Sniffin, Bill (2020)

Thank you, Foster.

You could sum up Foster Friess in one word: Generous. He did more for more people than anyone I have ever known. He and his wife, Lynn, gave away $500 million in their lifetimes. Amazing.

Foster Friess died May 27 at age 81.

My story with Foster is a personal one. I had worked with him and Lynn some 20 years ago on some obscure project and had not had any contact for many years. Out of the blue, in April of 2018, he called and asked me to help him with his governor’s campaign.

There is no hesitation when Foster Friess asks for your help. I was in. It was one of the most fun summers of my life as he started with 1% name recognition and nearly won the gubernatorial primary 100 days later.

Of significance is the fact that he forbade any of the staff to ever say anything derogatory about his opponents and, no matter what, he would not run any negative ads. He also grew to love Wyoming’s newspapers and used them as a primary source of advertising for his campaign.

He loved traveling the state and getting to know the regular people of Wyoming. He was down-to-earth as he cracked jokes and talked about growing up in little Rice Lake, Wisconsin. Although considered a billionaire, he loved to explain that he and Lynn started their investment business with $800 he had saved up from his service in the Army.

Just about everybody he met liked him. Among the other campaign staffs, he was referred to as “Uncle Foster.”

On election night, when he realized he had lost, he was gracious and said to everyone it was time to move on to the next project. He was a good sport.

Thank you, Foster.

He and I had talked during the campaign about how statewide news organizations had been cutting back because of the economy. That piqued his interest.

Six months later, he funded the free statewide news service Cowboy State Daily, which was started by Annaliese Wiederspahn and Jimmy Orr. A year later, I took over as publisher. It has been an amazing experience. It also resulted in getting to spend quality time with Foster and Lynn.

As Cowboy State Daily’s major funder, Foster only asked me to do two things: First, he thought we should run obituaries (which we are now doing), and second, he wanted us to include some national stories from the Daily Caller, which he also funded.

Otherwise, he was a hands-off donor, which made life at the Cowboy State Daily a true pleasure. He was always sending emails that were very supportive.

Thank you, Foster.

Foster was a tall guy with a big personality. He wore a big hat and cowboy boots, which made him stand out even taller. He was tanned and had a big smile. He was a natural salesman and a wonderful politician.

He had more friends than anyone, from Donald Trump to a group of welders in Evanston.

His outlook on life in his later years was simply to make the world a better place. He always said he felt his wealth was not really his, but was given to him by God to do good works.

For Christmas 2020, he gave away gifts of $100,000 each to 450 people with the condition that they had to pass it on to a charity of their choice. Over $50 million was given away in total.

Thank you, Foster.

He and Lynn funded wonderful charities, such as Rachel’s Challenge and advocacy sites like OpentheBooks.com and TurningPoint.com.

We last saw Foster and Lynn in March in Scottsdale. A rare blood disorder was killing him. He had already lost 25 pounds and was frail. Yet he wanted to go out to dinner with his friends, and he was full of ideas and wanted to hear about projects that were underway.

Even during this time, Foster was forward-thinking. What was the next great project? Who needed help?

For example, in 2020, he and Lynn put up $250,000 challenge grants twice, once for the Wyoming Food Bank and second to scholarships for people to go to community colleges for vocational skills. These are a small sample of all the projects they were funding and supporting.

A recent nice gesture was when he and Lynn sent a $100,000 check to the Wyoming Catholic College for a building project.

Lynn and family, we are so sad for your loss. You have a true angel in heaven looking down on you and all the rest of us, too.

Thank you, Foster.

Bill Sniffin is a longtime journalist from Lander and publisher of Cowboy State Daily. Email: bsniffin@wyoming.com.

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