Louis Foster Produces the Gold for L.A. Agency

Times Staff Writer

When United Way Inc. of Los Angeles recruited Louis W. Foster as a volunteer fund-raiser 16 months ago, it got a gold mine.

Foster, 71, founded 20th Century Insurance in downtown Los Angeles with one employee in 1958. Today, it is the sixth-largest private auto insurer in the state. Foster said that since he formed the firm he has given steadily to United Way and its predecessor agencies and that he has encouraged his employees, who now number 800, to do likewise.

But Foster said he had never been a United Way volunteer until October, 1983, when a delegation of United Way's top officials showed up at his Woodland Hills office.

Asked to Serve

Foster said United Way Chairman Dickinson C. Ross, a downtown insurance executive, and United Way President Francis X. McNamara Jr. asked him to chair the Region I fund-raising drive for 1984-85.

For his success as Region I campaign chairman, Foster was honored at United Way's Victory Party at the old Union Station restaurant last week, attended by more than 600 of the estimated 50,000 volunteers who participated.

Foster received the Ernest Loebbecke Award, named for the retired title company executive who in 1960-63 negotiated with the 39 Community Chests in the county until 33 of them came together as the United Way. (Later, five other Community Chests joined; only the San Marino Community Chest remains today.)

Loebbecke is regarded as the founder of United Way in Los Angeles, and the award, a silver cup, honors the volunteer campaign chairman whose region had the greatest percentage increase over the previous campaign.

Record Pledges

Foster's first effort as a United Way volunteer resulted in a record $8.3 million in pledges from workers and corporations in the region, which includes the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys. The campaign totals rose 17% above the previous year.

The gifts and pledges, more than 94% of which are expected to materialize as cash by year's end, totaled $1.2 million more than in the 1983-84 campaign in the region.

Foster said he directed the Region I campaign guided by the notion that "all of us are not going to live very well if we don't give very well."

Overall, United Way in Los Angeles achieved its goal of $77 million in pledges, under campaign chairman James F. Dickason of San Marino, the chairman of Newhall Land and Farming Co.

Ross, the United Way chairman, said much of the credit for the campaign's success should go to McNamara, who has been United Way's top staff executive for 17 years, for pushing both volunteers and staff to do their best.

'Frank Comes First'

"If you plan to go to heaven you have to pay proper respect to 'Monsignor' McNamara, a wonderful human being," Ross said in a reference to McNamara's Catholic religion. "We who work for Frank take a pledge that Frank comes first and our business and family come next," Ross added.

Overall, the 1984-85 campaign raised $7 million more than last year's and 54% more than the $50.1 million pledged in 1979-80, the first year that United Way ran a combined campaign with 14 major health agencies which had previously competed with it for payroll deduction gifts.

The 1984-85 pledges and gifts are 10% more than last year. Since the rate of inflation was 4.5%, this means significant real increases in allocations to United Way agencies and it may mean more agencies will be admitted to United Way.

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