“That’s going to be a tough job—let’s see if Alec will take it.” When it came to community endeavor, city government or business organization appointments, that expression was paraphrased scores of time during the long career of Alex S. Levinsohn, Saginaw native, proud of the fact and willing and able to show it. If the job required the combined qualities of a diplomat, field general and determination of a seasoned foot soldier, Levinsohn would get the call to be drafted to duty. He invariably accepted despite the weighty burden of his varied business interests.
Commonly, he was called “Alec” Levinsohn.
Alex S. Levinsohn was born here September 15, 1891, and attended public schools and Saginaw High School. He started clerking in a Saginaw bank, liked the job and was liked by employers. But he thought he saw greater opportunities in the then young and promising retail automobile sales business. So young Alec Levinsohn, with his broad smile and walk which was part saunter and part swagger, started to sell cars. Early cars he sold included the bygone REOs, Hudsons, and Essexes. Levinsohn’s salesmanship, resourcefulness and perseverance made him a lively competitor of General Motors and Ford dealerships in Saginaw. Their salesmen thought he would bear watching and did.
Until his retirement in 1952, Levinsohn for 35 years was president of the former Sutton Sales Company auto dealership in Saginaw. He also had been president of White Truck Sales here. Not only was he a past president who guided the Saginaw Auto Dealers Association to become one of the foremost such organizations in the Midwest, he also served as president of the Michigan Auto Dealers Association. After he retired, following 11 years as president of the Saginaw Automobile Dealers Association, members honored him at a testimonial dinner.
Levinsohn was one of the founders and secretary of Green Acres Development Company, the group of Saginaw businessmen who bought the property from which was created the Green Acres shopping center and the nearby Green Acres apartment project. He was a director of Valley National Bank and Means Stamping Company of Saginaw and co-owner and president of a Caro manufacturing firm.
He served with distinction more than a year on the Saginaw City Council and proved its top vote-getter. As a councilman, he early learned to listen to all phases of a problem before making his comments, invariably terse and on target. He had to resign from the city council because he moved his residence outside the city.
He was a director and long a leader of the Greater Saginaw Chamber of Commerce and director of the Saginaw Community Chest. He headed United Chest campaigns here in 1950 and 1951 and was president of the Saginaw United Chest in 1952-53. He was a past president of the Saginaw Citizens Advisory Council and a long-time member of the lay advisory board of St. Mary’s Hospital. He was a past president of the Saginaw YMCA. For years he was active in its affairs and committed to its service for boys, young men and women. He was convinced the Y could help build character. This was the reason for his unstinting effort in its behalf. He played a leading role in development of the Saginaw Community Clinic. Levinsohn was honored many times for his civic leadership. One of his highest honors came in 1954 when he received Saginaw’s Arnold Boutell Award for distinguished public service. He was prominent in the Saginaw Jewry and also was active in Masonry, holding membership in the latter’s highest lodges.
All his adult life he was interested in Saginaw history and did his best to help promote an annual remembrance and public celebration of Saginaw’s pioneer days, including the lumber era. He spent a considerable amount of his own funds to that purpose. The regard he held for his native Saginaw motivated him to work for creation of the Saginaw Hall of Fame in order to memorialize Saginaw’s famous personages. He was the Hall of Fame’s first president and was reelected annually thereafter until his death.
In 1961 he gave the Saginaw Club’s traditional New Year’s toast to the President of the United States. It was one of the most eloquent of record, in the manner it expressed his feelings as an American and what he considered the enduring human qualities. Levinsohn said in part: “Gentlemen, I couldn’t bring myself to believe that our national pride shines today with the vigor and brightness it did when our enlightened and courageous forefathers carefully laid the foundation for this land of freedom and opportunity for a man to prosper as he is willing and can. “During my lifetime, I have learned no man can succeed, and maintain his success, without pride. I say to you a man must be proud of what he is, what he can do, or what he has done. Pride is the first ingredient of success. “I believe faith to be another fundamental of success—faith as applied to one’s self, or faith as measured against the future of our nation and the basic concepts of freedom and enterprise for which we have stood—whether in the fire of battle, or in our peaceful ways of endeavor…“I believe a third component of success is sincerity, and that both a man or a nation must be sincere of purpose to walk with the leaders.”
Levinsohn was a handsome man—always trim of figure and of impeccable, though not showy, dress. He liked clothes and chose them carefully. He was friendly, witty and he liked people. It took him a long time to walk the downtown section, when he was of a mind to, because of his frequent stops to chat with friends and acquaintances. In his last years, he was nagged by a back ailment which required him to use a cane and to take hospital cobalt treatments. But his trouble, pain and discomfort detracted nothing from his geniality or careful dress. He still ventured his downtown walks. He died in 1970 at the age of 79.
He married Rose Tipman in 1923. They had one son.
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