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June 17, 2003

FSDB receives long-lost trust fund

From: St. Augustine Record, FL - Jun 17, 2003

Staff Writer

After seven years, a trust fund worth nearly $161,882.45 fell into the hands of its rightful heir, the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.

The money, set aside by Volusia County resident Edna Viola Flint in 1985, was earmarked to be given to the school after her death. But Wachovia Bank in DeLand misplaced the information that linked the money to its rightful recipient when Flint died in 1995. Wachovia officials also remedied the situation in the last few weeks.

Staci Bienvenu, a senior attorney for the Florida Department of Financial Services, said the bank believed a signature card tying the money to the school was lost.

"When signature cards are that old, a lot of time they just disappear," said Sandy Willard, manager of the Escheat Department for Wachovia, which handles unclaimed property. She said an analyst on her team was able to find the signature through research.

"And I don't think they (Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind) were aware of where the money was. I think it just fell through the cracks."

Driving from Tallahassee Monday morning, Bienvenu delivered the overdue check to the school from the office of Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.

Willard could not say whether the amount entrusted by Flint was receiving interest in the years it was in the bank.

Flint also left behind money to five major charities in Massachusetts, mostly for the handicapped or crippled, Bienvenu said. One of the charities, Boston Center for Blind Children in Mattapan, Mass., was making calls to see if the unclaimed money was for it. "They were hoping it was theirs," Bienvenu said.

About two weeks ago, an analyst at Wachovia, Johnnie McLaughlin, discovered the signature linking the Florida school and the trust.

"It is a happy story," Willard said.

Florida's Bureau of Unclaimed Property remitted the unclaimed money in 2002. With the help of Wachovia, Bienvenu was able to determine who the money belonged to.

"It was kind of an electrifying thing," said Kathy Gillespie, public information director for the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. "It was out of the blue and it was wonderful."

Two weeks ago, Bienvenu made the call to Terri Wiseman , administrator of business services at the school, explaining the money would soon be on its way.

"It was a happy call," Bienvenu said. "The school knew nothing of this."

"I didn't believe it at first," Wiseman said. "The more I talked to her, the more I realized it was true."

Wiseman said the money will go into the school's endowment, which helps supply students with scholarships and pays for specialized equipment.

She said Braille textbooks are six to seven times thicker than a regular textbook with printed words. The Braille textbooks alone "eat up" the state's funding for the school, she said, so donations have been relied upon.

But the economy is wavering, and donations to the school "have not been as brisk as we have liked," Wiseman said.

In particular, Braille notebooks for the blind are needed, she said. They might be the first purchases with the new money, Wiseman said.

Wiseman said it was surprising to receive the gift from Flint, since she is virtually unknown to the school.

Flint's death certificate says she was born on Sept. 6, 1987, and lived in Northern Florida in her later years. She was born in Whitman, Mass., and worked in booking for a savings and loan company.

She died at 97 years old in July 1995, as a widow, and with the last known address being 316 E. Rich Ave. in DeLand.

Wiseman said the only trace of Flint's involvement at the school was a donation, under $1,000, given about 10 years ago.

The Florida School of the Deaf and the Blind was built in 1885. About two-thirds of the student body resides on campus during the school year and range in ages from 5 to 22. More than 800 students are served, about 115 being taught in their homes.

Wiseman said the resource department accepts donations and to call 827-2310 and ask for Director Kathy Shetler if you wish to make a donation.

Correction The trust fund value was originally reported at $167,000. The correct value is $161, 882.45. (06/17/03)

© Copyright 2002 The St. Augustine Record and Morris Digital Works .