After some 50 years in banking, including 30-plus years in Chaffee County and 42 years on bank boards, Charles Forster has officially retired.
Better known as “Charlie” to his coworkers and friends, Forster has been involved in community affairs and civic improvements in Salida, Buena Vista and Poncha Springs from the time he first came to the county in 1985.
For his contributions over the years, Chaffee County Commissioners recently issued a proclamation and presented Forster with an award for his efforts on behalf of the county.
Forster’s community involvement here started when he first moved to the county from Montrose, to head up Chaffee County Bank at Second and G streets, what today is Bank of the West.
His first project was to form an economic development organization – Salida Enterprise for Economic Development – modeled after a similar entity in Montrose
Learning that Public Service Co. of Colorado was selling the city’s 1880s-era electric generating property on Sackett Avenue, Forster and SEED put together a group of 40 community leaders who each pledged $100 for 10 years to purchase the property.
“We bought it,” Forster said, “but didn’t have any idea of what we were going to do with it.”
The answer came when Marilyn and Woody Pyeatt of Granbury, Texas proposed converting the south portion of the structure into a theater in the round.
With the help of inmates from Buena Vista Correctional Complex, the Salida SteamPlant began its transformation to what it is today, the city’s cultural and conference center on a spectacular setting on the banks of the Arkansas, hosting functions and gatherings year round in what now is a multi-million dollar facility.
The SteamPlant was just the first of a number of major community and state betterment and improvement projects Forster was to become involved in – most always in a leadership position – including:
• The Salida Improvement District;
• The Chaffee County Fairgrounds;
• Constructing the Coors Boat Ramp providing downtown access to the Arkansas;
• Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center Foundation;
• Salida Hospital District board of directors;
• Colorado Mountain College Foundation;
• Service on the El Pomar Foundation Board of Trustees;
• Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation; and
• Collegiate Commons, a 48 unit affordable housing project in Buena Vista.
When Forster first arrived in the county in the mid ’80s, the valley was reeling in an economic depression from the closure of the Climax Molybdenum Mine on Fremont Pass and the loss of 3,100 mining jobs, 900 from the county.
“Probably 40 percent of the buildings on F and First streets in downtown Salida were vacant,” he said adding, “but it was just the right time for things to happen.”
He cited young business leaders including, jeweler Tony Aiello, druggist Richard Harris and Mayor John Brejcha, who defeated Ed Touber, Salida’s mayor for 28 years, for their vision at the time.
In the late 1980s the city created the Salida Improvement District to repair crumbling sidewalks and make other improvements.
Funded by a per-front-foot assessment of downtown property, the district helped pay for the work along with installation of period street lights and repaving downtown streets.
Up to the mid-’80s, the county fair and Colorado State Extension office were located in a small blue building off CR 140 just west of Salida Golf Club.
Forster took an active role in the drive to move the fair to its current site on CR 120 in Poncha Springs, including construction of the main building, and revitalizing the week-long event as the “New, Old-Fashioned Chaffee County Fair.”
With the new building in place, Forster said the fair board was able to bring in Marie Osmond’s Christmas show for two performances and headliner entertainment to the fair including Chris LeDoux, Dan Seals and John Conley.
Forster said his Salida hospital involvement started when he and Bob Rush co-chaired a fund-raising effort to construct a surgical center at the site on First Street, generating more than $1 million in donations.
That led to two initial four-year terms on the board, from 1996 to 2004.
One of the board’s controversial moves was to not renew a contract with Quorum, a hospital management company, and taking over direction of the facility.
After the decision was made, Forster said the question was who was going to tell the Quorum representative of the board’s action.
“Bob looked at me and (Dr.) Charlie Mains and said, ‘Gentlemen, would you take care of this for us,’” Forster said laughing. “I had thought this was something the president of the board would do.”
Not renewing the Quorum contract ultimately led the board to pursue building a new hospital, replacing an aging facility which dated back to the mid-1880s.
The board had just two applicants for the administrator’s job, Forster said, with one of them Nate Olson. It was Olson who initially proposed building a new hospital but who left before the facility was constructed.
Forster said he and Dan Downing negotiated loan terms for the $30 million structure, carving 2 percent off the interest rate to 5 percent, saving Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center tens of thousands of dollars in interest paid.
“It’s what the interest rate should have been all along,” he said.
In 2012 Forster ran for and was elected to an additional four-year term on the board, where he served as chairman for two years.
He also served a total of 16 years on the hospital foundation, chairing the board for a majority of those years.
In the early 2000s, Forster was appointed to the Colorado Mountain College Foundation, serving as chairman for a number of years, and leading the fund-raising effort to construct the CMC building adjacent to the Buena Vista Airport.
In 2010, commissioners paid a Pueblo company $50,000 to promote the county and were considering hiring the firm to create an economic development program.
Forster said, “I told the board we don’t need to spend this money. We can do this on our own.”
Forster led the effort to establish an independent organization with expertise gained from his years in Montrose. He served as board president for several years.
The Chaffee County Economic Development Corp. continues working to promote and encourage business development in the county, with a number of board members serving this past year on the COVID-19 advisory panel.
“When I started in banking,” Forster said, “you were expected to be involved in your community. I was fortunate to have positions which allowed me to do that.”
Forster, 72, was born in Denver.
His father died when he was 5, but with an uncle, mother and sister, continued to run a radio and sporting goods business literally out of the family home at Fourth and Federal, just west of downtown.
It’s where he got his first experience in business.
He met his wife Connie in seventh grade. They married in 1969 between his sophomore and junior years at Denver University.
“I never thought about college,” he said, “but Wayne Shroyer, (then the head of DU’s accounting department) said I should apply.”
Forster said he went to school mornings while working at a bank in Englewood afternoons.
“I said I would never be a banker,” he noted, but after graduation ended up going back to the Englewood bank.
Forster said Shroyer was a key influence, who set him on his career parth.
The other person who he credits for influencing his career was Ron Moore, a Denver investment banker who in the 1970s was buying banks around the state. Moore hired Forster to lead a Montrose bank in 1978.
The Montrose position led to 40 more years of Colorado banking, including the purchase with Moore and other investors of Collegiate Peak Bank in the mid-1990s; the 2004 sale and subsequent repurchase of the bank with Moore and local and Denver-based investors in 2005.
Forster served as president of CPB’s Buena Vista and Salida branches until the 2018 sale to Glacier Bank headquartered in Kalispell, Montana, when he retired.
From the mid ‘90s, Columbine Capital, the bank’s holding company, grew from $19 million to just under $500 million – including Denver banks – when purchased by Glacier.
Reflecting, Forster said, “It’s not how long you live. The number of days you live are way less important than the way you lived.”
Forster has battled a type of lymphoma cancer for the past 16 years, a fight that continues.
Forster thanked his wife Connie “for being a part of the team, for allowing me to do all this, for sitting through countless banquets over all the years.”
The Forsters’ daughter, Becky, and her husband operate a ranch in northeastern New Mexico with their three sons.
“I’ve lived a blessed life,” Forster said. “It’s rewarding to look back to see the impact of things I had a little something to do with, knowing that things are a little better because of my contribution.
“I’m a content guy. I’m satisfied. It’s been a great ride. I don’t know I could have lived my life any better than I have.”