The Past, Present and Future of Columbia Savings and Loan


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

Mr. George Gary, who recently retired from Columbia Savings and Loan, joined the institution as Assistant Mortgage Manager after graduating from Jackson State University in Mississippi. In 1991, he assumed the role of President and CEO.

“I wanted to help people achieve the so-called American dream with this property. That’s probably why I stayed for so long,” Gary said.

There isn’t much savings and loans left in the United States after the savings and loans crisis of the late 1980s. In fact, Columbia, located at 2020 W. Fond du Lac Avenue, is one of two remaining in Wisconsin.

“It wasn’t the first location. The first location I think was actually at a funeral home at 6th and Cherry. Then they moved in 1933 to 8th street and then came the freeway that took the building and in ’58 they moved to 2000 W. Fond du Lac,” Gary said.

After nearly 50 years of service, Gary is very proud to have obtained neighborhood church loan approvals and helped develop the area known as Halyard Park, located right in the heart of downtown. town.

“Columbia is responsible for the first seven homes there, I think, and other lenders got involved after seeing it was going to be a success,” Gary said.

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

“I think it’s a unique treasure, so you approach it very thoughtfully. My family (my mom and dad) got their mortgage from Columbia, so the house I grew up in was because Columbia was here,” Allen said.

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

Gary recalls over the years helping families become homeowners, even outside of the metropolitan area.

“Mr. Halyard was the kind of man who said I had to do something about it. I remember making the first loan to a man and his wife to move to Thiensville,” Gary said.

Allen is proud to take on the new role of President and CEO and is motivated by those who have gone before him.

“I think it’s just a reminder of the strength and resilience of the people who founded this community like the Halyards. Their ability to hold on and sustain themselves even in tough economic times,” Allen said.

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

“If I like it, maybe that’s all I want to do,” Gary said.

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