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Ralph Voss, 91; Bank Executive


Ralph J. Voss, former president, chief executive and board chairman of Western Bancorporation, the holding company for United California Bank and forerunner of First Interstate Bancorp, has died. He was 91.

Voss died Jan. 20 in his sleep at the assisted living center in Portland, Ore., where he resided.

A banker for his entire career, Voss so personified the role that many said they would know his occupation even without his trademark pinstripe suit and gray silk tie.

"I can't think of any other job I'd want," he once told the Oregon Journal.

In his more than four decades in the industry, Voss saw major changes in banking that presaged multiple mergers, and after his retirement in 1978 watched many of the bank names he had served disappear.

Western Bancorporation itself, holding company for United California Bank and some dozen smaller banks throughout the Western states, adopted the name First Interstate Bancorp in 1981, with United California becoming First Interstate Bank. The whole lot was taken over by Wells Fargo in 1996. Wells Fargo in turn was gobbled up by Norwest, although the historic Wells Fargo name remains.

Born Ralph Jensby Voss on Aug. 11, 1910, in Eagle Grove, Iowa, Voss earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota and began his career with Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Co. (now Bank of America) in Chicago in 1934.

He served in the Army throughout World War II, rising from second lieutenant to lieutenant colonel. He was stationed in England, Africa, Italy, France and Germany, and earned a Bronze Star for his organizational efforts in Germany.

Voss moved to Los Angeles in 1946 to join California Bank (later United California Bank) and by the time he left in 1960 had risen to senior vice president.

For the next 12 years, Voss served as president of the First National Bank of Oregon, another of Western Bancorporation's units, and supervised the building of one of Portland's first skyscrapers as the bank's headquarters. That bank evolved into First Interstate Bank of Oregon and more recently Wells Fargo.

During his Portland tenure, Voss served as a director and fund-raiser for Lewis and Clark College and was on boards of several organizations, including the Oregon Symphony, Boy Scouts and Portland Chamber of Commerce.

He was a director of the Portland Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank and later of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Returning to Los Angeles in 1972 as Western's president, Voss helped expand and modernize the holding company through creation of the Western Bancorporation Mortgage Co. in 1974 and the Western Bancorporation Data Processing Co. in 1975.

Voss added the chief executive title to his role as president on Dec. 31, 1973, and served as CEO and chairman from July 1, 1975, until his retirement in 1978. During his tenure, Western was considered the sixth-largest banking organization in the world.

Widowed in 1998 by the death of his wife of 52 years, Eleanore, Voss is survived by a son, Donald, of La Canada-Flintridge; a daughter, Janet, of Lake Oswego, Ore.; and two grandsons.

There will be no services. Any memorial donations may be made to the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota or to the neonatal unit at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland.

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