Gurney's Inn
March 21, 2007

Sherrill Foster: A Woman Who "Can't Be Replaced"

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East Hampton has lost part of its memory. On Friday, Town Crier Hugh King mourned the recent death of town co-historian Sherrill Foster, who passed away on March 13. She was 85. "When you lose people like Sherrill Foster, you lose people who can't be replaced," he said.

Foster, who authored the popular "Around the Green" column for The Independent, was lauded during sessions of both the village and town board. Supervisor Bill McGintee offered a resolution naming a street in her honor and King spoke of how generous she was with her vast knowledge of local history. According to her daughter Mary Morgan, at the time of her death Mrs. Foster was working on a book about Lion Gardiner.

Councilwoman Deb Foster, her one time daughter-in-law, spoke fondly of Sherrill Foster, offering an anecdote to demonstrate the woman's never ending energy and gumption. At an age when many people slow down and retire, she traveled to Florence in pursuit of a degree in art history, taking classes taught in Italian. Her son, Jonathan, received a phone call from London one night, the councilwoman related. It was Sherry informing him, "Well, I'm in jail." Turned out that her flight was delayed and she didn't have the funds for lodging. So, Councilwoman Foster said, Mrs. Foster marched into the local constabulary and convinced them to put her up for the night.

King recalled that when he was first given the job of leading tours of East Hampton Main Street, he knew very little about the locale. Mrs. Foster handed over her notes to him, he reported, extolling her generosity in sharing her knowledge. Joking affectionately, he said she claimed to be related to most of East Hampton's earliest citizens.

Perhaps she wasn't related to them, but she knew just about everybody. Born on June 12, 1921 Nettie Maria Sherrill grew up on the family farm on North Main Street in the Sandy Hook section of East Hampton. She grew up there, with her parents, Edwin Sherrill and the former Maria Parsons and brother Edwin, who is a member of the East Hampton Village Board. She graduated from East Hampton Schools, and then attended Hofstra University for one year before transferring to Pembroke, the women's college of Brown University.

During World War II, she enlisted in the Women's Army Air Corps. She met her husband John R. Foster while stationed in Indianapolis.

The couple made their home in Fredonia on Lake Erie in western New York. There, Mrs. Foster was able to indulge in a love of sailing as she raised four children, Jonathan, Mary, Margaret and Thomas. Margaret passed away in 1979; Mary Morgan, of Orient, Jonathan, of East Hampton and Dobb's Ferry, and Thomas of Jamestown, New York, survive, as does one granddaughter, Elizabeth, of Dobb's Ferry.

When the couple divorced, Mrs. Foster worked in several school districts in western New York and in Connecticut before returning to the family homestead in East Hampton. Back home her fascination with local history as well as interest in architecture and art continued to blossom. "She was always learning, a perpetual student," brother Edwin said this week. She pursued a master's degree at Binghamton, and in Florence as previously mentioned.

Over the years, Mrs. Foster curated an exhibit on the lifestyles of early East Hampton at Guild Hall, served as the director of Clinton Academy and with the East Hampton Historical Society, to name but a few accomplishments.

In 1992, for the 200th anniversary of the North Main Street homestead, Mrs. Foster organized a lecture series at Southampton College, bringing experts from around the country to speak. Her master's thesis on resort architecture in East Hampton was published locally, capturing the attention of renowned architect Robert A. M. Stern. The pair became friends. Years later, when East Hampton celebrated its 250th anniversary, Mrs. Foster was a featured speaker during a lecture series she was credited with inspiring.

In recent years, Mrs. Foster was a frequent visitor to town hall where, along with town co-historian Stuart Vorpahl, she regaled those present and TV viewers with stories of life in early East Hampton. In her official capacity, she continued to travel to seminars both learning and lecturing. Just last June one of her papers was read at a statewide conference.

The family plans to host a memorial in her honor at the homestead on North Main Street in May. Friends who wish to remember her may make memorial contributions to The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork, PO Box 1444, Bridgehampton, New York 11932.

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