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Ella Griffith Trust continues Washington woman’s legacy

WASHINGTON — Ella Griffith was born before the Civil War and died on May 7, 1931, according to her obituary in the Evening Journal the following day. She had no issue and instead chose to establish a trust in her will that would “benefit desperate old citizens of the city of Washington.”

Among the assets of her estate were three agricultural properties in the Washington area. For the past 91 years, the income from these properties has been distributed among all applicants who are eligible for the aid.

“As a trustee, we manage the farms, lease them to farmers who pay rent, and we collect that rental income in the trust,” said Larry Fishback, senior trust officer at Washington State Bank, which has managed the trust since 1997. We share available funds and issue checks at this time of year. It’s a tremendous trust to work with, it certainly benefits the community.”

Applicants are evaluated by a panel of three will-named community leaders: the Washington County auditor, the mayor of the city of Washington, and the minister of the local Methodist church.

There are strict rules about who qualifies and who doesn’t. District Examiner Dan Widmer said eligibility is limited to those who are at least 55 years old and whose household income is within 150% of the federal poverty guidelines for the year and who are residents of the city of Washington.

Griffith spelled out her wishes, albeit less precisely, in her will.

“I have observed from time to time men and women of worthy age in the city of Washington, Iowa, who, by virtue of old age or infirmity and incapacity for work … are reduced to actual need and live in need,” the document reads. “It is my desire and intention that the provisions of this trust … help to alleviate the plight of such needy citizens of dignified age and self-respect.”

According to Widmer, in recent years there has been a bill of between 40 and 50,000 US dollars, which has been divided among all recipients. He said there are no regulations as to how the money will be used by them.

“We leave that to each individual,” he says. “Whether it’s for themselves or someone else, or to use it to fix their car, or to fix their roof… it’s not for us to judge, ‘Is this a good way to spend the money?'”

Washington Mayor Jaron Rosien said the group met shortly after the Dec. 2 submission deadline to process the applications. This process comes after extensive work to spread the word through networking, door knocking and local media.

“I think it’s important to get the word out so the people who can use this aren’t overlooked,” Rosien said. “I don’t want anyone in need who can use these funds to miss an opportunity to receive them.”

Washington United Methodist Church pastor Anthony DeVaughn is attending the foundation for the first time this year. He said it’s an exciting opportunity.

“Any form of church outreach or ministry is always important if it is to help people,” he said. “That’s what Jesus did when he went, he went and ministered to the unloved… It’s quite amazing that this started a few years ago and continues to this day.”

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