One of my heroes has died!

In Pittsburgh in the 1950s, a black evangelical Christian Robert Lavelle set up a most unusual bank. The Dwelling House Savings and Loan Association would lend money to poor people who are not 'good risks' at the lowest possible rates of interest. This banking philosophy challenges banking orthodoxy which prefers to lend money to rich people at high rates of interest.

A handsome man even in his advanced age, Mr. Lavelle was charming, dignified and distinguished by his erect posture and the warm radiation of his words, deeds and his commitment to serving the poor and the needy. His bank was a huge blessing to hundreds of desperate people who couldn't get loans anywhere else. Loansharks cursed him and lost a lot of lucrative deals!

When armed robbers came into his bank and demanded money, Mr. Lavelle often tried to talk them out of committing the thefts. Boldly he said to one hooded boy – "Try God". He never considered moving out of the Hill District, would not allow protective barriers between bank tellers and customers and was vehemently against installing iron bars on the bank's windows and doors. Sometimes robbers would ring him up to apologise for their shoddy behaviour! They knew Lavelle was a godly man.

Mr Lavelle rescued the bank, which had been chartered in 1890 as a state mutual bank owned by its depositors, in 1957 and reinvented the institution to assume a new mission. He helped build its capital reserves over the years by taking a modest salary, which reached a maximum of $15,000. He even performed janitorial services himself at one point to limit expenses.

After dedicating much of his life to running the small savings and loan at the corner of Centre and Herron avenues, Mr. Lavelle turned the bank over to his son, Robert M. Lavelle, in the late 1980s.

Dwelling House was shut down in August despite a community rally to save the institution when bank regulators determined the 119-year-old bank was bankrupt and had no reasonable hope of recovering. Cyber thieves were blamed for tapping into the computer system and electronically transmitting up to $4 million out of the bank’s capital account. No one has been arrested for the thefts and federal officials say incomplete financial records at the institution made it difficult to determine what happened.

Mr Lavelle died on the 4th of July 2010 at Forbes Hospice in West Penn Hospital as a result of a stroke he suffered on Father's Day. He collapsed at the pulpit in Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church in Schenley Heights while delivering a keynote speech about his own father and the legacy of fatherhood. He was 94.

Bob Lavelle was a wonderful disciple of the Lord and his deeds, his faith and his love will follow him into the renewed creation (Revelation 14:13).

Read more on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website.

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