For more than 30 years, this Island and the Boston Seaman's Friend Society have been unable to agree on how the Harriet Norris Goldberg Fund should be used to benefit Vineyard mariners. It was they whom Harriet Goldberg had in mind when she bequeathed a portion of her estate to the Society, whose tireless and exemplary work for merchant sailors, including many who dropped anchor in Vineyard Haven, she hoped to perpetuate.
You may remember the Seaman's Bethel, perched on the shore about where the Steamship Authority's Vineyard Haven terminal is today. Seaward of the Bethel was the Bethel's boathouse, and moored in front was the Bethel Boat, which roamed the fleet of coasting schooners and barques, ministering to their hard working crews. But the coasting freighters have been gone for almost a century now, the boatline bought the Bethel from the society years ago, and Madison Edwards, the minister who was indeed a seaman's friend is gone as well. And, when it forsook the Bethel, the Seaman's Friend Society lost its touchstone on the Vineyard, and the goal of Harriet Goldberg's bequest went unmet.
How to fulfill the terms of the Goldberg gift became a question. The Dukes County Probate Court, in the 1970s, ruled that the Society must devote the money to the care of modern Vineyard mariners, such as young people who needed scholarships for maritime training, others who needed training for marine licenses. But the difficulty of managing such benevolent exercises from afar tortured the presumed good intentions of the Society, which must have sought to honor the Goldberg bequest and do as the probate court ordered. The answer to the question that vexed so many Vineyarders came this week with news that the Boston Seaman's Friend Society and the Permanent Endowment Fund of Martha's Vineyard have agreed to seek the permission of the Probate Court and the state attorney general to transfer management and control of 75 percent, or $1.2 million, of the assets of the Harriet Norris Goldberg Fund to the Permanent Endowment Fund. A change of leadership and circumstances at the Seaman's Friend Society, on the one hand, and on the other the development of the Endowment Fund into a well managed, responsible, and dedicated organization, worthy of the challenge that the Goldberg Fund's mission offers, made this week's good news possible.
"This is very big for the Island," Deborah Hale said. Ms. Hale is chairman of the Endowment fund and a leader of the effort to negotiate this end to nearly 40 years of sparring between the Seaman's Friend Society and the Vineyard. This is very big indeed.
The Endowment Fund will manage the Goldberg Fund to "meet the unmet spiritual, social and emotional needs of seafarers of demonstrative need working in the waters off Martha's Vineyard and to provide educational financial assistance to seafarers or other persons of demonstrative need from Martha's Vineyard ... in the pursuit of educational programs in furtherance of maritime careers."
"We will follow Mrs. Goldberg's lead," Ms. Hale said. "We are Islanders helping other Islanders. We look forward to providing assistance to our neighbors who make a living at sea, whether they are commercial fishermen, members of the Coast Guard or Merchant Marine, or wish to pursue educational opportunities pertaining to commercial seafaring operations."
Unquestionably now, the lapses of the last 30 years will be redeemed by the dependable commitment of the Endowment Fund. So, by any measure, this is big.