LONG BEACH — When Peninsula resident Verna Oller made national news by bequeathing about $5 million to area charities, she had one seemingly simple request: She wanted the City of Long Beach to build a new swimming pool so local children could learn how to swim. Nearly five years later, her attorney, Guy Glenn, and the other trustees are still trying to find a way to make her dream come true.
When Oller died in May 2010, she left about $500,000 for the Ocean Beach Education Foundation, and another $500,000 for a scholarship fund. Oller specified that the remaining money should be used to build a new indoor pool facility. Anchorwoman Diane Sawyer of ABC News was among those who lauded the generosity of a modest woman who often worked processing fish, but parlayed earnings and a bequest from a sister into a considerable fortune in Wall Street investments.
However, the project stalled out in early 2013, when Long Beach officials and a citizens committee declined the roughly $4 million donation after determining that the city couldn’t afford long-term operations and maintenance expenses not covered by Oller’s bequest.
Because Oller specifically asked that a pool be built within Long Beach, Glenn has been somewhat limited in his ability to pursue other alternatives that would improve locals’ access to recreational swimming and instruction. As a last resort, her will specifies that the balance of her estate will all go into the education foundation’s permanent endowment.
In a Monday morning phone interview, Glenn said he may soon gain a little more flexibility in determining how to fulfill Oller’s intent. Glenn has hired a Seattle attorney who works with tax-exempt organizations to help modify the language in the trust, making it possible for him to explore other possible swimming-related projects.
“I think the idea is to broaden the scope — to still pursue Verna’s dream of making it a local swimming opportunity, but obviously not be confined by Long Beach,” Glenn explained. “We’re making it a broad description so we’ve got some flexibility.” Glenn said that process should be completed before the end of the year.
Oller did stipulate that if a pool couldn’t be built, the money could be used to provide transportation to an existing facility, such as the aquatic center in Astoria. However, the transportation option could also be complicated. “If you were to put together that kind of transportation plan, you would have to find funds to retain it — make it perpetual,” Glenn said.
“If we would have had more time with Verna to think about these things, we might have made it broader then,” Glenn said regarding the process of helping her write her will. “Now we’re thinking rather than just go off on the transportation option, we should buy a little more time and see what else might happen. We’re trying to keep the swimming option alive.”
In the meantime, the trust is steadily growing.
“There’s over $5 million dollars,” Glenn said. So far, the fund has distributed about $1.1 million dollars for education.