OC Alzheimer's Association Receives $27 Million Donation from an Unexpected Donor

The donation will allow the group, which helps 23,000 people living with Alzheimer’s in Orange County, to serve twice as many patients.

After a modest Orange County woman died at age 95, the county’s chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association was shocked to find that she left it the entirety of her $27 million estate.

The donor, Helen F. Banas, died Aug. 22, 2012. She received information and referrals from the association in the mid-80s while she was taking care of her mother, who had dementia.

Jim McAleer, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association in OC, said if he could personally thank Banas, he would want her to know the magnitude of her donation.

"I would make sure she understood how many lives she was going to change," McAleer said. "We serve 23,000 people, 50,000 including caregivers, in Orange County, and she will allow us to double. I’d want to make sure she knew just how important this gift was."

The chapter will allocate $10 million for national programs, like the 24/7 hotline, education and outreach programs, and research, McAleer said.

He said $16 million will be spent locally to find a permanent home for the association at a lower cost, as well as expanded programs and services like support groups, education classes and promotion of the hotline.

The remaining $1 million will be spent on research.

"We want to make sure people know we are here and here to help," McAleer said.

When he received a call from the bank late last year about an estate, McAleer did not expect the donation would be so significant.

"I've done this for years, the bank doesn’t call you to talk about $100,000," McAleer said. "I’m thinking it’s probably a nice estate, but never in my head thought above $5 million, and I would do a dance of joy for that."

McAleer met last October with a banker, who slid Banas' portfolio across the table to McAleer.

When he saw Banas’ $27 million portfolio for the first time, he shouted an expletive "that was appropriate in that moment," McAleer laughed.

"I went straight into operations mode," he added. "I also thought of protecting the agency and being true to the donor’s intent."

Banas reportedly lived a modest life and owned a $90,000 condominium in the Orange County community of Laguna Woods.

She was widowed for more than 50 years after her husband, Alfons Banas, died in 1958. She is survived by her sister, Elsie Baker, of Mission Viejo.

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