ERIN – Members of local non-profit organizations are calling for accountability on the whereabouts of a portion of Patrick Suessmuth’s estate.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars remain unaccounted for, eight years after his death and three years after an estate dispute was settled in court.
Suessmuth was a well known volunteer, coach and mentor who inspired a generation of youths through basketball and other programming in the Erin community.
He operated Erin Hoops basketball and later the Main Place Optimists (MPO) at the former Erin Public School building on Main Street, with a variety of after-school sessions and camps.
Suessmuth passed away in 2014 at the age of 75, leaving 90 per cent of his estate, initially about $1.44 million, to Erin Hoops Inc. or, if there was no basketball association operating in town, to the Main Place Optimists.
The remaining 10% was allocated to local branches of the Wellington County library system.
Suessmuth operated youth activities informally, often funding them with his own money, and had established an Optimist Club as a way to obtain liability insurance.
His will was the subject of a court case, with dispute over whether there were two distinct entities (Erin Hoops and MPO).
The estate was not settled until 2019, with $517,500 awarded by the Superior Court to Main Place Optimists and a similar amount to Erin Hoops Inc.
MPO donated its entire bequest to East Wellington Community Services (EWCS), for operation of a new drop-in centre, now known as Main Place Youth Centre.
The youth centre, which officially opened in 2021, has enabled social activities and other supports for youth, provided by EWCS.
MPO president Tanja Parsley said the primarily focus for the board after Suessmuth’s death was continuing to bring programming to youth in the community.
MPO carried on with a variety of camps and youth basketball, including Wednesday night Junior NBA at Erin District High School.
In partnership with EWCS, the volunteer board continued to provide school holiday camps, summer camps and youth basketball programs in Suessmuth’s tradition.
“We always had this partnership with EWCS and knew that if we were to be awarded any money, that money was going to go to them,” Parsley said.
“And that’s what we did.”
Parsley said MPO officials were grateful to receive 45% of the estate funds, but felt they should have received the Erin Hoops portion as well.
Funds allocated to the Wellington County Library system from Suessmuth’s estate were put towards purchasing a mobile hanging in the Hillsburgh branch, chief librarian Rebecca Hine confirmed.
The remaining money will be directed towards the new Erin branch, in line with Suessmuth’s request that the money support youth in Erin.
“The library board will decide how to best incorporate something for youth into the design of the new branch, whether that is decorative to enhance the children’s space or something that aids youth programming in the library or adds to the collection has yet to be determined,” Hine explained.
“Regardless of what is decided [county officials] and the library board remain very grateful to have received such a wonderful donation and have it enhance the new library space for the youth of Erin.”
The Advertiser was unable to find out what Erin Hoops has done, or plans to do, with its share of Suessmuth’s estate – or even who is currently on its board.
Erin Hoops started in 1994 but was not incorporated until 2003.
There is no current website available and the Erin Hoops Facebook page has been inactive since August of 2019.
The directors in 2003-04 were Michael Rooney, Gary Kaitting and Georgina Rogers, and later Steve Bergwerff.
All four testified during the civil court case regarding Suessmuth’s will.
Rogers was unwilling to provide any information about Erin Hoops’ current status or the plans for its portion of the estate.
“I have no information to give you,” she said during a brief phone call with the Advertiser earlier this month.
She added she has “no knowledge and I’m not willing to share.”
In 2019 Bergwerff told the Advertiser that “When everything is organized, I’m sure there will be a press release” about Erin Hoops’ plans.
He added, “There’s a lot of changes and organizing in the process.”
Bergwerff suggested an announcement was imminent, but no press release was ever received by the Advertiser.
In a phone call this week, Bergwerff said he doesn’t “have much information” on Erin Hoops and suggested the newspaper speak to Rooney, who he hasn’t been in contact with for some time.
However, Rooney was not immediately available for comment.
Additional attempts this summer to contact other former board members were unsuccessful.
Parsley said she’s outraged there’s been no accountability for the remaining funds.
“I think about Patrick, what would he think?” Parsley asked.
“I think about the need in the community, and how that money could be put to good use.”
Now, three years later, Parsley said it’s a matter of figuring out the status of the money, and what the plans are, if any.
“[It] seems outrageous to me that somebody could take money like that and not be held to account,” she said.
“I just am so infuriated that this is just going on, and there’s been no accountability.”
With $50,000 from the Suessmuth estate still to be released, Parsley said Erin Hoops, now seemingly defunct, shouldn’t be eligible for the final instalment unless it can demonstrate it’s doing something with the money it has already received.
“[This] would have really upset Patrick,” said EWCS CEO Kari Simpson.
“He was always about the youth, doing things for the youth.”
Simpson said Suessmuth didn’t want any red tape when it came to running his programs – for him, it was just about helping youth in the community.
“That was his whole mission … just ensuring there was a safe place for youth to come to,” Simpson explained.
“I think he would be extremely upset and angry about the fact that nothing else has happened, that I know of anyway, with that other half of the funds.”
Addressing a need
Simpson noted the new youth centre addressed a void in community youth supports that was left when Suessmuth died.
“There was nothing in the community for youth as far as even a drop-in centre,” Simpson explained.
“So with Main Place Optimists giving us that money and that opportunity to open up the drop-in centre, we were able to fill that gap as far as providing activities.”
The centre offers drop-ins, activities and cooking classes, all with input received from youth.
EWCS also partners with The Grove, which operates its Youth Hub out of the Main Place site, allowing the centre to bring in outreach services and mental health and addiction services.
“We have clinicians that come in to meet with youth, around mental health issues and addiction issues, could be hosting issues as well,” Simpson said.
“And then just offering peer-to-peer support as well.”
Simpson added, “It’s definitely a need in our community because otherwise youth had to go outside of the community to get help.
“Not everybody has that transportation to be able to do that.
“Not to mention the waitlist for mental health, anywhere in Ontario, but especially when you live in a rural community.”
EWCS director of youth wellness Fran MacDonald said an important part of offering the drop-in service is helping youth build connections with the community.
“It’s great that they are developing these relationships with the staff and amongst each other so that they’re developing other supports in the community,” MacDonald explained.
She said roughly 75 to 80% of youth coming in are accessing drop-in programming.
“But then they’ve established those relationships with the clinical staff should they, in the future, need those supports,” she said.
This year alone, from April to the end of August, the centre had 921 youth come in the doors, MacDonald noted.
“Patrick always wanted a centre where youth could just come whenever they needed to,” Simpson explained.
“He was very much about youth wellness in our community.
“So the centre has carried on that legacy as far as having an inclusive space where youth can feel safe, have those social connections (and) have also those connections if they need more help.”
Though the centre doesn’t have basketball courts on site, it does have nets that Simpson and MacDonald said the youth utilize frequently.
“We still made sure that we had basketball nets at the youth centre so that we could at least still offer that piece of it, because I know how much basketball meant to Patrick,” Simpson said.
She noted the youths helped by Suessmuth adored him and looked up to him and it’s an honour to carry on his legacy.
“We’re very honoured to be able to have that money and to do these programs for the youth,” she said.
“And Patrick’s picture’s up in the youth centre because we will never forget his generosity when it came to that.
“Because without his generosity this would never have happened.”
Since becoming CEO a decade ago, Simpson said she tried for years to get funding for a youth centre in the community.
“So this is near and dear to my heart,” she said. “And it wouldn’t have been possible without Patrick’s help.”
“Even our partnership with The Grove would not have allowed us to do that,” MacDonald added.
“They’re a great added addition, and I’m sure Patrick would be thrilled [with] how the partnership has been able to allow us to expand the support that we’re able to offer.”
MacDonald added, “But the space itself, everything would not exist had it not been for that initial amount of money in that donation.”
Now that the centre’s fully operational, Simpson said the focus shifts to ensuring its longevity.
“It’s such a shame. It really is,” she said of the outstanding funds.
“Because the youth can still utilize more and it’s that piece of sustainability too.”
She added, “Thankfully, we have that partnership with The Grove that’s contributing to the sustainability, but it’s still not enough to keep the programs going, so we’re constantly having to chase for money to keep it going.”