral Chapel
LAKELAND - Foster Eugene Heath, Sr.,
Foster died peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of April 14. Born on May 14, 1919, in Pulaski, Georgia, to Lena Waller and George Moore Heath, he was the eighth of nine children.
His family moved to Ft. Meade, Florida in 1920. The family struggled through the Great Depression and the young Foster worked a paper route and was employed by the local pharmacy, among other jobs.
In 1938, Foster met his future wife, Doris Purcell, the minister's daughter, on the steps of Ft. Meade Methodist Church. The chance meeting blossomed into a courtship. However, in August 1941, Foster was called into military service, so the romance continued long distance. He served first in the Coast Artillery Corps in Antigua, British West Indies, then in the U.S. Air Force in Europe. In 1944, he was a tail gunner on a B-17 (305th bomber group), flying out of Northamptonshire, England. On the fourteenth mission, after his plane had dropped its bombs and turned towards England, enemy flak caused the airplane to catch fire. The crew bailed out over the Baltic Sea, and the twenty-five- year-old Foster was one of two who survived the icy waters. Plucked from the sea by a German boat, Foster spent the next eleven months as a prisoner of war, until liberation in April 1945. In 2000, he received the Purple Heart Medal, complementing other honors for his military service.
One year after the war, he and Doris Purcell married. Also at this time, he earned a degree in mortuary science from the University of Minnesota (1946), and subsequently, a B.A. in business administration from Florida Southern College (1949). After working for several years in funeral homes in St. Petersburg, the couple moved back to Lakeland where Foster worked for Sherwin-Williams as a bookkeeper. In November of 1959, he opened Heath Funeral Chapel.
In the first decade, the business struggled, but with dedication and hard work it would survive. The funeral home of today remains in its original location, managed by Foster's son-in-law, Bill Schichtel. Up to the day before he died, Mr. Heath remained a presence at the funeral home. He would sometimes assist in the day-to-day work or offer the counsel of experience. The purpose of a business such as this, he often said, is "to serve people-the rest is secondary."Dedicated to his family, profession, and community, Foster served as chapter chairman of the American Red Cross for two years, and he was a stalwart and active member of the Polk County Funeral Directors Association, as well as the Florida Funeral Directors Association, Independent Funeral Directors of Florida, and the National Funeral Directors Association. He was also an active member of College Heights United Methodist Church, as well as such organizations as The Lakeland Rotary Club, American Legion Post No. 4, Disabled American Veterans Chapter No. 28, and the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce.
Foster will be remembered as a loving, caring, and generous husband, father and grandfather. He was blessed with a sense of humor and loved to tell funny stories. A man of strong conviction who valued education and loved his country and community, he retained his wit and good sense until the end.
Foster Heath died but one month from his 93rd birthday, having recently lost his beloved wife, Doris, in early January of this year. His seven brothers (George, Edward, Samuel, Herman, Frank, Curtis, and Charles) pre-deceased him, with Charles passing away just this past month.
He is survived by his daughter, Caroline Heath Schichtel (Bill), Lakeland, and grandchildren (Matthew, Katherine, Leslie, and Olivia Schichtel) and his son, Foster Eugene, Jr. (Reva Wolf), New Paltz, New York, and by his sole sister, Frances Jones, Asheville, North Carolina, as well as nieces and nephews residing in numerous states, including Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and California.
The family wishes to express its gratitude to the women who, in these last years, were wonderful caregivers and friends: Ida Armogum, Rita Butler, Kathy Dees, Gloria Etienne, Virginia Frame, Rosa Morgan and Dena White.
Friends and family may call on Tuesday, April 17, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Tribute Center, Heath Funeral Chapel. Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, April 18, 11:00 a.m., College Heights United Methodist Church (942 South Boulevard, Lakeland), followed by a committal service at Oak Hill Burial Park.
Memorial gifts may be made to Florida Southern College (111 Lake Hollingsworth Dr., 33801) in memory of Foster E. Heath, or to VISTE of Lakeland (1232 E. Magnolia, 33801), or to the College Heights United Methodist Church.
Condolences may be sent to the family at www.heathfuneralchapel.com .
( Lakeland Ledger, Monday, April 16 & 17, 2012 )