The William H. Higbie Memorial Scholarship Fund continues to grow. For the eleventh consecutive year, the fund did not make an award since no Huntington High School senior took advantage of its largess. The fund was established to help pay the college expenses of students who intend to become business education teachers.
The Higbie Scholarship Fund now stands at a stunning $780,500, according to Jill Miranda, the district’s treasurer. The amount is substantially higher than the original sum of $710,862.91, which was presented to the district in October 2006.
At the time of the bequest, founding School Heritage Museum curator Jack Abrams was one of the few current Huntington school community members who had ever heard of Mr. Higbie.
That isn’t surprising since the former business teacher retired more than 62 years ago after a 41 year career and died in 1968.
But, while Mr. Higbie might have disappeared into history and long since departed this world, school officials went scrambling to find out just who he was after being contacted by Huntington attorney Gordon Young who said the former teacher’s wife, who died about 20 years ago, had included in her will a provision establishing a charitable remainder trust with a portion going to fund the William H. Higbie Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Unlike many such scholarships that are funded on a year-to-year basis or established with endowments consisting of a few thousand dollars, Cecile E. Higbie authorized that one-third of her remaining estate after other bequests totaling several hundred thousand dollars were carried out, go to fund the scholarship.
The income the sum produces is available each year to provide a scholarship for a Huntington student who intends to go to college to become a business teacher. How did a man who never made more than $5,800 teaching amass a fortune of several million dollars? By being a shrewd investor. Documents turned over to the district indicate the educator’s stock portfolio grew to include many blue chip companies.
Evidently, Mr. Higbie was an early investor in companies that eventually grew through mergers, acquisitions and stock splits into some of the most profitable enterprises in the history of the world.
Born in Rochester
William Higbie was born January 3, 1882 in the Rochester, New York suburb of Chili. A strikingly handsome man, he graduated from A.M. Chesbrough Seminary (now known as Roberts Wesleyan College) in North Chili in 1902 with a college entrance diploma. He went on to earn an A.B. degree at the University of Rochester in 1906 and studied at the Rochester Business Institute the following year. He later obtained a graduate degree from New York University in 1915.
While tracing Mr. Higbie’s path to Huntington High School it became clear that the young college grad wasn’t set on a teaching career from the start. Instead he worked in a Rochester area office from 1907-09 as a stenographer, clerk and salesman. It wasn’t until 1909, when he was 27 years old that he made a career of an occupation that would never make him much money.
Mr. Higbie taught at a private military school in Ossining, New York from 1909-11 before he was hired as a teacher at Huntington High School, where he stood before a chalkboard for the first time on September 11, 1911. His starting salary was $1,050. By 1920 he was earning $2,000 and six years later was up to $3,000 a year. He wouldn’t break $4,000 for another 21 years. As the Great Depression deepened, Mr. Higbie and the rest of the Huntington faculty took a 15 percent pay cut for the next several years.
Regarded as a very hard worker, Mr. Higbie returned home to the Rochester area during vacations in the 1912-13 and 1913-14 school years, performing statistical work at the sprawling Eastman Kodak complex. He later worked part-time as a bookkeeper in the Huntington area from 1920-23 and as a local newspaper reporter, after school, at night and on weekends from 1921-40.
He was also active with the Boys Scouts and the YMCA. From 1915-19 he was a part-time Huntington Scout commissioner. Mr. Higbie also worked part-time as a YMCA canteen director from 1917-19 and was a YMCA summer camp director in 1919.
Victim of Polio
During his long career at Huntington High School, Mr. Higbie, who wore braces on his legs after being stricken with polio and who at varying times used a wheelchair, crutches or a cane, taught various business education subjects. In those years the high school was located at the site of the current Town Hall on Main Street, across from the Old First Church and Heckscher Park, where physical education classes and athletic events were held.
Mr. Higbie was the organizer of many senior class trips to Washington, D.C. Students and staff would pile into train cars and journey to the nation’s capital, posing for a group photo each year in front of the Capitol building. Some of those haunting photos are now on display in the School Heritage Museum and all of them are in the museum’s collection.
Mr. Higbie, who lived at 11 Sammis Street off New York Avenue, was an advisor for the General Organization, yesteryear’s version of today’s student government or student council. He handled bookkeeping duties for the organization. Rarely absent from work, he would go for many years at a time without missing a single day of school.
Top Salary of $5,800
In 1930, Mr. Higbie was given a $100 raise, bringing his salary to $3,200. He never made more than that until 1943, when he received a $200 increase. His salary stayed at $3,400 until 1946 when it increased to $3,662.50 and then raised to $4,300 in the heady postwar years. It wasn’t until 1949, Mr. Higbie’s 39th year in the district that his salary reached $5,000, where it remained for two consecutive years. In his final year as a teacher in 1951-52 he topped out at $5,800. When he retired June 30, 1952 he was 70½ years old.
Mr. Higbie lived a long life, passing away in September 1968 at age 86. Following his death, his wife continued to live in their Sammis Street home for about two decades until she checked herself into Hilaire Farm Nursing Home where she spent the remainder of her life before passing away in 1991.
A former Huntington Hospital nurse, Mrs. Higbie signed a will dated December 21, 1990 in which she made her intentions clear. The bequests, the largest of which was for $50,000 to the University of Rochester, included one to the Huntington School District in the amount of $5,000 in honor of Velma and William Class. Bill Class was a legendary physical education teacher, coach and athletic director.
The couples became fast friends, said Betty Ann Connell, coach Class’s daughter during an October 2006 interview. “I remember going to visit the Higbie’s as a little girl and remember them coming to visit us. They enjoyed playing bridge and the couples were extremely close friends. The Higbie’s were very private people. They kept to themselves.”
Savvy Investor and Businessman
Mr. Higbie was a very good businessman and Mrs. Connell said the couple benefited from having an excellent local financial advisor. Mrs. Higbie’s will was one that reflected her husband’s wishes, according to Mrs. Connell, who was named executor and trustee. “I would bake Cecile (pronounced “seal”) cookies and bring them to her at Hilaire Farms. She passed away shortly after the new will was signed.”
Mrs. Higbie’s will created a trust, with the some of the income it generated given to her two sisters on a quarterly basis. Those payments were to continue as long as each of them lived. The last surviving sister, Vera Van Der Vliet passed away on February 4, 2006. At the time of her death, there was more than $2.1 million sitting in trust. After various expenses were paid, the Huntington School District, Huntington Hospital Association and the Suffolk County Council of Boy Scouts of America each received a check in the amount of $710,862.92.
Huntington School Board members accepted the bequest at their October 16, 2006 meeting, voting unanimously to create the William H. Higbie Memorial Scholarship Fund. “All of us are speechless,” School Board President Robert T. Lee said at the time. “This is just breathtaking.” With the growth of the fund’s principal, it’s even more remarkable today.
Strict Scholarship Terms
The bequest requires that “The principal of the said Fund shall be held and managed by the School District in perpetuity, to be invested and reinvested in any kind of property, real and personal, without limitation to investments authorized for trust funds and without diversification as to kind or amount.
“The income of the Fund shall be used to provide four (4) year tuition scholarships, to be known as the ‘William H. Higbie Memorial Scholarship,’ hereinafter referred to as the ‘Scholarship.’ Such Scholarship shall be awarded each year, beginning with the end of the first full scholastic year, occurring at least twelve (12) months after my death, to graduating seniors of Huntington High School who shall qualify as recipients thereof.
“Recipients of the Scholarship shall be selected by a Committee comprised of three (3) members appointed by the Board of Education of the School District from among the Business Education faculty, the general faculty, and the administrators of the Huntington High School. Committee members shall serve on the Committee for such period of time as the Board shall determine but only so long as their affiliation with Huntington High School continues.
“The Committee shall solicit and review nominations and applications for the Scholarship, and, in its sole discretion, select qualified recipients. The amount of a Scholarship shall be determined by the Committee, but shall be of sufficient size as to provide a significant contribution toward the payment of a recipient’s college tuition costs, even up to the full amount thereof.
“The Committee shall determine the number of Scholarships that may be awarded in any year. To qualify as a recipient, a candidate must:
“(i) be a graduating senior from the Huntington High School interested in pursuing studies in the field of business education;
“(ii) be accepted and registered into a full-time course of study at an accredited institution of higher learning requisite to the granting of a degree from that institution in the area of business education; and
“(iii) have a need for financial assistance in paying tuition costs incurred in attending such institution.
“To remain qualified during the balance of the four-year term of the Scholarship, a recipient must:
“(i) remain enrolled in a full-time course of study as described above;
“(ii) maintain a 2.0 grade point average or better; and
“(iii) submit to the Committee satisfactory proof of enrollment and grades attained prior to the beginning of each scholastic year during the term of the Scholarship.
“The Committee shall pay the amount of a Scholarship directly to the learning institution attend or to be attended by a recipient to the credit of the recipient on account of tuition charges.
“If the Committee should determine, in its sole discretion, that the Fund income available for the awarding of new Scholarships in any year is so small an amount so that the awarding of Scholarships there-from would not significantly contribute to the payment of the recipient’s tuition costs and would serve to detract from the dignity and prestige of the Scholarship, the Committee may determine not to award any Scholarship in any such year.
“Any Fund income not expended in a given year, whether due to reasons described in subparagraph 7, or because the Committee determines that there are no qualified candidates, or because a recipient does not remain qualified, or for any other reason, shall become part of the principal of the Fund, to be held, invested, and managed in accordance with the foregoing.”
Before payment of the bequest was made to the school district, Mr. Lee, as the Huntington School Board president, acting on behalf of the district agreed to abide by all the terms and conditions set forth in Mrs. Higbie’s will.