MARY BELLE EAKER
"My life has been most pleasantly spent in Dayton. I am interested in the Master's work, and as his steward desire to make these investments for the good of the community in which I have lived. Let God have the honor. It is my imperative wish that no memorials, nor tablets of any kind be erected in my name, in connection with the bequests made in this will, and my executors are instructed to see that this wish is respected." [Extract from Miss Baker's will, Executed October, 1901.]
IN these words is clearly expressed the design of Miss Eaker, in leaving to the city of Dayton, upwards of half a million dollars. The last clause exhibits what the testator felt to the extreme---an implacable protest against any notoriety in regard to her charities while living, or her bequests after death. In view of this wish, impressed most emphatically upon her legal adviser, and upon her friends, the pen hesitates. It was not only "no tablets, nor memorials" in the formal language of a legal document, but privately to her attorney, she said, "Remember, Judge; not a word, not a line."
Shall we respect her wish and be silent?
The question brings its own reply. A book, dealing with saints in Dayton, and leaving out Miss Eaker, would not have the courage to open its covers to a reading public. Therefore, a partial granting, only, of her wish is possible. There is no monument to her memory in the cemetery, nor any tablet upon a wall. It is not difficult to have a monument if the testator leaves money enough, even though the public be indifferent. It has been done quite often. But not to have a monument when the public demands it, and the testator objects, is a different matter. Two more retiring people than the late secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association, and his friend, never lived. They held publicity in horror, and literally kept from their left hands all the good done by the right. Yet the noble structure now almost completed, on the corner of Third and Ludlow, is a monument, and neither they, nor any other, alive or dead, can prevent. Upon every brick, every stone, every lintel of the Association building, is written invisibly, "Sacred to the Memory of D. A. Sinclair, and Mary Belle Eaker."
Therefore, in writing of Miss Eaker, nothing will be said, except what every one knows. Facts cannot hurt her now. All will remember the plain dress, the plain hat, and the plain face under it, the slight figure, and quick walk. A rather restricted life, and her own taste for retirement had made her something of a recluse; yet a most pleasant manner, untouched by any conventionality, was hers. She lived in a house as plain as herself, with the south windows full of geraniums, blooming clear to the top. She was the type of a business woman; concise, methodical, accurate, alert. She cared nothing for books, nor music, nor society, nor greatly for household concerns, beyond exacting that things should be done decently and in order. The things that made life interesting to her were flowers, poor people, and public concerns; the three carried her rather beyond what some might consider a hum-drum life.
The number of poor people helped over hard places will never be known. In a drawer of the desk, in her little office, was a large package of papers never seen by any one but herself. They consisted of tax receipts, notes not properly secured, bills, and memoranda of various kinds.
"Better let me take those and look them over," said her lawyer once.
"None of your business, Judge," said she in her characteristic brusque way. "These are my pets; you have nothing to do with them. I'll look after these myself."
Therefore it is left to the imagination, helped out by a few facts. Sometimes appearing at her attorney's office, she would say, pleasantly,
"Any money for me to-day?"
Perhaps there was, and a cheque was signed for $1,500, or $2,000, not one dollar of which he ever had the satisfaction of seeing a receipt for.
These were what Miss Eaker called her little luxuries. The large ones were advised about most carefully with her friends. She preferred giving to needs rather than to persons, and, (especially in the case of charities, managed by women,) to give property rather than money. She had, naturally enough, not a high opinion of the business qualifications of the average woman. In all her charities, Miss Eaker exhibited the greatest caution in examining into the circumstances and requirements of the object of her intended bequest. If an organization, she wanted to know who had charge of it; what kind of officers; how they fulfilled their duties; whether the activities of the organization were such as ministered to the practical needs of the public. An illustration of this was, her procedure in the case of her bequest of the Miami Valley Hospital. First she sent her representatives to consult with the Board of Trustees, with a view to ascertaining what were the greatest needs of the hospital. Finding that a home for the nurses was greatly to be desired, Miss Eaker had an architect prepare plans, and estimate the expense of such a structure. When the cost was reported to her, she added another ten thousand dollars, saying that estimates always erred in being too low. Finally, remembering that bequests were sometimes burdensome to keep up, she added the income from her property on Third and Jefferson streets, the Odd Fellows Temple, as an endowment fund. This was her invariable procedure. When she had obtained the necessary information, she made up her own mind. Information might be solicited, but the conclusions invariably were her own.
As to private charities, perhaps Miss Eaker was not so careful. She carried the taxes of many people whom she felt were worthy, and loaned hundreds and hundreds of dollars for which no security was expected. For service she was always grateful. The man "William," janitor of her public buildings for twenty-five years, received at her hands a good dwelling-house, built purposely for him. Her directions to her attorney were:
"Let William pay if he thinks he owes me anything. Do him good. Take anything he offers, but the
house will be his."
A small charity that Miss Eaker carried on for some years will be found amusing. An old woman with a cow was the recipient of the charity; cats, her own and the neighbors, of the milk. To take milk of the old woman was the wisest way of helping her. Miss Eaker did not want the milk. The cats did, and the money was badly needed in the little home, therefore all claims were satisfied.
Occasionally Miss Eaker would send for her attorney, who, thinking the call was urgent, hurried to the house to meet her wishes; but there was nothing new on the carpet; only the same keen intelligent insatiable curiosity. She would offer a chair, and then begin a series of questions.
How were the banks getting along? What about the schools, the street-paving, the bridge contracts? A new street railway line must be explained as well as the qualifications of a proposed public official.
Her mind was a man's mind, with a man's large concerns.
During his lifetime, Judge Boltin was her attorney and adviser. His guidance in business matters was invaluable, and she had unlimited confidence in his judgment. Her affairs in his hands were administered with characteristic faithfulness, which she always appreciated.
The Young Men's Christian Association was probably her greatest interest; yes, more, in a way; it was her recreation. She loved to go to the entertainments of the Star Course, and sit in the top seat of the balcony. Lecturers, concert singers were nothing to her; she never looked toward the stage. It was the boys she went to see; from her upper seat she watched the rows of laughing faces below her, and that was her evening's pleasure. What more natural than that she should have left the Eaker homestead as a site for the proposed new building, explaining her gift as follows:
"Much of my life has been passed in this home, and I gladly give it for this purpose, believing that it could be consecrated to no better use, and that the people of Dayton will build upon it a suitable Christian home for our young men."
It was Mr. Sinclair, as a friend and source of information about the Y. M. C. A., that probably decided the matter. Their friendship was most close and sincere, and through him she followed step by step the growing needs of the Association, and its advance in usefulness.
Other bequests were briefly, as follows:
Fifteen thousand dollars each are given to the Board of Foreign and Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church.
Ten thousand dollars for the educational work of the Freedmen in the South.
Fifty thousand dollars for the erection and equipment of a building to be used by the Deaconess Hospital, of Dayton; to be used as a training-school and home for its nurses and attendants. The leasehold property on the corner of Third and Jefferson streets, known as the Odd Fellows' Temple, is given to the hospital as an endowment for the maintenance, care, and support of the building, training-school, and home.
The leasehold property, known as the Arnold property, on South Main Street, was given to the Woman's Christian Association, of Dayton, Ohio, as an endowment for the purpose of maintaining a boarding-home in the city of Dayton, for employed girls and women, the income only from which property may be expended.
Any residue left after paying other bequests was divided between the Woman's Christian Association and the Young Men's Christian Association, to be used by them as an endowment fund to help provide an income for their general expenses.
If one could, dared pry into private papers, other people's as well as Miss Eaker's, there would be a list of private benefactions, small and great, to fill a whole volume; but she has said, "Not a word, not a line." She might of course have traveled, and worn Paris gowns; might have had automobiles and steam yachts; might have sat on porches at summer resorts, or played "Bridge" all night. But, with her money, Miss Eaker purchased the real pleasures of life; the joy of seeing public things go by her own propelling; of watching the development of organizations, of which she herself was a promoter.
Only the exceptionally gifted, the rarely cultivated can thus invest their capital in purchase of happiness.
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