In St. Anthony Park, Tom Foster may be best known by those under the age of six. For the past two years, Foster has been volunteering at the local library, where he reads stories and performs puppet shows.
Foster has worked with children for most of his life. He worked for the St. Paul Public Schools for 40 years, the last seven as principal of St. Anthony Park Elementary.
When he retired from the school district seven years ago, Foster devoted a big part of his life to his family and his faith. With 150 students under his guidance, he served as “bishop” of the Church of Jesus Chist of Latter-day Saints branch near the University of Minnesota.
Father of six and grandfather of 22, Foster became interested in puppets when one of his daughters started collecting them as a child. Then while volunteering at a school during a mission for his church, Foster tried his hand at puppetry. “I wanted to find a way to capture the kids’ attention,” he said.
After returning from his two-year mission, Foster inquired about continuing his puppetry at the St. Anthony Park Library. Eager to have help, librarian Rosie Ann Foreman offered him a position helping her with story times.
Both Foster and Foreman have been leading the toddler story hours, which are held most Fridays throughout the school year. In addition to traditional storytelling and puppetry, their repertoire has included flannel boards and finger plays.
The toddler story hours were originally intended for ages four and five, but since most of the attendees ended up being two- and three-year-olds, Foster and Foreman shifted their focus to short, repetitive activities rather than longer book readings.
Most of the puppets Foster uses are borrowed from the Hayden Heights Library. His primary puppet, Riley, named after a beloved family canine, is responsible for introducing the other characters.
The puppet shows’ popularity has grown, and some of the children have been known to refer to the library as “Mr. Foster’s library.” The shows attract children from Minneapolis and Roseville as well as St. Paul. “We don’t turn anyone away; the room can be thick with kids,” Foster said.
The duo’s theme-based performances have also been held monthly for the kindergarten classes at St. Anthony Park Elementary. Older grades attend book readings without the puppet show portion.
A native of the neighborhood, Foster remembers studying at the library during his high school and college years. In addition to helping with story times, he also repairs books.
“This is my way of giving back to the area. This neighborhood raised me,” he said.
During a recent story hour held for Julie Lime’s kindergarten class, Foster began his performance by saying, “Reading is going to be your thing, just like it is my thing.” Most who live in St. Anthony Park would agree that sharing an appreciation of literature is a great way for a former resident to give back.