About 200 needy District children will soon start their school day with a hot breakfast thanks to a woman who often saw starving children in the slums of Calcutta and Naples.
Last week at a D.C. school board meeting, school Superintendent Floretta McKenzie gratefully acknowledged the receipt of $54,000 from the estate of Anna Grace Wood Banker, a former District resident who worked in India and Italy with the United States Information Agency (USIA) and wanted the money used to help educate and feed young underprivileged children.
The presentation marked the end of a six-year battle to determine what would happen to Banker's estate. During the legal tangle, the value of the estate grew from $50,000 to $150,000, primarily because of investments and new assets. The money, which will help finance the breakfast program with Headstart and a nutrition education program, is one of the largest bequests ever received by the school system, officials said.
"It's a windfall," said Beverly Langford-Thomas, director of Head Start. "It's taken a lot of worry out of our operation. We were meeting the requirements of the federal Head Start program , but not maximally," she said.
About half of Banker's money has been earmarked for the Headstart program in Anacostia. The money will be used to pay for preparing and transporting hot breakfasts to three Head Start centers where 200 children have been receiving a cold breakfast of cereal, milk and juice, because the centers lacked kitchens. The remaining funds will go to the schools' nutrition education program that teaches students good nutrition.
The cold meal meets the federally recommended daily nutritional requirements, Langford-Thomas said, but "It's one thing to follow the letter of the law, and quite another to follow the spirit of the law."
Banker retired to a Dupont Circle apartment in 1966 after serving as a librarian and cultural affairs officer with USIA in Calcutta, Pakistan, Naples, Rome and Berlin.
"With her amount of service in Naples, all of Pakistan, Calcutta, the poverty centers of the world, she was very conscious of the importance of the first years and the ability of children to be able to grow up with some intelligence and education," said her friend and coexecutor of her estate, Edward W. Cordell, who had worked with Banker at USIA.
Her interest came "from first-hand experience and her own orientation to the needs of people." Cordell said she discussed at length with him studies on poverty released during the 1960s' Great Society days.
Cordell also recalled that Banker always set up children's sections in her libraries and, in Pakistan, worked with university librarians to open the caste-restricted library to all people.
"She talked often with us about her interests in preschool feeding and environment assisting in education," he added. Last week, the school board honored Cordell and George R. Keys, the attorney who handled the estate.
Banker was born in Canada in 1904. After graduating from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, she moved to the United States and joined the Brooklyn Museum Library in 1927. She earned a second library science degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She was director of the museum library for 11 years before joining USIA in 1951. Her marriage ended in divorce in the mid-1940s. She had no children.
Banker retired for the USIA but not from libraries. She organized a library at the Georgetown Day School on MacArthur Boulevard NW, and served as chief librarian there until her second retirement in late 1975. She died at The Washington Home here in 1979 at age 74.
Then the problems started. She had left her estate to her college and the Choate Foundation of Arizona. Banker knew the foundation's founder and had been impressed with its work in poverty and nutrition in the Southwest.
But when Banker died, the foundation was defunct. Usually the estate would have been divided between Queen's University and her heirs, two nephews in Canada.
But Cordell and Keys pressed to continue Banker's original charitable intent. "We decided to preserve her desire to have the residual estate after taxes, expenses and the Queen's gift employed in a charitable manner," Keys said. "We looked at what the Choate Foundation did. The trick was how to get a local court to make an alternative disposition of the estate. We knew if we committed the money locally we would have a greater chance for approval."
It took six years to get that alternative disposition, primarily because the Choate Foundation tried to revive itself when the bequest to it became known; one of the nephews intervened, and additional assets were trickling into the estate, Keys said.
In the end, the nephew, who is handicapped, received $30,000 and the Community Nutrition Institute in Washington, the successor to the Choate Foundation, received $27,000, Keys said. Among other activities, the group seeks controls on food advertising directed at children. "People don't realize, but sometimes these things take time," Keys said