Some people might find living next to an elementary school less than ideal. But Bruce and Cathy Foster have found decades of pleasure in their good neighbors at Saint Vincent de Paul Regional School in Mays Landing.
“It’s a joy… like music,” said Cathy, referring to the sounds of children playing at recess.
The Fosters have watched generations of children grow up at Saint Vincent de Paul. Members of Saint Peter Methodist Church in Ocean City and lifelong educators, their two sons attended public schools in Mays Landing. But the Fosters are like favorite grandparents to Saint Vincent de Paul students.
“They are angels sent from heaven,” said Bruce of the students.
Shortly after the start of the school year, a group of eighth graders noticed the Fosters’ fence had been power washed, in preparation for a paint job that was never completed. When they learned Bruce had hurt his back after falling from a ladder, they decided to get paint and brushes and do the work as a class. School maintenance manager Joe Dougherty brought their offer to the Fosters, who happily said yes.
What better day for the project than Sept. 27, the feast of the school’s patron saint, Vincent de Paul?
Grateful for the fence job, Bruce arranged for a pizza party for the young painters and furnished treats for Halloween. In turn, the Fosters received “the best blueberry bread ever,” compliments of the students’ elective cooking class.
Chef Bruce is considering culinary options for a Christmas meal with the eighth grade. “The kids are so polite. They always say thank you,” he said.
In their 44 years as neighbors, the Fosters have helped with snow removal and attended fairs in the school parking lot, enjoyed the energy of open houses and Princess Day, watched the building of an addition, and delighted in the sounds of “happy kids.”
Even their late dog, Samantha, was part of the Saint Vincent de Paul family. “Eighth graders couldn’t graduate if they didn’t know Samantha’s name,” said Cathy.
Built in 1961, the school has been there longer than the Fosters, but Bruce recalls the spot from his youth, where a sub shop and pool hall stood in its place. “I remember being yanked out of there. I wasn’t allowed [in],” Cathy quickly added.
The Fosters met when Cathy was a freshman and Bruce a senior in separate high schools. “I used to drive her to Teens Against Polio meetings,” he said. Somewhere along the line, driving turned to dating and dances, and the couple married before Cathy took her final exams at Bucknell University. They spent time in Florida while Bruce earned his doctorate in education, but found their way back to Mays Landing and the “house next door.”
Many of the Fosters’ neighbors and friends attended Saint Vincent de Paul School. Cathy remembers taking a walk in the neighborhood and meeting a little girl in a swing. “She said her name was Elizabeth, and I asked her if she had any brothers or sisters. She told me she had six siblings,” said Cathy, her wide eyes registering the surprise she felt decades earlier. The Fosters’ sons, Rob and David, became fast friends with Elizabeth’s family, and were connected to the school for years through the seven children.
The Fosters know school teachers and administrators as well. Cathy recalls the Sisters of Saint Joseph, who founded the school. “The nuns were so nice, very strict,” she said.
“I’ve known Mrs. Q. since she started teaching there,” said Bruce of eighth grade teacher EvaMarie Quattrochi. In her 21st year at Saint Vincent de Paul, Mrs. Q said she has been inspired by the developing relationship between the Fosters and her students, whom the couple have “adopted.”
Student Mason Medolla has created a special connection with Bruce. The day the class painted the Fosters’ fence, Mason learned Bruce is a University of Alabama football fan. With a simple “Roll Tide,” the Alabama rally cry, Mason and Bruce have their own language.
Health issues and the sudden loss of their son David in 2013 have challenged the Fosters over the last several years, but their warm spirit shines in Bruce’s twinkling eyes and Cathy’s broad smile. They stay busy — connected with their church, friends and grandchildren — and travel to Alabama to spend time with son Rob and his family. When home, they welcome any opportunity to interact with the Saint Vincent de Paul community.
“If the Malibu’s not in the driveway, we’re gone,” said Bruce. Otherwise, their doors and hearts are open.
Mary Beth Peabody is Communications and Marketing Manager, Office of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Camden.