Ellis Manter's public spirited generosity benefits Tisbury's schools
An article in the Nov. 30 Times, "Trail goes cold in the case of the missing millions," and a follow-up in the Dec. 7 issue, "Missing millions found - they've grown a little," described the Martha's Vineyard Foundation of 1928. Thirty-six Islanders donated $10 to a fund to benefit Martha's Vineyard. They hoped their gifts would grow to $37 million at maturity in the year 2219, with compound interest based on a four percent annual gain. The fund's two accounts continue to grow under the supervision of the Dukes County Probate and Family Court. The story about the 1928 fund prompted this reminder about a generous gift made by Ellis Manter to the town of Tisbury and the lessons learned from lost investment opportunities.
As a follow-up to your article on the fund that was created in 1928 by 37 donors to benefit the Island with $37 million for civic use in the year 2219, mention ought to be made of another citizen of that era who had a comparably generous public spirit.
His name is Ellis Manter. His father, Henry Manter, was a famous Island whaling captain. Ellis lived a more modest life running a shoe store in the village of Vineyard Haven. In 1915, Ellis Manter wrote a will that left the remainder of his estate to the town of Tisbury to establish a fund in memory of his parents "for the benefit of the public schools of said town of Tisbury."
The Tisbury School has benefited modestly from the Manter Public School Fund for many years since his death in 1935. That was due partially to the stipulation in his will that at least $25 of the income of this fund "be expended to furnish footwear for needy children who attend the public schools regularly."
The fund acquired $3,000 in 1935 through the sale of his cousin's house in Vineyard Haven, which he inherited upon her death in 1934. Because this money provided the required $25 annual income to buy shoes for needy children, the town fathers at that time never looked to see what else was in his estate at the time of his death.
Only in 1977 did the selectmen come upon property owned by the town in the name of Ellis Manter's Public School Fund through his bequest, and then arranged for its purchase from the fund for a municipal purpose. Since then, three other properties have been so identified.
Much of his estate lands have been purchased from the fund by the town to protect the recharge area for the new Manter well. The fund now has a capital balance of $281,030, the annual income of which has been used to provide such things as transportation for off-Island school programs and updated computers.
The full value of Ellis Manter's public-spirited generosity as not been realized not only by the town's failure to identify the full extent of his estate which he bequeathed to the town. The town also has not managed what funds it holds in the Manter Public School Fund in such a way as to realize "the best possible advantage for the benefit of the public schools of said town of Tisbury," to quote again from Ellis Manter's will.
If, for example, the trustees of the fund had invested the $3,000 that it held in 1935 in Coca-Cola stock, the Manter fund would not be worth $32,637,000, just from the increase in value of that stock since 1935. The fund would now be able to provide the town with over $1 million in income every year to benefit the school. To appreciate the extent of Ellis Manter's generosity in his gift to the town, imagine what the benefit of his fund would be not only for the school, but also for every taxpayer in the town.
The selection of the Coca-Cola Company is not random, although other stocks have had comparable increases since that time. Captain Packer was then the local distributor of Coca-Cola. The town was providing him with Tashmoo Spring water to produce what was widely recognized as the best tasting Coca-Cola in the region. The town had every reason to feel good about the future of such an investment for the benefit of our town.
James H. K. Norton is a writer, historian, farmer, and former Tisbury school committee member.