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The past, present, and future of Columbia Savings and Loan

Wisconsin's first African American-owned financial institution
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Posted at 4:53 PM, Jul 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-29 19:28:04-04

MILWAUKEE — Columbia Savings and Loan has been a staple in the Milwaukee community for 98 years. It's the state's first African-American owned financial institution founded by Ardie and Wilbur Halyard. Their mission was to provide home loans for the cities African Americans.

Mr. George Gary, who recently retired from Columbia Savings and Loan, joined the institution as an assistant manager in Mortgage Lending after graduating from Jackson State University in Mississippi. In 1991, he took on the role of president and CEO.

"I wanted to help people be able to achieve the so-called American dream with this home-ownership. That's probably why I stayed as long as I did," said Gary.

There are not many savings and loans left in the U.S. following the Savings and Loans crisis in the late 80's. As a matter of fact, Columbia, located at 2020 W. Fond du Lac Avenue, is one of two left in Wisconsin.

"That was not the first location. The first location I think was actually in a funeral home at 6th and Cherry. Then they moved in 1933 to 8th Street, then came the expressway that took the building and in '58 they moved to 2000 W. Fond du Lac," said Gary.

After nearly 50 years of service, Gary is most proud of getting loans approved for neighborhood churches and helping develop the area known as Halyard Park, which is located right in the heart of the inner city.

"Columbia is responsible for the first seven homes in there I think and other lenders got involved after they saw that it was going to be a success," said Gary.

Gary recently passed the torch to Ray Allen who led the Dept. of Financial Institutions in Madison, as well as the Department of Workforce Development.

"I think this is a unique treasure, so you take it on with a lot of thought. My family (my mother and dad) got their home mortgage from Columbia, so the home I was raised in was because Columbia was here," said Allen.

The history of racial discrimination and segregation in housing that includes redlining is what motivated the Halyards to change the narrative.

Gary remembers that over the years he has helped families own homes even outside of the metropolitan area.

"Mr. Halyard was the type of man who said I've got to do something about this. I remember making the first loan to a man and his wife to move to Thiensville," said Gary.

Allen is proud to take on the new role as president and CEO and is motivated by those who came before him.

"I think it's just a reminder of the strength and resilience of people who founded this community like the Halyards. Their ability to maintain and sustain even through hard economic times," said Allen.

As for Gary, he wants to see the bank continue to grow as he gets acclimated to retirement and looks forward to volunteering his time and getting some well-deserved rest.

"If I like it, this may be all I want to do," said Gary.

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