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SPATS OLD GRADUATES NEVER DIE-THEY JUST ARGUE

By Patsi Aucoin |

It’s been a stormy year for the venerable Forest Avenue High School Alumni Association. Its board of directors spent the summer in closed meetings, trying to decide what to do about their treasury problems. Then in August, association president Ted Steinberg sent a memo signed by five other officers to the 1,700 members, accusing treasurer Nellie Ruth Murphy of mishandling $100,000 from the treasury. The board demanded an audit of the books, but Murphy was reluctant to hand over her records. Steinberg then filed a personal lawsuit against Murphy, alleging that she wasn’t doing her job as treasurer.

In 1956, Forest Avenue High School was renamed James Madison High, and Forest Avenue was later renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The alumni association was formed in 1977 and, until now, has been the model of an upper-class, convivial high school association.

Otto Light, one of the directors who signed the memo, says the $100,000 figure was based on simple arithmetic: the annual dues are $10 ($15 for married couples if both graduated from Forest), and there are 1,700 members. So after eleven years at least $100,000 should have passed through the treasury. But Light says the directors found only $25,000 when they checked the association’s accounts.

Treasurer Murphy says the matter is easily explained. The association agreed years ago, she says, never to drop anyone from membership, even those who have never paid their dues. Since many don’t, she says, $25,000 was a respectable figure to have in the account. “There is not one penny missing from those books,” Murphy says. “We have good accounting procedures.” She says that every expenditure was approved by the board, and that she didn’t want the board “fooling with my books for security reasons’-she was afraid they would damage her records and she had no backup copies.

After Murphy finally allowed an audit of the books (in which “they couldn’t find anything wrong.” says Murphy), Steinberg dropped his lawsuit, but the uproar widened a growing split in the organization. During the treasury fiasco, the directors had rewritten the bylaws and in the process alienated many of the older members. Finally, Steinberg and the five other “dissident” board members resigned in late September. But it’s still not over for Frances Burt Gibson, the orginal founder of the association. Gibson is in the process of forming yet another Forest High alumni association just for those who graduated in 1936 or earlier. “I think it’s better that we have two groups now,” she says.