Haines students received a boon this week after the school board accepted a donation of more than half a million dollars.
Vera Smith, a longtime Haines resident who worked as a public health nurse during the 1950s, died two years ago in her home state of Virginia. In her will, she left $622,000 to establish the William George Seig Scholarship, which is named after her first husband, a former Haines resident.
Haines School Superintendent Roy Getchell discussed the donation with board members Tuesday, the terms of which are still being fleshed out. “The executor of her will has not set the terms for this,” Getchell said. “Our motion today is just saying ‘We will accept it’ and we’re going to move it into a trust account. [Specific] wishes will be named at a later date.”
school board president Anne Marie Palmieri told the CVN the executor has been given “complete discretion in how the fund is to be established, administered and managed” to accomplish Smith’s intended purposes—the details of which are still unknown. “We don’t have decision-making authority on much of this at all,” Palmieri said.
The money is currently in an interim Wells Fargo trust fund account, Getchell told the board. An attorney who specializes in trust funds is representing the school and is working with the executor of Smith’s will.
Smith’s attorney notified school administrators about the donation last fall. Palmieri told the CVN she and then interim superintendent Rich Carlson made the decision to wait to make the donation public until they had more information. “It’s a wonderful gift and we’re so appreciative of the opportunity and what it’s going to provide for our kids, but we wanted to proceed carefully and cautiously with a sum of money that’s this large.”
Board action was required to close the money out of Smith’s estate and place it in the interim trust account. Smith’s attorney did not return a call for comment by press time.
Smith served as the only health care provider at times when no doctor was in town. She married Bill Seig in 1956 and they built a house at the top of Young Road. She was elected to the borough assembly in 1974 and served as a member of the Business and Professional Woman’s Club, the Haines Women’s Club, the Chilkat Valley Historical Society and was involved in local conservation causes, according to her CVN obituary.
Longtime resident Joan Snyder took over Smith’s job as public health nurse in 1974. “She was very well known for her garden and her flowers, especially,” Snyder said. “She was very firm in her statements, very positive. She cared a lot about Haines.”
Seig died of an apparent stroke in 1968. Smith later married Haines artist Gil Smith.
Stan Jones, a doctor at the time, worked with Vera Smith in the early 1960s. Jones said he ribbed her for marrying Gil, an artist who probably didn’t make much money. “She said she knew that, but that she did not need his money,” Jones said. “She was a very wonderful person, a first-class southern lady,” Jones said. “She was very gracious.”
Vera and Gil later divorced. She left Haines in 1992 and moved to Charlottesville, Virginia where she died on Dec. 31, 2016 at the age of 101.
school board member Sara Chapell suggested the money be invested in a permanent fund for the benefit of Haines students. “As the recipients of the gift we want to determine the best way to administer that,” Chapell said. “I’m not suggesting that the school try to figure out how to invest that money, but I would imagine that for now it’s going to be there and we would make the determination about how we want to proceed in the long term.”
The board will meet at a future workshop to create a set of criteria and suggestions to provide the executor as they move forward.