Forster leaves legacy of sustainability

By Michael McFall, Staff Writer

On almost any given weekend, you could find Craig Forster playing the Hungarian cimbalom, a hammer dulcimer, with his wife Bonnie and the other two members of their Hungarian dance band.

They would play at farmers markets in the park, surrounded by trees and homegrown produce. Forster always had a fondness for nature. Forster dedicated his life to finding ways human progress could coexist with the Earth without damaging it for mankind’s gain.

Forster died during the weekend after he fell 20 feet and hit his head while trying to climb the side of a canyon in Zion National Park. His hiking partners tried to revive him, but he died at the scene, said David Eaker, a spokesman for the park.

He spent almost 30 years of his life studying the environment and joining sustainability and public policies.

Last year, Forster brought that passion to the U. He became the first director of the Office of Sustainability, with the goal of turning the U into a greener campus. It’s a mission that he hoped would continue strong into the future. Forster worked directly with students, inspiring them to do as he did: Lend a hand to successful human cohabitation with the environment.

Unfortunately, Forster will not be around to see how the seeds of his efforts will grow. Forster, who died at the age of 55, is survived by his wife and stepdaughter.

Bonnie Forster first met her husband almost 25 years ago. He was a young doctoral student from the University of British Columbia, and her circle of friends introduced them while he was visiting the U.

“He was a very creative cook,” she said. “How else would a man impress a young woman?”

They were married four years later. Forster and his wife shared more in common than most couples, she said. They loved cooking. They played instruments in a Hungarian dance band. One of their first dates was cross-country skiing in the mountains, and they also spent a lot of time together hiking, skiing and biking. They loved the outdoors, and Bonnie Forster said she’s been finding out in the last few days just how large his love for nature really was.

Forster’s life’s passion will live on at the U through its policies, its environmental impact and the hearts of the students and faculty he touched.

“His remarkable leadership and extraordinary abilities laid the framework for the U’s efforts to become climate neutral,” said U President Michael Young in a statement.

Forster helped create advanced watering systems, the cogeneration energy plant, recycling programs, the campus farmers market, taught environmental classes and encouraged students to form the Associated Students of the University of Utah Board of Sustainability.

“He was one of the rare faculty that is very inspiring and willing to give their free time to help you see your ideas become a reality,” said Dallas Hamilton, associate director of the ASUU sustainability board.

Hamilton was working with Forster this semester as an intern for his office. He said he remembers Forster as a big thinker8212;a smart man who wanted to go beyond surface level ideas about sustainability and change the core issues in human economics and sociology for the betterment of the environment.

One of those issues he was working on at the U was student involvement8212;that every young person has the capacity to become not only a preserver of the environment, but an activist or leader in its well-being.

Jen Colby, the sustainability office’s coordinator, said she remembers always seeing him plunked down at an office desk with his laptop, surrounded by interested students.

He had an extraordinary talent for uniting students together to accomplish their goals, said Lindsay Clark, who worked in the Bennion Community Service Center with Forster to found the Office of Sustainability. That gift was an effective one-two punch with his ability to walk into a room and inspire everyone to get things done for the environment, Colby said.

Hamilton said he was never very excited about sustainability before he came to the U. That all changed after meeting Forster and his “dangerous ideas” that would challenge the way people lived their lives.

Forster wanted young people to do more than buy LED Christmas lights or other “green” products, Hamilton said. He wanted them to not only reduce their demand and consumption of energy, but also change how the world works so that they can leave the same amount of resources in their time for future generations.

Perhaps unknowingly, he also left his life’s passion for future generations as well.

“He’s one of the greatest inspirations that I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with, and I will do my part to carry on his legacy at the University of Utah, and wherever I happen to go next,” Hamilton said.

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Craig Forster