Robert DeKruif, a longtime associate of Los Angeles finance tycoon and philanthropist Howard Ahmanson Sr., died Wednesday. He was 96.
DeKruif came up as an insurance salesman with H.F. Ahmanson & Co. and rose to become a board member and executive at the company.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this obituary referred to Robert DeKruif's daughter Debra Seesemann as Debra Seesman.
Through its subsidiary Home Savings of America, H.F. Ahmanson became one of Southern California's biggest lenders and one of the nation's largest savings and loans, financing home buyers who rushed to the region during the postwar boom.
He was never Ahmanson's top executive but made powerful friends for it, including Sacramento power broker and legislative leader Jesse "Big Daddy" Unruh.
In a 2007 biography of Unruh, DeKruif recalled his first meeting with the lawmaker. He said he remained standing — a tactic he learned from Ahmanson.
"I was trained as a salesman by Howard Ahmanson, and I used to call on 10 people a day to try to get their insurance business. Howard would never let me sit down. He said never sit down," DeKruif told Unruh biographer Bill Boyarsky.
He retired in 1993 but continued to work as a consultant for H.F. Ahmanson. He worked closely on its unsuccessful plan to build Ahmanson Ranch, a residential community and golf course planned on the western edge of the San Fernando Valley. The land is now a nature preserve.
Home Savings, the Ahmanson ranch project and the rest of H.F. Ahmanson. were sold in 1998 to Seattle's Washington Mutual, a landmark $10-billion deal that combined the nation's two largest savings and loans and made Washington Mutual a major player in Southern California.
DeKruif also served as a trustee and trustee emeritus of the Ahmanson Foundation, one of L.A.'s biggest charitable trusts, from 1974 until his death, said Bill Ahmanson, the foundation's president and the grand-nephew of Howard Ahmanson Sr.
He said DeKruif took particular interest in making grants to projects that would raise L.A.'s profile. One recent project that got DeKruif's attention — and foundation funding — was bringing the space shuttle Endeavour to the California Science Center in Exposition Park.
"He saw the value in an asset like that," Ahmanson said.
Robert Malcolm DeKruif was born Feb. 17, 1919, in Des Moines to Bess and Reuben DeKruif, a dentist, and raised in Los Angeles.
He got a degree in business and finance from USC and went to work for Ahmanson soon after. DeKruif often said he "graduated USC on a Friday and started working for Howard Ahmanson on Monday," Bill Ahmanson said.
DeKruif and his wife, Jeanne Gousha DeKruif, were longtime residents of San Marino. She died in September at age 91.
DeKruif is survived by two daughters, Virginia Merchant of Fox Chapel, Pa., and Debra Seesemann of Long Beach; stepson Robert Peterson of Temecula; stepdaughter Debora Peterson of San Marino; 22 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.