Monday, March 30, 2009

Things My Father Taught Me -- the Top Ten

Yesterday was my father’s birthday. He would be 99 years old. When we were kids, we called him Poppy (not to be confused with Poppy Bush). He was extremely influential in my life and one of my heroes. So in honor of his birthday, here’s to Ed Allen, Jr., who showed that the American dream can really happen. Well, maybe not any more, but in the last century. He taught me:

1. Enjoy the outdoors. He showed us how to love ice skating in winter, being in the woods in summer, and outdoor cooking before charcoal and gas grills were commonplace. He loved our cottage properties first at Clark’s Lake and later at Washington Island. He had a series of boats over the years. He and I used to eat our lunch on the water during the summer when I was a teenager working at WDOR.

2. Be good to animals. He loved Omar the St. Bernard and Clancy the springer spaniel. He buried them with their rugs on the WDOR property, where trees are growing over them. He also kept some pheasants in a cage in the attic above our garage on the bay shore. He had ongoing wars with squirrels that tried to help themselves to the goodies in his bird feeders, but he didn’t hurt them. He just tried to thwart them.

3. All the interesting reading is found outside school. He raised me on cartoons in The New Yorker and stories by Damon Runyon. Dick, Jane and Baby Sally couldn’t compete with that. Neither could anything else we had to read in school until I discovered at the University that there was a lot of good stuff out there. Quite possibly this is a commentary on the teaching we received in school.

4. Save some of your money. He gave us Savings Bonds before we knew what they were. He encouraged us to contribute to our savings accounts. He was a product of the Great Depression, so he didn’t waste much.

5. You can do anything if you aspire to it, and you should excel in what you do. He started with just desire and made it big in Chicago broadcasting, then left NBC in 1951 to start his own radio station and other allied businesses. He started radio stations in Sturgeon Bay and Manitowoc, both still in existence, and with Mother started a very successful Door County guidebook that still is published under other ownership. He started the Cherry Train, a tour train that still operates on Washington Island after more than thirty years. He tried other entrepreneurial enterprises. He knew what he wanted to do and how to get there. He told us that we could do it, too. He encouraged me to draw and paint and praised my artwork to others. He wanted me to be the best artist in Door County. I didn’t accomplish that.

6. Develop and use your talent. He raised us on the parable of the talents, and he meant it. He never understood people who had little motivation. He used his speaking talent to rise in NBC radio and then operate his own radio business.

7. Don’t compromise your integrity. He was honest with his family, friends, business acquaintances and employees. He expected integrity from them, too. I never asked him how he came to grips with the Watergate affair and President Nixon’s resignation, since he had great respect for Nixon. It had to be difficult. The picture of the two of them shaking hands didn’t stay on the wall.

8. Family matters. Honor your family and care for them when they need it. We moved in with Grandma Allen in Oak Park for a few months when we were between houses and Grandpa had died. Father and Mother brought both their mothers to live in Sturgeon Bay as they aged, so we would all be near each other as needed. We all drove Grandma Allen and Aunt Lina to church on Sundays for quite a few years, although we went to a different church. He also loved Mother and they had a very good marriage.

9. Have a relationship with God and mean it. He was strong on attitude about going to church. He had difficulty with our little Episcopal Church in Sturgeon Bay after we moved there, and he took us to several other churches in hope of finding a good match with his belief system. In the end he stayed with the Episcopal Church. He wasn’t about to put up with a faith that he didn’t believe. He criticized some people for going to church for business reasons.

10. Influence the political process. Being in the radio business was a help, because he scheduled ongoing political events and discussions for broadcast. One of my early memories of WDOR was the broadcast of the Army-McCarthy hearings with Senator Joe McCarthy. Regular reports from Senator Proxmire were broadcast for years. Other broadcasts gave people the opportunity to follow politics. He served as Door County Republican Chairman for several years. While I am not a Republican, he taught me that the political process is important.


  1. I think I would like your father, Kathy, a good man. And good lessons.

  2. Great story about your dad! Do you know Tom Torinus?