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Pauline Strayhorne was savings/loan trailblazer, community leader and public education advocate

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Mrs. Strayhorne as a young woman working at the YWCA. Photo provided

By Justine Clark-Lomax

Herald Contributor

Pauline Allen Strayhorne, who was an extraordinary savings and loan trailblazer, community leader and advocate for public education, died January 12, 2019, at Meadowbrook Care Center in in Montgomery, Ohio. She was 92.

Mrs. Strayhorne was born in Birmingham, Alabama, November 12, 1926. By the time she was six years old, both of her parents and her only sibling (brother) had passed away due to a pneumonia epidemic. She moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, when she was 17 years old. As a young adult, she was introduced to the Greater Cincinnati YWCA in the West End, where she became a resident.

Mrs. Strayhorne was a unique and extraordinary woman. She was gifted as a prolific orator and would eloquently stimulate her hearers with the use of short stories, analogies, world news or adages, which she herself had created to make a point. While she was refined and soft-spoken in nature, she could also be feisty and stern. She learned very quickly while in the savings and loan business, in a primarily all-male domain, which she entered in the late 1940s, that it took more than a pretty face to meet the challenges of a highly competitive business.

Mrs. Strayhorne as a business woman at Major Federal Savings & Loan. Photo provided

WALNUT HILLS boasted two Black-owned savings and loans. Horace Sudduth’s Industrial Building and Loan, founded in 1920, had an office in Walnut Hills from the 1920’s until the time of Sudduth’s death in the 1950’s. Major Lee Zeigler, a Black businessman who arrived in the West End around 1900, founded Major Savings and Loan in 1921. After Sudduth’s death, Major Federal Savings and Loan took over the Industrial Building and Loan. For a time, the institution operated as Major Industrial Federal Savings and Loan.

In 1947, Major Lee Zeigler hired Pauline Allen, later Pauline Allen Strayhorne, as a clerk. Mrs. Strayhorne rose quickly at the small bank; she took over as the managing officer in 1952. The founder’s great nephew Ralph Zeigler eventually became the president and chair of the board, but Strayhorne continued to run the operation until it closed in 1986.

Her customer base was 95% Black, and the bulk of her lending went to people buying houses. She scrutinized her mortgages carefully; in 1983, she claimed that over her long career as manager, Major Federal lost only $25,000 on foreclosed properties. She acknowledged that her reputation for strict enforcement of mortgage terms made her unpopular with parts of the community. On the other hand, in the recession year of 1981, Major Federal was the most profitable savings and loan of its size in the state of Ohio.

She was considered Major Federal’s “prime asset,” as she was reported to have been the major contributor of the institution’s earnings increase from 12.9 million in 1981 to 15.6 million in 1982, an increase of 21 percent. This accomplishment happened during the recession and deregulation of banks and prompted national news for the institution and Pauline Strayhorne.

In 1983, Pauline was featured in an article published by “Black Enterprise” magazine’s listing of the Top 100 Black Businesses.

During her tenure, Major Federal Savings and Loan was responsible for financing the building of the Beecher Street Senior Citizen high rise, renovation of housing on Lincoln Avenue, renovating churches and the improvement of many more real estate projects in Walnut Hills.

THIS INSTITUTION allowed many African Americans to acquire loans and purchase homes in integrated Walnut Hills that they could now afford.

Beginning in the mid 1970’s, Major Federal also used some of its assets to invest directly in Walnut Hills real estate, and in some commercial lending projects and mortgages for Black churches. In 1975, Major Federal opened a branch in the Black-governed suburb of Lincoln Heights and invested in an industrial park there.

Yet, Mrs. Strayhorne lamented in the later years of Major Federal, “We still have a large group of Black professionals who think it makes them a big person when they can take their money downtown. I don’t know how you get to those people.”

Mrs. Strayhorne contributed her success to a good attitude and conservative business decisions. The slogan on the wall of her office read, “Success is never certain. Failure is never final.”

When Mrs. Strayhorne first arrived in Cincinnati, she attended the University of Cincinnati to become an interior designer. She soon decided that she needed a job to finance her education. A college degree in interior decorating was put on the back burner, but her passion to become an interior designer remained for a lifetime.

After retirement, Mrs. Strayhorne returned to her first love of interior design and started her own business in the lower level on her Towne Street apartment residence. The name of her company was The Paige Group of Companies. She continued her business for many years. She was not only good with finances, but had a keen eye for unique fabric, ceramics, sculptures, design, coordinating colors and artwork.

Mrs. Strayhorne formerly served as the treasurer of the Business Professional Women’s Retirement Living Inc. The organization presented a check to the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati in the amount of $200,000.00 for Domestic Violence Shelter and Women’s Housing needs. From left are Pauline Strayhorne, Charlene Ventura, then CEO YWCA of Cincinnati, Sandie Lett, president Cincinnati Business Professional Women and Nancy Lawson, then board chair YWCA of Cincinnati. Photo provided

PAULINE STRAYHORNE was a very intelligent woman and believed in social justice and advocating for women’s rights. Her acclaimed accomplishments, affiliations and awards attest to her contributions to society on a local, state and national level. Her awards are too numerous to mention.

However, her key organizational affiliations were the Greater Cincinnati YWCA and YWCA-USA, Zonta Club Cincinnati and International, Business Professional Women’s Association and Cincinnati’s Educational Television (CET), which is the city’s Public Broadcasting Station. The YWCA and CET produced videos highlighting her and can be found on Googles’ YouTube website. She received the Greater Cincinnati YWCA Academy of Achievement Award in 1982 and 1995. She also received prestigious awards and citations from the United States government for her contributions to the savings and loan institutions. She remained active and attended meetings to her local book club and finance group until shortly before she fell and became wheelchair bound in July 2018.

From left are Cincinnatian Kimya Moyo, Vicky Lindsay, 2014 YWCA Mamie Earl Sells Scholarship runner-up, and Pauline Strayhorne. Photo provided

Other affiliations which she chaired or served in another capacity included Young Women’s Christian Association of United States of America, Metropolitan Finance Committee, Finance Development And Advisory Committee, Cincinnati Young Women’s Christian Association, Ohio Educational Broadcasting Network Commission, Economic Development Committee City of Cincinnati, Volunteer Management Program of United Way, Founder’s Day Program, Cincinnati Scholarship Foundation, Jennie D. Porter Educational Fund, University Cincinnati Foundation, Urban League Greater Cincinnati, Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, The Opera Guild, Beech Acres General Protestant Orphan Home, Junior Achievement of Greater Cincinnati, United Negro College Fund, Zonta International, Business & Professional Women Retirement Living Inc., Zonta Club Cincinnati and Cincinnati Business and Professional Women’s Club.

Mrs. Strayhorne impacted the world around her and even during her last days at the Meadowbrook Care Center, she served on the Residents Advisory Council.

Mrs. Strayhorne as a resident at Meadowbrook Care Center. Photo provided

She was a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Avondale

She left seeds of greatness in everyone who knew and loved her.

A memorial service was at Bright Star Baptist Church in Cincinnati.

She is survived by her daughter, Charlotte Maria Strayhorne (Phoenix, Arizona); her granddaughter, Paula Jeannette Gipson; great-grandchildren, cousins and friends.

Historical informati0n in this article about the origins of Major Federal Savings & Loan were provided by CET, Cincinnati’s PBS station.

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