Charles Forster, the former president of Buena Vista’s Collegiate Peaks Bank, was a Salida resident, but his commitment to the town’s businesses and community outreach affected the Buena Vista area as well.
“He certainly had his eye out for the community up here,” said Joel Benson, who worked with Forster while he was Buena Vista’s mayor. “He was just a brainstormer. He was always trying to come up with a way to help contribute economically to the northern end (of Chaffee County), and the whole county. He was always trying to think of ways to make things work for the good of town.”
As a member of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation, Forster’s “big signature project is the Collegiate Commons, but he was responsible for a lot of other things that happened throughout the county,” said Wendell Pryor, the EDC’s executive director. “I think the other signature project was our quest, and this was a board effort, but Charlie certainly supported it, was bringing Colorado Central Telecom and redundant broadband to the county.”
Forster was part of the EDC board that helped finance CCT’s move from Crestone to Chaffee County, bringing on Monarch Mountain and Mount Princeton Hot Springs on as major clients, Pryor said.
Forster was also involved in bringing a Colorado Mountain College campus to Buena Vista as the chairman of the CMC foundation.
At the campus’s groundbreaking in 2004, then the college’s first new permanent facility in 34 years, The Times quoted Forster as saying the facility was funded “exclusively by grants, a local capital campaign and community partnerships. The community has been responsible for securing $1.5 million (of the total $2.2 million cost).”
Forster opened the groundbreaking ceremonies by calling the facility “one of the greatest grassroots efforts nearing the final stage of completion of anything in the valley in the last 20 years.”
Over a decade later, Forster’s determination paid dividends when a ceremonial silver shovels were driven into the hard-packed earth of Buena Vista High School’s old baseball field by a row of stakeholders from a wide array of groups both public and private.
“Really, he was such an emphatic proponent of the Collegiate Commons project,” Benson said. “How many different meetings did I have with Charlie in his office there at the bank, just trying to brainstorm – he and Wendell – how we’re going to get this deal together.”
The $11.7 million Collegiate Commons apartment complex was a project 2.5 years in the making, bringing 48 attainable rental housing units to Buena Vista.
“There were plenty of times when the deal was not going to get through. He just kept saying, ‘No, we’ve gotta figure it out. If we don’t figure out how to make this happen, it’s going to be detrimental to the county for 25 years, 30 years,’” Benson said.
Phillip Puckett was making the transition from town trustee to town administrator in the midst of that project.
“At the time of that transition, we were in the middle of the negotiation and pre-planning the school land swap and affordable housing with Collegiate Commons and Urban, Inc.” Puckett said. “There was quite a lot going on. It was a challenging time where that very important and pretty visible project could have easily died … I had opportunities to talk with Charlie at that time, and his role was with the EDC, and he had a passion about seeing that project through.”
The Collegiate Commons project was a difficult birth: “We had to go at that thing many, many different ways,” Puckett said.
“I think Charlie was a great communicator when we needed help between entities,” Puckett said. The apartment complex project’s success ultimately hinged on a land-swap deal in which the town would trade with the school district property so that the apartments could be built over the site of the old ballfield, and the district would get a new and improved field at the town’s river park.
“We had town and school and Urban, Inc., (the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority), then we had the community, and Charlie was a great communicator to help keep people talking when sometimes we’d go into our corners.”
Puckett also said that, at the outset of his tenure as town administrator, “It was just a great time for me to hear from somebody who had been in the community for a long time and had pulled off some bigger projects over time … I was really appreciative of his willingness to work with me one on one.”
Suzy Kelly, Buena Vista’s historian, said of Forster, “He was really a great guy and everybody liked him because he was always friendly and willing to talk to people. One of those bankers who wasn’t too high in the instep to visit with people.”
In 1988, when Scott Erchul was starting his banking career in Chaffee County, Forster had started banking in the area just a few years prior.
“When Charlie came to Chaffee County and Buena Vista in 1985, he already had 20 years of banking under his belt, and when I started my banking career in 1988, I had no banking experience,” said Erchul, now president of High Country Bank in BV.
“So, for me personally, in Salida and Buena Vista, two small towns, and Chaffee County being a small county as it is, he was always a tough competitor … And then with his community involvement, too. His community involvement was second-to-none.
“Always being that younger banker and trying to see what people really sought in their bankers in a small community, over time you just saw how important that was to people: It wasn’t just what you did for them in the bank, as a banker,” Erchul said. “I think people have always looked to bankers as role models and leaders in the community, but not a lot of bankers over the years have really stepped up into those roles. And Charlie certainly did. He set the bar. That’s the bottom line.”
The community organization close to Erchul’s heart is the Boys & Girls Club of Chaffee County.
A member of the club’s board of directors since the club first opened in Salida, Erchul said that Forster secured grants for the club through the El Pomar foundation “at really critical times, when we were first getting started and then some of the early years when we really needed those funds.”
In reaction to Forster’s passing last week, Puckett said to a group of county leaders, “It’s a pretty special thing when you can look around and see things, such as a baseball field or apartment buildings, or the CMC campus and think about a person.
“That to me is a pretty special thing, and an amazing legacy.”