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Bullhead City, Arizona, resident Maurice L. McAlister (Mac), a real estate developer and banker who co-founded Downey Savings and Loan, died in Corona del Mar on February 13 of natural causes. He was 87.
Respected for both his business acumen and charitable giving, Mr. McAlister was an employer who created a family-style work environment and whose employees stayed with the bank for years. He took pride in providing loans to thousands of people, especially those in underserved communities. He supported numerous churches and organizations, providing food and medical care directly to those in need. Mr. McAlister often stood anonymously in food lines, talking with people about their struggles.
Conservatively managed from its inception, Downey Savings grew from a single branch in Downey, California, to more than 170 branches throughout California and Arizona until being taken over by federal regulators.
Mr. McAlister was still a teenager when he got his real estate license. Soon after, he bought a lot in South Gate, built a house and sold it. The home-building enterprise would eventually become McAlister Construction, then McAlister Homes.
After building a relationship with a local lender and complaining to him about the high interest rates he was being charged, on a whim Mr. McAlister remarked to his lender friend that he might start his own bank. To Mr. McAlister’s surprise, the lender said it would be the best thing he could ever do. Downey Savings opened its doors – in the city of Downey – in 1957.
Born on April 26, 1925, in Booger Hollow, Arkansas, young Mac grew up poor in Texas. At age six he picked cotton alongside his mother. At 13 he worked as a butcher. After the family moved to South Gate, he and his father went to work for his uncle’s termite company.
He graduated from South Gate High School and was drafted into the US Army, serving in the Philippines during World War II. In 1954 he married Dianne Krieger, a girl from his South Gate neighborhood. The couple moved to the city of Downey, where they lived for 40 years and reared their three daughters. In January, they celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary.
Mr. McAlister was a busy man, but family and fun were a priority. Vacations at Lake Mohave – and later at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri – were spent fishing, hunting and water-skiing. He went antiquing with his wife, collecting nickelodeons and small mechanical banks that were displayed at Downey Savings’ branches. After retiring to Arizona, the couple enjoyed traveling in their motorhome with family and close friends. They also went on cruises, and Mr. McAlister continued the fishing trips to Mexico that he loved over the years. A fine home cook, among his specialties were fried chicken, apple pie and peach cobbler.
Multifaceted and talented, he played the piano, organ and guitar, sometimes serenading employees over lunch in the cafeteria and at annual awards banquets. Humble and modest despite his achievements, Mr. McAlister was grounded in his Christian faith. Gospel music was the soundtrack to his family’s life.
In an unpublished memoir Mr. McAlister wrote these final remarks: “In addition to work, there are other items of more importance: how we live our lives; our relationship with God, friends, family and neighbors . . . giving of our time and money helping others . . . hopefully done to please God our Creator.”
He was predeceased by his daughter, Karla Drew.
Mr. McAlister is survived by his wife, Dianne McAlister; daughters, Cheryl Olson and Laura Daniels and Laura’s husband, Dwight; sons-in-law, Dustin Drew and Dan Rosenthal; brother, Ronald “Tex” McAlister and his wife, Charlene; sister-in-law, Billie Parks; six grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and many nieces, nephews and cousins.
Memorial contributions may be made to www.casthope.org; or to www.hoagcancercenter.org, in memory of Karla Drew.
Published: February 28, 2013 – Volume 11 – Issue 46