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Caroline Veatch

Caroline Veatch Caroline Evans Veatch (April 17, 1870-October 4, 1953) was a modest widow who, because she was homebound, was never able to attend the Unitarian society she joined late in life. Her bequest transformed the congregation that inspired her and has sustained both the Unitarian Universalist Association and many other UU organizations.

Caroline Hornbrook Evans was born in Evansville, Indiana, to Samuel George Evans and Anna Louise (Hornbrook) Evans. Her family had been prominent in the life of the community for three generations. Her grandfather was instrumental in setting up the first public school in Evansville, so there could be "a free school devoid of all sectarianism." She was raised a Presbyterian. A cousin remembered Carrie, as she was always called, as friendly, fun-loving and outgoing. After graduating from high school, she entered Indiana University in 1893, earning a bachelor of arts degree in English.

In 1902 she married another Evansville native, geologist Arthur Clifford Veatch, at Evansville's Grace Presbyterian Church. Soon after, they moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Arthur was chair of the geology department at Louisiana State University. When he left academia, Arthur worked as an oil geologist, making so many trips, both domestic and international, that Caroline later remarked that she always kept a bag packed so she could accompany him at a moment's notice. This peripatetic existence was made easier by the fact that they had no children. In addition to spending time in Wyoming, Australia, and New Zealand, they lived in London from 1913 to 1919. They then built a house in Plandome, Long Island, now a suburb of New York City. Starting in 1926, Arthur began to prospect for oil in the north of Germany, acquiring royalty rights to potential oil fields he discovered. He died in 1938, leaving his German royalty rights to his wife, who continued to live in Plandome with her sister Della for the rest of her life.

Veatch suffered from spinal arthritis, which left her unable to walk. Although she was then an Episcopalian, because of a suggestion made by her physical therapist, Julia Wagner, a member of the new North Shore Unitarian Society, in 1945 she contributed to the purchase of its first building. (The North Shore Unitarian Society, located first in Port Washington and later in Plandome, is now in nearby Manhasset and has been renamed the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock). The congregation's first minister, Gerald F. Weary, called on her before he delivered his first sermon there. For the next eight years he—sometimes together with his wife—visited the homebound widow at least every other week. Describing his first impression in his memoirs, he says that she was wearing "a white blouse, with a brooch at the collar, and her hair . . . parted and combed back . . . Her face and figure were plump," but since she was unable to stand, he was not sure of her height. "I sensed at once that she was a person of poise and dignity, and as well of warmth and friendliness."

Veatch (as did her sister), expressed an interest in the new Unitarian society, especially in the church newsletter and in Weary's sermons, often discussing them with him, and expressing particular concern for the work of the Unitarian Service Committee. Though not yet a member, she gave generously to both the USC and to the local society, including another gift to the building fund when congregational growth necessitated a move to larger quarters.

After about two-and-a-half years, Weary writes, she "initiated a conversation with me about remembering the Society in her will." He quotes her as telling him that as an Episcopalian she had left a bequest to St. Stephens church, "but in he past two or three years I have become interested in your church. I like what it is doing . . . and believe a splendid future lies ahead for it. But in order to make a bequest for it I shall have to have a lawyer to rewrite my existing will. Do you have a lawyer in your church who would be willing to rewrite it for me?"

Weary recommended James Nickerson, a church trustee and member of a Wall Street firm. Nickerson did as he was asked, putting a provision into her will that half of her estate should go to her sister, the other half to the North Shore Unitarian Society. At that point Weary asked her to join his church. When she agreed, he took the membership book to her. On March 28, 1948 she signed the book.

Veatch, says Weary, never complained about her disability. Instead, they talked about many topics of common interest, including her recollections of her husband. That led her to mention the royalty rights to German oil fields he had left her, but which—after the Great Depression, the Nazi takeover, a World War, and several corporate reorganizations—had not been making any payments to her. Was there, she wanted to know, an attorney in the congregation who could find out how she could obtain her royalties? If successful, she promised give half of the overdue payment to the church.

After two years of effort, Nickerson succeeded in sorting out the records and conflicting claims. In 1952 he remitted $7,168 to Veatch, who promptly gave half to the congregation. She continued to thus share the subsequent payments. When Weary pointed out that this went beyond her promise, she said that she not only intended to split all such future income 50/50 as long as she lived, but to leave her oil rights to the church in her will.

In 1953 Veatch died of cancer. Weary conducted the memorial service at the North Shore Unitarian Society.

When natural gas was discovered in the German oil fields, the Veatch bequest became quite valuable. In the late 1960s attorney Harvey Cohen went to Germany on behalf of the church to ascertain the nature and amount of the society's assets. Subsequently, another lawyer from the congregation, Robert Adelman, helped to secure more favorable tax treatment in Germany, doubling the rate of return. In 1973 congregation's annual return from the oil fields reached $10 million; during the next three years it climbed to $20 million. Each year the congregation faced the pleasant responsibility of deciding what to do with its unexpected wealth.

From the beginning, the North Shore Society mirrored Veatch's generosity by giving loans and grants to neighboring Unitarian congregations. It also made substantial gifts to the denomination. On two occasions it saved the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) from bankruptcy. The first was when a bank loan taken out in the final days of the Dana McLean Greeley administration unexpectedly came due and there was no unrestricted capital left to pay it off; the second when UUA resources were strained by the expense of publishing the Pentagon Papers and fighting the resultant legal harassment by the Nixon administration.

Initially the congregation set up a Veatch Committee to supervise disbursements. As the income from the Veatch bequest grew, administration of the fund became increasingly professional. The church hired a part-time, then a full-time director. Today the Veatch Board, separate from the church board of trustees, is responsible for approving and supervising all Veatch grants. Administration is handled by an executive director, three program officers, and a support staff. The congregation decides how much to allocate to the Veatch Program each year. Recently the amount available has begun to decline.

At first the UUA (and its predecessor, the American Unitarian Association) requested support from the Veatch fund for specific programs. Because both the North Shore Society and the UUA were concerned that a single congregation was in this way making budgetary decisions for the entire denomination, in 1979 the Society gave the UUA a block grant of $20 million, as well an extra $11 million in 1983, to be allocated as the association's trustees saw fit. In this way many new programs and services have been funded, and grants and loans have been made to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the Beacon Press, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, the International Association for Religious Freedom, and other denominational organizations and activities.

In addition to money given to the denomination through the Veatch Program, the congregation has awarded grants out of its remaining Veatch assets to the Unitarian Universalist theological schools and other Unitarian Universalist organizations. To further institutionalize its hands-off approach to denominational support, the Veatch Program launched the Unitarian Universalist Funding Program (UUFP) to stimulate new denominational programs and Unitarian Universalist involvement in social action. To implement these objectives, the UUFP set up four grant-making panels: the Fund for Unitarian Universalism, another fund for international Unitarian Universalism, a fund for on social responsibility, and a fund for promoting a just society. The Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography is made possible in part by Veatch money through the Unitarian Universalist Funding Program.

In addition to grants specifically designed to support the denomination, the Veatch Program also funds grassroots organizations whose programs complement Unitarian Universalist objectives. Marjorie Fine, the Veatch fund executive director until October 2005, established a policy that program officers, when recommending approval of a grant applications, must specify which UUA bylaw principle it promotes. Support is provided only to nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations which emphasize long-term social change and stimulate volunteer participation. In recent years such grants have fallen into three categories: improving social justice, enhancing the democratic process, and building respect for the environment.

Warren Ross has written Funding Justice: The Legacy of the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program (2005) and The Premise & the Promise: The Story of the Unitarian Universalist Association (2001). For information consult Eleanor Vendig, The Caroline Veatch Assistance and Extension Program (1973) and Gerald F. Weary, A Memorial to Caroline E. Veatch (1983). The story of the Shelter Rock congregation is contained in From These Beginnings (1995). For information on the program at the Shelter Rock website: http://www.uucsr.org/veatch

Article by Warren Ross - posted December 7, 2005


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