MINUTES OF THE 134th ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
FEBRUARY 8, 2019
Fior d'Italia Restaurant, San Francisco, California
The meeting was called to order at 6:10 PM.
Ruedi Sandmeier extended a warm greeting to everyone, with a special welcome to Consul General Thomas Schneider. Tonight we have five recipients of our scholarship program, namely Samantha Coale, Steven Grossi, Elisabeth Kantorik, Sydney Keaton, and Claire Zurcher-Hamm as our guests. A special welcome to Max Munz, our corresponding Board member, who flew in from Zurich to attend the meeting. Finally, we are happy to welcome former Board members Melanie Facen and Susy Lutsky, as well as Rita Plattner. Regretfully, Marianne Strotz, our former Vice President, at the last minute called to say she was unable to join us. Above all, thank you, our trusted members who have come to this meeting. Your generous contributions over the years are very much appreciated.
Our records show that we have 140 dues-paying members at this time. 10%, or 14 members, represent a quorum. In addition to 30 members in attendance, we received 12 proxy statements. We can therefore proceed with our Agenda.
Copies of the minutes of the 2018 Annual Meeting have been placed on each table. They are also posted on the SBS website. Are there any questions about the minutes? Dan Eggen made a motion to approve the minutes, seconded by Justin Cox.
Treasurer John Zeiter commented on the great turnout and proceeded to read the details of the financial profit and loss statement and endowment balances.
Auditors Report, presented by Pius Kampfen
Pius Kampfen presented the report of the audit that he and Stefan Welter conducted for the period of January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018. As usual, John Zeiter has kept the books in an exemplary manner. During their examination, the auditors made sure that the funds are properly recorded at Schwab. They examined, on a test basis, the evidence supporting the amounts and disclosures to obtain reasonable assurances that these statements are free of material misstatements. In conclusion, they found that the balance sheet and the statements of operations fairly represent the financial position of the Society and that the books have been kept in an orderly manner.
Finally, Pius noted that John Zeiter is doing an incredible job and is an irreplaceable asset to our Board.
Investment Committee Report presented by Andy Eggler
The bull market which got underway in the wake of the 2016 general election in anticipation of fiscal stimulus and friendlier regulatory environment lasted through 2017 and finally ran out of steam at the end of January 2017. Following staggering gains in the DJIA, the financial markets settled in a seesaw pattern. Looking forward, Andy believes we can be optimistic based on the state of the American economy, which looks like an outlier against a backdrop of the European Union in disarray and China's growth in decline.
We are pleased with the returns of our endowment, it generated more than enough cash from dividends, interest, and capital gains distributions to cover our scholarship awards and welfare grants. We compare the portfolio performance to that of the S&P 500 price index. Of all the indices, it is the best benchmark because it mirrors the economy as a whole. Our portfolio declined by 5.34% compared to a drop of 6.59% in the S&P 500 index. We attribute our slightly better return to our large cash position -- cash is not invested and provides a cushion in a down market.
Ruedi thanked Andy for a job well done, adding that he should not be so modest.
Welfare Report, presented by Ariana Ghelfi
In 2018, we provided assistance to two individuals for a total of $4,250.
The first applicant initially applied for a scholarship but did not meet the requirement. However, because his progress in school was affected by a difficult family situation, the Welfare committee offered a one-time grant of $4,000 from our General Fund.
A plea for assistance came from a second individual of Swiss descent suffering a financial crisis as a result of health issues and a divorce in which she lost custody of her two young children. She pleaded for our assistance with medical expenses, attorney fees, and fees imposed by the court related to supervised visits with her children. Ariana was pleased to report that following her proposal in early December 2018, the Board approved a grant of $3,000 annual assistance from the General Fund. Monthly distributions of $250 began in December and will continue throughout 2019.
Scholarship Committee Report presented by John Andrew
The Scholarship Committee (Susann Sandmeier, Ariana Ghelfi, and John Andrew) is pleased to report that in 2018, the Society awarded $54,000 in scholarships to 18 young Swiss in Northern California. For comparison, in 2017 we made 15 awards for a total of $53,000.
Some details of our program this year include the following:
- We received 28 applications (including eleven re-applicants) from which we awarded 18 scholarships (64% acceptance rate), for a total of $54,000.
- We made awards from all named funds.
- For the first time, we bestowed a culinary scholarship from the newly established Munz Fund.
- Eight scholarships were supplemented with an additional $500 from the generous donation of the Scherer Family and their friends. With those eight awards, we have exhausted the Scherer Family Funds per their direction.
- The students are majoring in a diverse set of subjects and an equally diverse set of schools, including campuses of the University of California and the California State University, various liberal arts colleges, Stanford, and Ivy League (Dartmouth).
Thank you to the membership for the privilege of serving as your scholarship chair for the past 10 years. John expressed his sincere appreciation to Susann Sandmeier, Marianne Strotz, Melanie Facen, his predecessor Susy Lutsky, and his successor, Ariana Ghelfi, for their support over the past decade in helping to administer this program. Most of all, thank you to our members for their continuing generosity which makes this possible.
Membership Committee Report, presented by Doug Twitchell
Doug summarized the duties of the Membership chair, which he assumed two years ago:
- Update the database on the Salesforce.com system. This is a service offered at no charge to charities and other non-profits. Donation information is entered as donations are received either by check or via PayPal. Information is received by email from Marianne Aubert and PayPal. Donations amounts are also confirmed periodically with the treasurer, John Zeiter.
- Handle the mailings to the membership several times a year as requested by the Board.
- Active donor households or organizations for the past two years: 140
- Active donor households or organizations for the past four years: 187
- All households donating since the fall 2018 mailing: 53
- Donation amounts between 2017 and 2018:
- Large donations households or organizations:
- One $5,000
- Two - greater than $1,000 and under $5,000
- Fifteen between $500 and $1,000
- $86 is the average donation, excluding donations over $500.
Ruedi then asked our five young guests to introduce themselves and tell us about their studies.
Samantha Coale, who came accompanied by her father, studies History at St. Mary's.
Steven Grossi is also at St. Mary’s, starting his 2nd semester in Sociology, hoping to get into law enforcement later on.
Elisabeth Kantorik, after receiving a scholarship and being a teacher for 5 years, is enrolled in Stanford's Education program.
Sydney Keeton, a freshman at UC Berkeley, is studying Civil Engineering.
Claire Zurcher-Hamm is finishing her last semester at UC Berkeley, majoring in Rhetoric; law school is on the horizon.
All students are happy to have a chance to meet the Board and SBS members and are very grateful for the awards.
President's Report by Ruedi Sandmeier
2018 was a very good year for us. As reported at last year's Annual Meeting, the estate of Betty Reber has finally closed at the probate court. Betty died in June 2015 and left us with 5% of her estate. While Betty herself was British, her husband Robert, who died earlier, was Swiss, and he had directed her to leave this 5% to us. We received a check for close to $120,000. As neither Robert nor Betty had left any instructions on how to use the money, the Board has decided to use it for forth welfare and scholarships.
Thanks to this and the legacy of Walter Munz, we were able to award the biggest amount in scholarships. As you heard, we also were able to grant the first culinary award to a student of Enology. She grew up at Chardonnay Place and played in the vineyards as a child. Speak of destiny...
Our traditional Senior Party and Spring Dance was combined with the Folklore Night of the Aelpler Gruppe. This was a success, as we had over 140 participants. We also changed our practice and gave a gift basket to all participants 90 years and older. It was a great party, not least because we had raffle prizes of over $2,500 to give away. We want to thank all donors, including the Swiss Consulate, Ghirardelli Chocolates, and several Swiss-owned wineries.
At the meeting of the United Swiss Societies of Northern California we faced some criticism regarding our scholarship practice. The discussion centered on two points, namely that at least one parent needs to be Swiss, and that we seem to be restrictive in regard to parents' income for our "merit and need" based scholarships. The first point came from a family where three generations are active in Swiss clubs but the grandparents had failed to register their children for Swiss citizenship, so that now the grandchildren do not qualify. Upon discussion, we decided to make an exception in a case like this if all the other criteria are fulfilled. On the second point, income level for need-based scholarship, we decided to keep the income levels where they are, considering that our donors, you all here, may not have the income level of the one person raising the question.
Last April, Marianne Strotz resigned from the Board after nine years due to health reasons. I was looking forward to having Marianne here tonight and present her with an honorary membership for the nine years that she served as director, vice president, and member of the scholarship committee. Thank you, Marianne, for all you did for us. The plaque and the flowers will be delivered to you in person.
Following Marianne's resignation, Carla Twitchell stepped in as our vice president. She will need to be confirmed by you. Carla then introduced herself. She is originally from Ticino and teaches several languages in college and ESL programs; she has been the president of Pro Ticino for ten years.
I have an excellent Board helping me run the various tasks of our society. I hope you can honor that by confirming our new Board member and our auditors. Our Board works well together as a team, and I am honored to work with such a fine group.
At this point, are there any questions or comments about what you have heard?
Since no matters to be voted on were submitted from the floor, we can now proceed to the elections. Under our By-Laws, the directors are elected based on a system of rotation over a three-year period. No Board member is up for re-election at this time, and one Board member, Carla Twitchell, who joined us during the year, needs to be confirmed. However, in two years we'll have five members up for re-election, so I propose we elect Carla for three years. We need to re-elected Pius Kampfen and Stefan Welter for the auditor positions.
Now it is time to hand over the meeting to Consul General Thomas Schneider.
Election of Board members who joined the Board since the last annual meeting for a 3-year term:
– Carla Twitchell, Vice President
Re-Election of Auditors (1-year term)
– Pius Kampfen
– Stefan Welter
Each election was approved by acclamation.
Remarks by Consul General Thomas Schneider
Thank you for inviting me to join you on this occasion. I recently transferred to the San Francisco Consulate on an interim basis, after the closing of the Los Angeles Consulate. As you know, there has been a vacancy since Mr. Tanner's retirement but a permanent replacement has been named in the person of Dr. Benedict Wechsler, currently in Copenhagen. He will arrive in San Francisco in November. Another change in San Francisco is the upcoming departure of Sacha Steiner in July.
Your organization has a very special task, helping needy people of Swiss descent, but as mentioned by Ruedi, there are not many of them here. Congratulations on being clever enough to introduce the scholarship program to help young people.
President's Report continues:
Thank you, Mr. Schneider. I would also like to express our deep appreciation for the steadfast support receive from the Consulate. It has been a pleasure working your team and we look forward to a continued close cooperation.
I should note that the lack of welfare applications resulted in the loss of the society's non-profit status in the past. Thankfully, the president at the time, Gusti Strotz, had the foresight to create the scholarship program to remedy this situation.
Any questions or comments?
Pius Kampfen asked how we can get these young people to be involved. Ruedi says this has been our ongoing effort, by contacting our recipients via email, but without much success. Someone also wondered if we can attract more members with a lower membership fee (but it's only $30 per year!). Ruedi mentions that we have already trimmed our mailing list by about 550 people who were no longer active, saving quite a bit of money in postage. This leaves us with a strong core of faithful donors. Thank you!
Pius also remarked there is one person who deserves recognition: Marianne Aubert, who has been on the Board since the mid-90's.
This brings the official meeting to a close. Do I hear a motion to adjourn?
With no further questions or comments from the audience, Ruedi made a motion to close the meeting, seconded by Justin Cox.
Meeting closed at 7:00 PM.
(SBS members may request a written copy of the minutes by contacting the Secretary)