Honor Roll Account  
Thursday, January 9, 2003

THURSDAY, JAN. 9 TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
So I've Heard Column


Some strange items turned up late in 2002 at the Webster Town Hall, including 1920 and 1922 passbooks for a town honor roll committee.
As noted a few months ago, when Town Accountant Pamela A. Leduc found several old objects in her office vault, the facility has been rewired, and materials had to be moved. Some of them got shuttled for the first time in decades.
The passbooks wound up in Town Surveyor Stanley Duszlak's office and he showed them to me, wondering why the town would have one account in two banks. Both were under the control of William W. Holmes, town treasurer for many years.
While it might have been something as simple as dividing town resources, the accounts were in the Webster Five Cents Savings Bank, where Mr. Holmes was a vice-president, and the Webster National Bank. Still, the treasurer's identity led me to wonder. I had read something at some point while researching something else.
It took some time but I finally found the report that welled in my psyche. Director Theodore Waddell of the state Division of Accounts reported Feb. 10, 1927 that an audit of the town treasurer's office uncovered a pattern of "check kiting."
Mr. Holmes managed town accounts in several banks, including the Webster National Bank and the First National Bank of Webster, and the Commonwealth Trust Co., and the Atlantic National Bank, both in Boston.
He used "the float time" of available funds to create fraudulent balances, the state alleged. The treasurer managed to divert more than $30,000 from town accounts through 1925 and 1926, state auditors claimed.
Getting back to the passbooks, retired Town Treasurer Dorothy R. Dabrowski couldn't recall a division in accounts. Banking is different today, with statements replacing passbooks, but in the old days it was one account in one bank with one passbook, she said. Although the Webster Town Hall is almost 75 years old, the passbooks, dated years earlier, were there because the accounts were active when the facility opened.
The town wasn't flush with interest bearing securities in the 1920s and sharing the wealth might have seemed logical at the time, Ms. Dabrowski allowed. The Webster Five Cents Savings Bank passbook shows a $400 deposit on Jan. 16, 1920. Dividends through July 1, 1922 hiked the town balance to $445.40. A $25 withdrawal was made July 5, 1923, passbook entries indicate, and this was deposited in a new account in the Webster National Bank on the same date.
The accounts were alive and gaining interest long after Mr. Holmes paid heed to a state advisory, resign or face prosecution. Restitution with interest was his lot, and he complied. Credits in the Webster National Bank read $664.29 as of Oct. 18, 1928. If the account remained open through Nov. 3, 1933, some or all of the money might have been lost. The Great Depression was in full flower and federal officers placed the bank into receivership on that date.
Allowing a good reason for two honor roll accounts, this begets a question: What was the honor roll committee? Assuming a balance from the first World War, a scholastic program, or something, I checked tables of accounts in old town reports without success. Webster appropriated $4,000 to stage a reception for residents serving in the military in 1918. Dudley kicked in a proportionate amount, and a joint committee held a parade with the first airplane fly-over in area history. They also staged a program in the Main Street park, held an elaborate feast, built a 60 foot wooden "welcome home" arch across the Main Street, and ran a $2,000 deficit. There wasn't any surplus.
The honor roll case remains open!
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If you received holiday greetings from Mickey and Minnie in Florida, you've been exposed to Joe and Gloria Poplawski's newly adopted nicknames.
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She retired many, many years ago, and was thus unknown to generations of Bar
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