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By John Grossi

In December of 2023, I attended one of the largest and most amazing funerals I’ve ever been to. The service was for a local legend by the name of B.I. Mais, who passed away peacefully at the age of 92. If you’ve lived in East Long Beach for a long time, chances are you’ve met either him, one of his seven children, or twenty grandkids... most of whom, like B.I., have resided in Long Beach their whole lives.

To say B.I. was an old-timer is an understatement. He was here before most of “East Long Beach” existed. When the area was developed in the postwar years, B.I. and wife, Jane, were among the first to buy a home in the new Plaza tract off Willow Street in 1954. I remember asking him how much Long Beach has changed since then. He laughed and said,  “I probably would never have bought the house if I had known how big this area was going to become. Woodruff was just a little dirt road when we bought the home.”

A few years back I attended a particularly “big” playoff basketball game at St. Anthony’s gym in Long Beach. As luck would have it, I got there a little early, and ended up sitting next to B.I.

I’ve never shaken so many hands in one night.

As what seemed like hundreds of alumni of all ages entered the gym, each one would come up and shake B.I.’s hand, and then (because I was sitting next to him), they shook mine too.

A Saint and a Bear

B.I.’s “claim to fame” was as a football great - first at St. Anthony High School, and then at Cal Berkeley. B.I. started as quarterback for the Saints when they won the 1948 CIF Championship, earning All-CIF, All-City and All-Catholic League honors. He then pursued education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was joined by three of his St. Anthony teammates, and lifelong friends, John Olszewski, John Peterson, and Dean O’Hare. B.I. was the starting quarterback for the Golden Bears in 1951 and 1952 and selected as team co-captain with Johnny “O” his senior year.

The 1951 Cal Bears were ranked #1 in the country, spurring Life Magazine to send a writer and photographer out to cover the story of the “four” Saints. Unfortunately, the following week the Bears lost to Frank Gifford and the USC Trojans. That story never ran.

After serving two years in the army, B.I. made his way back to Long Beach, where he and Jane would raise their seven children.

As B.I.’s son Chris Mais said, in an incredible tribute to his father at the funeral, “With seven kids it wasn’t always pretty. There were sports, homework, fights, tears, arguments, name-calling, seven beds and seven lunches and dinners to be made. And that was just Monday.”

Chris went on to recount funny stories about their large family gatherings, the undying love B.I. and Jane had for each other, and the way B.I. never missed anything… not a game, recital, birthday, or performance from his grandkids.

Every single audience member held back tears as we tried to laugh at the memories.

My quintessential memory of B.I. Mais comes from the last decade of his life. I can just picture him, sitting slightly hunched over at a booth in Joe Jost’s, a booth he had probably sat at a thousand times. His large family is standing around the backroom of the bar catching up, laughing, telling stories, and he’s smiling and watching them… not saying much, but smiling as happy as a man can be. This scene probably happened at least once a month, considering how the Mais family managed to celebrate almost every birthday of their enormous family at Joe Jost’s. Just as if it was a St. Anthony basketball game, when people walked into the family birthday party, they’d of course stop at the booth to shake B.I.’s hand before talking to anyone else.

Whenever I’d go to shake his hand, he’d look me in the eye with his signature twinkling smile, and say “John, that’s the best damn magazine this city’s ever seen, keep it up.” It makes my eyes water just thinking about it. Not because I’m the only one B.I. would smile at and compliment... no, I think giving compliments came easy to B.I.… he was one of the nicest people you’d ever meet.

But my eyes water, knowing how much he genuinely believed in and encouraged what I was doing with LB908 over the years, and knowing in my heart that he’s the exact reason why a community magazine works. People like B.I. Mais are who make Life Great in the 908.

His City, His Magazine

I marveled looking around the packed St. Joseph Church (on Willow across from B.I.’s house) and thought to myself… What other 92-year-old could pack out a funeral like this?

That’s when it became clearer to me than ever, what B.I.’s legacy was. Not one of those people was at the funeral because they remember his touchdown pass in the 1948 CIF Championship game. In fact, not one of those people probably even cared that he played football at all. B.I.’s legacy started after his “claim to fame” football days, when he bought a home in East Long Beach, married the love of his life, and raised generations of “Mais” offspring to believe in the same community values he believed in. He never stopped giving his time and money to St. Anthony High School. He never stopped supporting every sports league and other local organization his kids and grandkids played in, and he never ceased making his family and friends in Long Beach his priority even as he conducted a successful career in financial management.

B.I. embodied the type of people who make up the fabric of this community. Those who turn the large city of Long Beach into the small town it is. He’s a reminder that Long Beach is a special place, not just because we have a port and music festivals, or because the Olympics have been and will be held here again.

Long Beach is a special place because at its core, it’s a family town where people value their neighbors, their parks, schools and churches, and where there is continuity through the generations. So many from Long Beach… even if they go off to win a national football championship, and then serve in the army… come back to Long Beach to raise their families in the same special community they grew up in.

Our slogan is “Your City, Your Magazine.” I’m glad our magazine was able to feature B.I. when he was still alive in an article almost 10 years ago, and then again on our podcast in 2018, where we interviewed him at his favorite place, Joe Jost’s. I know there are many more like B.I. out there, making their impact on this community, and helping to turn half-a-million residents into this place we all call a “small town.” I hope readers will continue to nominate special folks for stories in the magazine, so we can honor everyone making Life Great in the 908, while they’re still here doing it!

-John Grossi

Publisher's Note from March 2024 Issue of LB908 Magazine



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