The executive director of the Seafarers' Friends told a group of Islanders on Wednesday night he is working on a plan to leave a sizable portion of the Goldberg Fund to the Permanent Endowment Fund for Martha's Vineyard.
In contrast to his remarks to the Gazette last week, Edward O. (Ted) Coates said that his plan, which he stressed requires approval by a probate court judge, is to contribute 75 per cent of the fund, valued at $1.3 million, to the Vineyard to continue to assist Vineyard seafarers and their families.
If his plan comes to fruition, it will constitute the largest single contribution to the Island's benevolent fund since it was founded 20 years ago.
Mr. Coates said his nonprofit organization board of directors voted last May to leave the Vineyard. He said they'd also like to turn over the old seamen's cemetery at the end of Canterbury Lane in Vineyard Haven and the old Bethel's museum collection to the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society.
The announcement came after Mr. Coates talked about the records pertaining to the 114-year-old Seamen's Bethel that was once located where today stands the Steamship Authority Vineyard Haven terminal building. There was visible relief at the end of the meeting. A number of the more than 20 people in the American Legion Hall in Vineyard Haven hoped that some kind of resolution would arise.
Mr. Coates, emphasizing that the donation process will take time, prefaced each of his ideas with the comment, "It will be decided by a judge, not me."
Seated in front of him were a number of key players, including three former selectmen: Cora Medeiros and Henry Burt from Tisbury and Fred B. Morgan Jr. from Edgartown. Years ago, these three, and others, had openly questioned the Boston Seaman's Friends Society use of the Harriet Goldberg Fund, now valued at $1,386,893.89, and the Mary P. Marsh fund, now valued at $127,000. The friends society has since changed its name to Seafarers' Friends.
Mr. Coates said at the outset that there were two things that were going to happen after the meeting. "The Seafarers Friends are leaving Martha's Vineyard, and the decision about the use of the Goldberg Fund will be decided by a judge."
"I will stay here as long as you need me to answer questions," Mr. Coates said to the audience.
With the closure of services to the Vineyard, he said the Marsh fund will revert entirely to his organization's work.
In discussions with Matthew Stackpole, director of the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society, Mr. Coates said they'd like to give the Marine Hospital Cemetery off Canterbury Lane to the historical society along with a fund to insure its perpetual care.
Mr. Coates said for now his organization will continue to support mariners on the Island pursuing U.S. Coast Guard licensing. The teaching class is administered and taught by Vineyard Maritime Ltd. In a significant change, Mr. Coates said rather than fund Vineyard Maritime directly, they will write scholarships for students taking the course. Until the Goldberg fund matter is heard by a probate judge, the Seafarers' Friends will be in a transitional period, going into next year.
Deborah Hale, chairman of the Permanent Endowment Fund, echoed the evening's cautiously optimistic tone. She said she has been in discussions with Mr. Coates for some time. "I was pleased how the meeting went," she said, adding that it is premature to discuss how much money her organization might see, because some of it will go to the historical society to fund upkeep of the cemetery.
Mrs. Hale said the Permanent Endowment Fund, which has over $3 million in assets, knows well how to administer the funds. "If we were fortunate to have this happen, we would be guided by the court decision," she said. "They will say how the fund will be used. We'd reach out to the maritime community to find the best way to administer it."
In the past, the Seafarers' Friends have spent money on a number of projects including: scholarships for seniors at the regional high school pursuing maritime interests, funding aquaculture training programs for local commercial fishermen, helping distressed merchant sailors and giving an annual grant to Sail Martha's Vineyard.
Similarly, the Permanent Endowment funds scholarships and gives grants. "We have a million dollars in a general discretionary fund," Mrs. Hale said.
Of the prospect, she said, "This could be very exciting for the Island."