Bob Foster, 69, made it his life’s mission to keep the school open. A former Leo football star whose bent-nose bluntness reflects a lifetime of line play, Foster was Leo’s football coach, principal and president for more than 40 years before stepping down for health reasons earlier this month. Leo was built in 1926 to serve boys from Chicago’s working-class South Side, Foster said, and that mission shouldn’t change just because the makeup of the neighborhood changed from Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants to blacks.
Foster had a small group of deep-pocketed alumni he could call on for help with big-ticket expenses like a new furnace, but the smaller donations he coaxed from the middle-class graduates were the school’s real economic engine. The policemen, firefighters, teachers and tradesmen supported Leo even after they stopped sending their sons. Leo endures as an inner-city symbol of educational opportunity, a haven in a troubled area plagued by gang violence.