PROFILE: Citizen of the Year 2009

Published 11:05 pm Saturday, February 21, 2009

With a manner as soft as summer night’s breeze belying the fierce determination of a thoroughbred, Carol Allen has always proved a champion.

Whether it be professional educator or dedicated volunteer, when Allen puts her heart into a project, she doesn’t stop until success is achieved.

That was apparent to all in Ironton this past summer when the civic beautification program that Allen co-chairs took national honors.

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In only its first year of existence Ironton in Bloom walked off with the national prize for floral display from the parent organization, America in Bloom, wowing judges in two days of intense scrutiny of everything the organization has done so far.

Her Ironton in Bloom co-chair Randy Lilly calls Allen the driving force of the organization.

“She is absolutely wonderful to work with, very organized, dedicated and committed to making our community a better place,” Lilly said. “Once we organized as Ironton in Bloom she kept us on track.”

For Allen it’s all about planting pride in the community she has called home for the past 43 years

“As people come into the city and leave, they see something very pretty,” Allen says about Ironton in Bloom’s work. “First impressions make all the difference in the world. This makes a positive first impression.”

Like so many good things Allen’s role as cheerleader and beautifier of Ironton happened serendipitously. Running into Dr. Bill Dingus downtown one Saturday and concerned about how the city looked, Allen told her one-time Ohio University colleague that something had to be done to fix up Ironton.

“If you get a bunch of women together, they will get things done,” she told Dingus. “We need to get this city cleaned up and be more beautiful.”

Dingus agreed and invited Allen to the organizational meeting of what would become Ironton in Bloom.

“I have always loved flowers in my house, all around my house,” she said. “I am not an expert but I love gardening. It is my idea of rest and relaxation.”

But what has bloomed in Ironton is more than beautiful flowers; there has developed a significant partnership between the city and the residents. That’s how Allen sees it.

“They are more aware. They are thinking about ‘How can I landscape’ and are picking things up around their house,” she said. “And there is a wonderful partnership with the city government. Since we started, they have initiated a street cleaning plan. They have gone to a tree trimming seminar in Athens and learned how to better trim trees.”

This spring the group put out 30 large pots of flowers, 100 pole planters and 24 hanging baskets around the business district as well as flowers at the entrances to the city. That is coupled with encouraging residents to make their own yards bloom and honoring their efforts with the “Yard of the Month” award.

“Carol is not afraid literally to get down in the dirt. She is really the glue for the community and not just Ironton in Bloom,” Viviane Khounlavong-Vallance of the Chamber of Commerce, says. “She is so active in so many organizations. What is so great about her character is that it is all second nature. She is naturally very supportive, very active in the community.”

Allen came to Ironton with her husband, lawyer Craig Allen, in 1966. She met her husband, who is an Ironton native, during the first week of classes when both were undergraduates at Denison University. There she earned an undergraduate degree with a major in history and certification in high school social studies and life science teacher.

They are the parents of two daughters, Laura and Kathryn, and four grandchildren.

Soon her volunteer resume began to grow as she worked in the Ironton Junior Women’s Club, the Ironton Co-Operative Club, the Ironton Child Welfare Club and the Lawrence County Democratic Women’s Club.

While a member of the Junior Women’s Club, Allen co-chaired the Follies with Linda Freeman in 1969, a fundraiser whose mission was to buy land for the Ohio University Ironton Campus.

“This was the beginning of community involvement in this effort. Although ground was not broken for 18 years, the Ironton community started the ball rolling,” Allen once wrote.

Almost 20 years after her work to raise funds for OUS, she joined the campus as director of the Academy of Excellence. The next year she became the community education director. She added to that interim assistant dean and student services director, retiring after 20 years.

In 1995 she was honored as Ohio University Outstanding Administrator.

Allen served part of her tenure at OUS under Dr. Dan Evans.

“I don’t think I ever met anyone who cared more about other people than Carol,” Evans said. “She was very student-centered. Whenever we were looking at a project, she was always for putting the students first.”

Joy Coffman is her colleague in the Child Welfare Club and has known Allen for 15 years. Coffman calls her a “go-getter.”

“She puts her all into what she does,” Coffman said. “She steps up to the bat. When we have a project, she puts her all into it. She has some fantastic ideas and she always follows through.”

Right now, Allen is chairman of the club’s education committee that is in charge of the prestigious Eddy test, an achievement exam given to the top one-fourth of the sixth graders in Ironton city and St. Joseph schools.

Then those in the top one-third of the scorers are named Eddy winners, who are then the guests of a club banquet held on the OUS campus.

“It’s gets them on a campus and into a university classroom,” Allen explained. “What we are trying to do is promote education at this younger age. As kids go on to seventh and eighth grade, when peer pressure may get them not to be a good student, we are trying to reinforce the idea of their continuing to do well in the classroom.”

Allen’s range of volunteer assignments stretches to her home church, Christ Episcopal Church in Ironton whose vicar is the Rev. Sallie Schisler.

There Allen has been a lay reader, acolyte director, Sunday school teacher, a member of the vestry or governing body of the church, and altar guild directress.

“Carol is a ‘can-do’ person who disguises some of her will behind her gracious manner and beautiful smile,” Schisler said. “I know she is a respected member of the Ohio University staff and is greatly missed.

“She continues to be one of the pillars of Christ Church. Carol makes juggling all the balls that she does look easy.”

Profile 2009 is The Tribune’s annual section about the people, places and issues of Lawrence County and the surrounding area.