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DOWNEY - Larry McGrew is either a naturally friendly person or has cultivated a friendly persona. Either way, he is easily one of the most popular members of the Downey Rotary Club, and one of the most dynamic: never at a loss for words, he's ever ready with a quip or a joke, or variations of it, not to shock but to amuse. In a normal social setting, he can easily fill the role of life of the party.
One of nine children (6 brothers, 3 sisters), Larry apprenticed at his dad's Bell Gardens-based construction business at age 14, and, three years later, started working as a painter. He liked doing construction work better than attending his 11th grade classes at Bell Gardens High, so he quit school altogether.
Larry has never looked back. He worked hard at everything-he learned the trade, he learned the business, and when he finally took over the enterprise in 1995 after his two older brothers successively ran it after their dad's death in 1988, he gave it everything he had.
"I wanted to succeed. I was driven by the prize-a life of fun with my family, the ability to spoil myself," he says. "Working never bothered me. It didn't matter if it was Friday or Tuesday. If there was work [to do], I did it. I worked six, seven days a week."
"I learned a lot from my parents," adds Larry. "I went to church as a kid. My dad was a very good and honest businessman. He gave us direction, and then some. If we came up with a good idea and needed his support, we were never turned down if it made sense. My mother was of course a good influence as well. My parents came here from the midwest in 1940, and settled in Bell Gardens. Dad was originally from Kansas and is of German descent, while mom was from Missouri, whose folks came from Scotland."
"I got the mean part of me from my dad, the good looks from my mom," he jokes.
Divorce from his first wife in 1981 left Larry with two young kids to raise. He narrates what happened in his own words: "The most important thing that happened to me was when I married Chris, my second wife, in 1982. She took the responsibility of raising my two kids. Of course my parents watched over them too anytime I asked them to. Chris worked at Northrop and as soon as we had the other kids [they were to have three], she became a home mom. She works for our business and does any and everything that needs to get done. Today the most important thing is that we all stay healthy and have lots of fun. We love the grandkids."
They are Troy and Tyler--offspring of Larry's oldest, Larry Jr., who works at Downey's Coca-Cola plant; Lindsey, Gavin and Melanie-children of Brenda (Maloof), homemaker; and Brynn, child of Amanda, who has her eyes set on nursing school (she already has her LVN license). The other two kids-Kevin (who works for his dad at Larry McGrew Construction, Inc.) and Sean (who works for DRMC)-don't have kids.
The five all went to Downey schools.
By most measures Larry has not done too badly for himself. Today, he says, "We have rental properties, 12 in Fullerton, 10 in Cudahy, one in Bell Gardens, and one here in Downey. We also have the old unit in Bell Gardens, and our residence (a 4-BR, 5-bath affair) here on Sanford-Bridge and Lubec. I bought my first house in 1976."
His annual fishing sojourn to Alaska (Kodiak, Prince of Wales Island, Sitka, etc.) for the past twenty years is impressive to say the least. He goes fishing regularly as well in Cabo San Lucas. He also enjoys pheasant and pig hunting.
Last year, in the company of close fellow Rotarian-friends Dale Self and Rich Strayer, he got to play both the old and the new course at St. Andrews. He has a perpetual tan because he seemingly plays golf more often than a pro, particularly at the Los Amigos golf course where he's a club member; the club plays at other courses as well. Occasionally, he says, he gets invited to play at a private course like Old Ranch in Seal Beach.
In addition to Scotland, he has been to Great Britain, the Greek Isles, Spain and Gibraltar, Morocco ("I didn't get close enough to a camel to get spat upon"), and visited the pyramids in Egypt. Closer to home, he has visited La Paz, Mazatlan, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, Jamaica, the Caribbean, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.
"We've had a good 2012," Larry says, "and it looks like it's going to continue this year. The strength of the economy seems to be returning. Interest rates are great right now. As long as you've got good credit, you really have nothing much to worry about. You'll be able to borrow money [at good rates]."
"[Federal Reserve chairman] Bernanke has said the federal funds rate (the rate banks charge each other for loans) will remain near zero until the unemployment rate drops below 6.5 percent. This situation is expected to prevail in the next two years."
"In any case, we're watching the financial situation all the time. Right now, everything (i.e., houses) is selling. Right now, we're in a wait-and-see mode."
"My sources of economic/business information are the computer and close business friends. I only get the Sunday Times and two magazines, AOA (Apartment Owners Association) and Golf."
He has this advice for anyone about joining a community organization/service club: "I never thought I would ever belong to a club. Now that I have and been an active member of the Rotary, which I like, I would encourage anyone that feels the need to give back to join it, or any service club, and get involved as much as you can. I myself love taking the Arc consumers to the park for a bit of fishing in May. The pictures do not justify the enjoyment they experience...You need to see them reeling in the fish and hear what they're saying."
McGrew has been chairman for four years of Community Services, a board function that includes overseeing such Rotary activities and programs as Habitat for Humanity projects, Arc fishing at the park, sprucing up the neighborhood, the ARC/Rotary golf tournament, pancake breakfast, etc.
Larry has just completed doing the finishing touches (painting, stonework, etc.) on the exterior of the Arc's 3rd building, his latest project ("We buy, we sell, we keep, we remodel, we build, we rent out properties").
Optimistic about the housing industry's outlook, he says, "In the meantime, we continue to keep active with our paint and remodeling jobs. This is our basic operation anyway."
He has seen good times and bad in the industry, he says, and he has successfully weathered them: "I wouldn't trade my street smarts for anything."
Published: January 10, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 39