The Board of Trusts and the City’s Generous Dead

citydesk_icnThe current economic situation has given our already cash-strapped City a rough go of it, especially with regard to any funds tied into the stock market. Its pension fund alone has lost millions over the last two years and now officials are scrambling to work on ways to patch the gaping hole. There is one other arm of the City government, though, that has also been affected, but has not received nearly the same amount of coverage.

The Board of Trusts was established during a brief reform period in the early 1920s, in order to consolidate various funds that had been bequeathed to the City by residents over the years. Unlike such large, well-known privately overseen trusts, like those of Beatrice Nussbaum [“Lack Of Swimming; Hole In District,” 10.20.08] or Navin Masters [benefactor of the Masters Preparatory School for Orphans, later Masters College], the Board of Trusts manages the disbursement of a host of smaller funds meant for the “public good,” some of which go to general municipal services and some of which come with rather specific requirements-

:: Each year, Harper East Elementary School, in the Oak Lane neighborhood, receives $30.08 toward the “subscription of new periodicals of a non-secular, yet informative nature,” as directed by the 1995 will of James Lefowis, who, to the extent that anyone’s been able to tell, had no direct connection to the school whatsoever.

:: In 1908, the library system was bequeathed $75/year, thanks to the estate of Marian Proglesby, who decreed that the money be used “for the purchase of volumes which argue in favor of transportation by beast, rather than the cursed auto-mobile.” Such books are hard to find and the funds are now used at the library’s discretion for books on transportation in general, but not specifically automotive, just to be safe.

:: Up until 1961, members of the police department’s vice squad would receive a $1 bonus for every piece of “lascivious material printed of an immoral and/or titilating nature seized and destroyed,” thanks to the wealthy morals of one James L. Roosevelt. The $900,000 trust was endowed in 1956. Due to the extra pay involved, the squad was very zealous in its enforcement activities (in one memorable raid, city newsstands were even stripped of copies of National Geographic), exhausting the fund in only five years. In the last 48 years, such material has been easy to find around town.

:: Annually, $2,000 is distributed through the McCann Fueling Fund, established by the owner of a saloon in 1912. It goes to “widows of an upstanding nature, whose husbands have succumbed in the area boundried [sic] by Lewiston Avenue on the north, 18th Street on the south, Alburn Avenue on the east and Twin Oaks [now Hutchinson Park] on the west.” This area encompasses thirty blocks and, somehow, candidates meeting the requirements have been met every year. No one is quite sure why this specific area was chosen by McCann, whose bar was actually located five blocks outside of its boundaries.

:: The oldest trust, established in 1831, was meant to disburse a sum of $5 (now almost $100) a year to “any young married man engaged in the art of charcoal-making.” However, no one in the city has manufactured charcoal for quite some time. This particular endowment has been rather liberally applied over the years to beneficiaries in many other manufacturing fields, as they have dwindled away. Last year, it was awarded to a software engineer.

Of course, there are many more, some of whose funding supply is ever-dwindling, due to the current financial crisis. The twelve-person Board of Trusts has some tough decisions ahead, while also having to follow the wishes of our City’s generous dead.
- RJ White

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