A Champion for Education
Celebrating the Bobby Foster Endowed Scholarship—40 Years and Counting
By Hilary Mayall Jetty
Posted January 14, 2016
Editor’s note to online edition: After this newsletter went to press, Mr. Foster passed away on Nov. 21 at the age of 76.
Nature made Bobby Foster a fighter. The tall scrappy kid from Albuquerque’s South Valley could land a powerful punch, as anyone who messed with him could attest. Nurture, in the form of a trainer who saw his potential and helped him channel his raw power, made him a world boxing champion.
As a young teenager in the early 1950s, Bobby and his friends would walk from their South Valley neighborhood to a downtown gym at 5th and Gold Streets to work out. No fancy boxing uniforms, just street clothes. “I’d spar with guys older than me, and they’d wind up on the floor,” Bobby recalled. “I’d say ‘why is this guy on the floor?’ and the ref would say, ‘you knocked him out’.” In disbelief, Bobby thought his opponents were playing around with him, until they begged him to lighten up. He racked up victories in Golden Gloves amateur tournaments, where he didn’t have to hold back.
Economic circumstances forced Bobby to leave Albuquerque High School before graduating. His trainer joined the U.S. Air Force, and Bobby followed when he turned 18; he was destined to receive his subsequent education in the boxing ring. After five years as Air Force light-heavyweight champion, he turned pro, facing top contenders in national and international arenas.
Bobby dispatched reigning light-heavyweight world champion Dick Tiger in 1968 with a spectacular fourth round knockout before 12,000 fans in New York’s Madison Square Garden, and the Boxing Writers Association of America named him Fighter of the Year. His confidence led him to challenge heavyweight greats like Joe Frasier and Muhammad Ali. Although he lost those bouts, both legendary fighters respected his talent and spirit.
Returning to Albuquerque in the mid ’70s after retiring from pro boxing, Bobby joined the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department. “I was a police officer for 24 years,” he said. “When I was a kid I always wanted to be a cop, a ‘citizen on patrol’ as they were called then. It’s a little dangerous, though, because you never know what you’re getting into when you get called out. But boxing gave me good reflexes.”
Bobby became friends with well-known Albuquerque businessman George Maloof, Sr., a dedicated UNM booster, who urged Bobby to create a scholarship endowment at the University. In the past four decades, the Bobby Foster Endowed Scholarship has provided financial assistance to approximately 80 UNM juniors and seniors, like Catherine Zittlosen.
When Catherine was studying criminology in her senior year and working part time to pay her expenses at UNM, scholarships were a critical element along her path to graduation. “I was offered an internship position with the U.S. Marshals Service,” she said, “and had to quit my job in order to take it. The Bobby Foster Scholarship helped me to have this experience and explore what I really wanted to do.” The internship allowed Catherine to refine her priorities.
Graduating summa cum laude in 2012 with a BA in criminology, she went on to earn an MBA at UNM’s Anderson School of Management.
“Endowed gifts, like the Bobby Foster Endowed Scholarship, help countless students and allow a donor legacy to be created,” said UNM Foundation President and CEO Henry Nemcik, “Bobby’s generosity has helped students for 40 years, and will continue to benefit them for generations to come. We thank him for his gift and his dedication to New Mexico.”
Bobby Foster was elected into the inaugural class of the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. He will always be known as a champion, and his scholarship will always be a testament to his appreciation for education. Bobby and his first wife had four children. “I wanted my kids to get an education, to learn how to do something—that’s what I was fighting for—but it just didn’t turn out that way,” he said with a note of sadness. However, he and his second wife, Rose, are pleased that his long-ago gift to UNM has touched the lives of students like Heidi Thorleifson.
“When I graduated high school, I wanted to go to college,” Heidi remarked, “but I couldn’t pay for it on my own.” Years later, Heidi was living in Taos, N.M., when she made a commitment to continuing her formal education. She was hired to work at the UNM-Taos Bachelor & Graduate Programs, and relied on student loans and scholarship support to reach her goal.
It was a struggle, but Heidi ultimately earned her bachelor of liberal arts degree, magna cum laude. (The BLA degree replaced UNM’s BUS, bachelor of university studies, degree about two years ago.) “I chose that degree because of its interdisciplinary nature,” she said. “Receiving the Bobby Foster Scholarship was an extra boost and an encouragement to keep going. I was delighted to learn that there are gracious people out there who are passionate about higher education. I’m grateful for Mr. Foster’s generosity in helping me achieve my goals.”
Bobby enjoys receiving letters of thanks from students. “It makes me feel real good, that I’ve done something for New Mexico,” he said. “Rose is sharp. She went to college. It just wasn’t meant for me to go.” A mischievous grin played across his face. “All I wanted to do was hit somebody on the chin, and that turned out alright for me.”
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