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Missing millions found - they've grown a little
An alert Times reader solved the mystery of the whereabouts of a Vineyard fund potentially worth millions. The fund's history was the subject of a news story on Nov. 30.
Register of Probate Elizabeth Herrmann displays the trust agreements of the Martha's Vineyard Foundation of 1928.
With compound interest, Ms. Herrmann said the accounts are each worth about $5,000 now. She called both the Edgartown National Bank and Bank of Martha's Vineyard, now a division of Sovereign Bank and formerly the Martha's Vineyard National Bank, to remind them the accounts exist.
While Edgartown National Bank still maintains its account, Ms. Herrmann said staff at the Bank of Martha's Vineyard may have to do some research to find the Martha's Vineyard National Bank's account, as she thinks the bank's trust accounts were transferred to Dukes County Saving Bank several years ago when Martha's Vineyard National Bank became Compass Bank.
In early 1928, bank officials from Edgartown National Bank and Martha's Vineyard National Bank dreamed up the idea for the Island fund, inspired by Benjamin Franklin's provision in his will in 1790 that established similar funds for Boston and Philadelphia. The fund's donors included 37 influential Islanders, all men, who donated $10 each. They figured their $370 could be parlayed into $37 million by the year 2219, given the miracle of compound interest, based on four percent a year. They wanted the money used to benefit the Island of the future.
The Vineyard Gazette publicized news of the fund (editor Henry Beetle Hough was one of the donors), and launched a contest sponsored by the donors. They offered prizes for the best letters submitted to the Gazette and judged by a panel of judges with suggestions for a name for the fund and how the millions should be spent.
A two-page advertisement in the March 2, 1928, Gazette announced Tisbury high school senior David Golart as the first place winner and the fund's chosen name as the "Martha's Vineyard Posterity Fund of 1928." After the initial fervor surrounding the announcement, however, no further mention appeared in subsequent issues of the paper.
Several weeks ago, the splashy two-page ad headlined, "The Vineyard's Greatest Gift," caught the long-time Islander Sarah Shephard's eye when she was looking through old Gazettes while doing historical research at the Vineyard Haven Library. She showed the ad to Wendy Andrews, circulation and interlibrary loan librarian, and it tweaked their interest enough to try to find out what happened to the money.
Ms. Andrews contacted bank officials at the two banks, but they had no information. She cast her net wider, enlisting the aid of other library staff members and interested library patrons in finding the whereabouts of the mystery fund. Ms. Andrews hoped that The Times article last Thursday, "Trail goes cold in the case of the missing millions," might jar someone's memory - and it did.
Taking up the story where The Times left off last week, Ms. Herrmann said two trust instruments for the Martha's Vineyard Foundation of 1928 were filed and recorded in the Dukes County Registry of Probate on June 29, 1928, one for each bank account. Copies of the trust agreements she showed to The Times confirmed that a $185 deposit was initially made to an account in the Edgartown National Bank, and an equal amount was deposited into a Martha's Vineyard National Bank account. Once the funds reach $100,000, the trust permits "reasonable current compensation" to the banks for their services as trustees. (With $5,000-something in the accounts so far, it looks as if the present day bankers will have to leave that windfall to their heirs.)
The trust agreements further state that the banks are to keep the trust funds in their savings departments and pay interest as determined by their board of directors until the funds reach $18,500,000.
Once that sum is accrued, the trust agreements specify that $9,250,000 may be spent "for the best interests of the Island of Martha's Vineyard as it shall appear at that time," if approved by a majority vote of a committee of the banks' board of directors, the judge of probate court of Dukes County, and the Dukes County commissioners.
The trust agreements also stipulate that the remaining $9,250,000 shall be held in a perpetual trust by the two banks (or their successors) and the interest income then used for the best interests of the Island, again as voted by a majority of a committee as outlined above.
There is no mechanism mentioned in the trust agreements for alerting future generations when the funds mature to the spending stage. Now that the "Vineyard's greatest gift" has been rediscovered, Ms. Andrews said she hoped it would not slip into obscurity again.