Founded on November 1st, 1947 by both Edith and Wendell Foster, the Wendell Foster Center is a private non-profit organization that provides individualized treatment plans for persons born with developmental disabilities. The Fosters relocated from their home to the address of 815 Triplett Street, which was formally owned by the prominent Slaughter family, who likewise supported the Fosters’ vision. The foundation was the first of its kind for Daviess County residents afflicted with debilitating conditions such as cerebral palsy. Until its creation, residents were forced to take their children out of state to see medical specialists for treatment.
The institution was originally known as the, “Spastics Home and School,” but was later renamed in 1970 as Wendell Foster's Campus for Developmental Disabilities to honor its late founder and operational director, Wendell. Then in the spring of 2016, the institution changed its name a third time to simply just, “Wendell Foster.”
In the fall of 1937, parents Edith and James ‘Wendell’ Foster discovered that their five month old daughter, Erlilda ‘Louise’ Foster, had been born with multiple medical conditions. Her fragility consisted of a disabling case of cerebral palsy and autism, which were collectively known then as, “spastic paralyis,” and, “mental retardation.” The family was advised to seek medical treatment from out of state since the proper treatment facilities did not yet exist in Owensboro due to a combination of generalized financial poverty in the area, and social stigma towards the visibly disabled. The recommended course of treatment for someone with cerebral palsy during the 1930's and 1940's was to be institutionalized their entire life, and given drugs to maintain sedation of the patient. Horrified at the lack of compassion they had seen, the Fosters traveled as far as Cincinnati to seek the advice of a competent, and humane, physician to oversee their beloved Louise.
In the spring of 1944, Wendell was drafted into World War II where he served as a cook in the military hospital. His station provided useful as he was able to learn first-hand knowledge from the medical staff on how to care and rehabilitate physically disabled soldiers. Additionally, he was able to meet with many physicians during his travels as a military cook where he was given even more educational opportunities. After the end of the war, Wendell Foster returned to his home of Owensboro. He approached his military acquaintances to help raise funds to build a home and school-like setting for the local developmentally disabled children.
Nevertheless, societal stigma surrounding disabled persons of the 1940s still existed as an obstacle for the Foster family. Many people could not allow their visibly-disabled children outside their own home, nor could they safely transport them to public places. To find other local children with disabilities and to offer their help, the Fosters made door-to-door-calls. This procedure resulted in at least seven families whose children received medical treatment in the form of physical and occupational therapy from within the Foster's own backyard at their address of 123 Poplar Street. By the late 1940s, the number of disabled children in the Daviess County area increased. This resulted in a need for a larger rehabilitational space.
A prominent Daviess County woman by the name of miss Emma Slaughter, who was a friend and supporter of the Foster family, sold them part of the land located on 815 Triplett Street so they could expand their foundation. This expansion included an eleven-room residence. She also graciously donated part of the land located at the intersection of Ninth and Triplett Street, which previously housed Wendell Fosters’ All-Faith Chapel (before it was razed in the spring of 2019) so the residents could experience a church setting. Encompassing the official creation of the institute, a volunteer board was created which consisted of Daviess County World War II veterans whom adopted a charter and governed its by-laws.
The overview of the organization today ensures that Wendell Foster's Campus provides individualized support, a combination of physical and occupational therapy, and even vocational training. This empowering scope of treatment aims to help Daviess County residents afflicted with developmental disabilities to realize their personal dreams and potential.