Remembering Ria Foster

Ria J. Foster passed away on March 14th 2019 at Mountain Glen Retirement Center, she was 84.

Ria was born in Appledorn, Netherlands on January 20th 1935. As child raised in wartime Europe, she formed her life and world view during a time of fear and deprivation. She learned resilience from her father who provided for his family through very difficult times. The family immigrated to the United States in 1949, where her father was employed as a baker for Kellogg Company.

Ria met Richard Van Iterson soon after and were married in 1956. Richard Van Iterson was also a Dutch immigrant and was studying to be a mechanical engineer. To support her husband’s education and new family, Ria worked as a nurses aid at Blodgett Hospital in Grand Rapids. After Richard got a job as a mechanical draftsman Ria opened her first art gallery in East Grand Rapids in 1962, representing artists friends she had met in the Michigan art scene. She closed the gallery later that year when Richard was promoted to supervisor of the engineering department of Tannewitz Works and her 3rd child Renee was born.

Through the mid 60’s Ria became a teaching fellow in the art department at the University of Michigan. During that time Ria was involved in the civil rights movement. During one of the marches in the early spring of 1967, she was photographed at the head of a civil rights march with her daughter Renee on her hip. The picture was posted on the front page of the Ann Arbor News. The Dean of the University of Michigan informed her that she would lose her job if she continued to publicly support the movement. Soon after in April of that year her husband died from a heart attack.

Ria whose life was in turmoil, with 3 kids to support and the cities on fire because of the race riots, decided to take a break. She packed up her kids, purchased a trailer and took a cross country trip to visit friends in the Pacific Northwest. She wound up in Anacortes on a side trip to visit the San Juan Islands. When she arrived in Anacortes she asked a gas station attendant where the “ferry” was. He directed her to the Guemes Ferry dock. Surprised that such a small ferry serviced the San Juans she soon learned her mistake when she arrived on Guemes and was told she had taken the wrong ferry. Since it was late in the day it was suggested that she could park the trailer at the county park on the north end of the island for the night and head to the San Juans in the morning. She and the kids ended up staying there for 3 weeks. Having spent an idyllic time on the beach, meeting families and making new friends, Ria felt the pull to return to Michigan to start getting ready for fall classes at the university. When she told her kids that it was time to go back, her son Bruce let her know that he didn’t want to. With all the turmoil and uncertainty waiting back in Michigan she decided that she didn’t want to go back either.

One of the families that Ria met on the island was the Veal family. Bill Veal was a real estate agent on the island and showed Ria properties available. One of the properties was the Brado General Store on North Beach. She was sold, she called a friend back in Michigan and had her house put the market and purchased the Brado property. Needing to support her kids she took a job with the State of Washington as a social worker. During that time she met Tony Foster in Anacortes and he swept her off her feet. They were married soon after at the Guemes Island Church.

Ria decided that she didn’t want to continue to work as a social worker and having had experience operating a gallery, opened the Green Frog Gallery in the Fisherman’s World Market in Anacortes. She began to represent local artists in the gallery and one day she had an idea that other galleries in the area might be interested in purchasing the artist’s work if she had prints made. Her first artist was Yvonne Davis who was a clerk at the Penny’s in Anacortes. She had prints reproduced from Yvonne’s pen and ink drawings and traveled through the Northwest in a VW bus selling them to local galleries and frame shops.

When asked years later about the inspiration of doing something that had never been done before, she would say that she had to “feed her children”. For the next 24 years Ria and her family developed Island International Artists on North Beach in the old Brado General Store. Through many trials, she kept the business going until she turned it over to her son Bruce and retired in 2004. Soon after she decided to become a jewelry designer and worked through the end of her life creating things of beauty.

Ria is survived by her children Renee Norrie, Dan and Bruce Van Iterson

The family would like to give thanks to the caregivers of Mountain Glen Retirement Center and Skagit Hospice to their wonderful care.

Ria requested that her memorial celebration happen when the weather is nice and the flowers are blooming. Family expects to set a time in June.


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