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Saturday, March 16th, 2013

The Bryson Trust Fund: A gift that keeps giving

By William Kincaid

Ed L. Bryson's endowment to the city created the Bryson Trust Fund, which paid f. . .

CELINA - A prominent city attorney who loved the game of baseball bequeathed a financial gift to the city upon his death on Jan. 11, 1950, that has literally kept giving for decades in the form of the Bryson Pool, shelter houses, park restrooms and other recreational improvements.
Ed L. Bryson's initial endowment of $232,521, managed by what is now First Financial Bank in Celina, has financed $5 million in park projects and grown to nearly $8 million today.
As city council members consider projects to submit to the trust fund's overseers for possible financing this year, the newspaper spoke with First Financial Bank vice president and trust officer Collin Bryan to learn more about the account.
"Basically our role at First Financial is to hold the money and invest it and get a fair return for the beneficiaries - the citizens of the area, the citizens of Celina, if you will," Bryan said. "There were years early on ... that there was never any distribution made at all."
Bryan said Bryson spent much of his idle time watching baseball and was concerned about the recreational opportunities available for citizens.
"I've been told on good authority by a couple of the old veteran baseball players ... that he always sat in the same spot on the west end on the first row (of Mercelina Park), and he was always there for the ball games," Bryan said.
According to court documents, Bryson left part of his estate to what was then the Commercial Bank of Celina "for the use and benefit of the public play grounds in Mercelina Park, Celina, Ohio, or to assist in the construction of a public swimming pool by said city." Through court approval, the intent of Bryson's charity has expanded to include all recreational uses in the city.
The bank's role is to "determine the amount and manner" in which funds are spent.
Bryan took over as officer of the trust fund in the mid-90s about the time he was serving on Celina City Council. To avoid conflicts of interest, he abstained from voting on anything hinting at the fund or related to parks and recreation, he said.
Bryan said he regularly contacted the county probate court judge - the ultimate authority of the Bryson Trust Fund - to prevent any perception of conflict of interest and to maintain a good relationship with the court.
"This is a testamentary trust," Bryan said. "It's a trust that came into play after Mr. Bryson passed away, and as a result of that, we have a duty to report to the probate court. Every trustee does. It's not just us."
The mayor of Celina, or his or her appointee, was asked to annually submit a list of potential projects to be considered for financing through the fund. Bryan and the probate court judge - now Mary Pat Zitter - review and ultimately approve or deny the requests.
"It's not for the benefit of one or a selected group," Bryan said. "It's a benefit of the whole, and so it's important that the city be the one who's driving the request list in my opinion because that's their job."
Asked what criteria Bryan and the judge use when evaluating requests, Bryan replied that it's up to the city administration to represent the will of the people of Celina.
"The money is for the city of Celina, for the community, for the citizens, and it says that in the will," he said. "They've (city administrators) got a hand and a heartbeat on what's going on with recreation and should be more attuned to that than what I am. I've literally tried to remove my personal bias and ask that the city bring us a list."
Celina Mayor Jeff Hazel, who also served as city safety service director from 2004 to 2009, said only a few requests in recent years, such as fixing cracks in a parking lot, have been denied.
"They really, truly have been very good to work with," Hazel said, adding that Bryan has altruistic motives and wants projects that benefit the greatest percentage of people.
The city and the bank work to fund projects using only the interest and never the principal of the fund, Hazel said.
Bryan said a few years ago he met with city officials - former auditor Pat Smith, treasurer Rick Mosier and others - to discuss using the Bryson Trust Fund for capital projects only, which was eventually agreed upon.  
"I think we just felt ... this trust should be supporting capital," he said.
A big capital expense was the construction of the Bryson Pool, in which the Bryson Trust Fund committed $600,000 in cash and underwrote a note for another $600,0000.
A committee of citizens helped gather contributions for the pool, but the bottom line was a new pool would only be possible with the Bryson Trust Fund, Bryan said.
"So that's why that name's on the building out there," Bryan said. "And I'm pretty particular about that because that is the only thing that carries Mr. Bryson's name on it."
An exception to the rule of only allowing funds for capital expense projects occurred in 2010 when the city, which was having budget difficulties at the time, was given $50,000 to keep the pool open.
Then Mayor Sharon LaRue said the trust fund overseers felt they could not let the pool close for the summer because the kids needed a place to go.
Bryan said the fund has grown well.
"That's just the power of compounding - the power of compounding and not being taxed," Bryan said about the accumulation of the fund, which grew the most during the 70s and 80s.
"It has been a wonderful, wonderful tool for the citizens," he said. "It was a nice gesture on his (Bryson's) part."
City council's park and recreation committee meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday to discuss possible projects to submit for funding this year from the Bryson Trust Fund.

Distribution of funds:
The Bryson Trust Fund set up in 1950 has paid for $5 million in park projects in Celina - including the construction of the Bryson Pool that opened in 1998 - and has grown in market value to about $8 million today, according to First Financial Bank vice president and trust officer Collin Bryan.
The fund, which a few years ago stopped paying for operational costs of the parks and recreation department, distributed $607,874.35 from 2004 to 2012 in the following ways:
• 2004 - $75,000 for operating costs
• 2005 - $50,000 for operating costs
• 2006 - $25,000 for operating costs
• 2009 - $15,316 for shelter houses and $26,845.49 for Eastview Park restrooms
• 2010 - $222,038.11 for Eastview Park restrooms; $19,127.73 for the Pullman Bay road project; and $50,000 to help the city keep Bryson Memorial Pool open for the season
• 2011 - $11,035 for painting, diving board, platform and slides at the pool; $35,004.20 for a parking lot at the hot water hole; and $17,225 to paint the pool floor
• 2012 - $9,767.69 for shelter houses and $51,515.13 for a climbing wall, diving board and filters to be installed at the pool in 2013
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