W. Reid Allen ‘42 sits in his home office, surrounded by towering stacks of mail, cordless phone in hand, jotting notes in his diary. His dog, a Chihuahua rescue named Janey, sits at his feet, patiently waiting for him to get off the telephone and hand her a treat. It is November, and Allen, 90, is in the late stages of organizing a team of 19 to feed the 7,000 volunteers who will put flowers on the Kiwanis float for the 2014 Rose Parade.
Allen has been working with the Tournament of Roses since 1943 and with the Kiwanis since 1975. As Lt. Governor of his division, he was instrumental in persuading the Kiwanis to enter a float in the 1986 Rose Parade. It’s been a tradition ever since. On Jan. 1, 2013, Allen rode the 27th consecutive Kiwanis float.
“They had to put me on it with a forklift,” he laughs. “I was next to a girl who has Down syndrome. She waved for the entire five-mile ride. She laughed and blew kisses, and everybody blew kisses right back. I felt like a flea on a dog’s back, but it was great.”
It’s just the kind of anecdote you get from Allen: warm, self-effacing and always turning the spotlight on others. Through his 70 years of community service, Allen exemplifies the sort of egoless leadership that quietly brings people together to do good things.
The list of his organizational affiliations and offices is staggering. By Allen’s own estimate, he has worked an average of 300 to 700 hours a year with his various service groups.
“I probably could have worked more on my business,” he says ruefully (he joined his father’s insurance business after World War II and a stint as a cowboy). “But I kept wanting to help the community. Most nights I was out till 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. I was out volunteering all day and in the office catching up at night.”
Allen traces his urge to help tohis mother, who, he says, “Taught me to do the right thing and to think of others. From the time I was 7 years old: don’t play hooky; don’t tell even ‘harmless’ white lies; stay on the straight and narrow; be a devotee of responsibility.”
Allen’s family’s philosophy of doing good for others was reinforced during his years at Flintridge Prep, and he credits founder Doane Lowery and treasurer Harold “Mack” McKee for mentoring him.
“I loved them both,” he says. Lowery and McKee arranged for a scholarship for Allen, whose family fell on hard times during the Depression. He’s always been grateful for the leg up.
“It gave me the opportunity to live a better life,” he says. “In our little class of 12 or 13, with Bud Lyndon teaching sports and Joe Rose teaching Spanish and French, it was like a one-room school house. But the teaching was inspiring and top-notch.”
Allen was on the swim team, managed the baseball team and served as secretary-treasurer his senior year. The teamwork and leadership skills he learned at Flintridge have served him well since.
On his 90th birthday last May, Allen was feted by his Kiwanis chapter. During his birthday luncheon (which Mel Smith ’47, another long-time Kiwanian, helped organize), the Kiwanis also celebrated Allen’s many other services to the community, including the Quarterback Club, UCLA, The Salvation Army, The Gooden School and Rosemary Children’s Services. They mentioned that he was an active member of the Church of Our Savior in San Gabriel, and they cited his volunteer activities at Flintridge, which have included alumni association president, class agent, trustee and founding member of the Lowery Society. Reporting on the event, Kiwanis Magazine said, “The list of Reid’s achievements for Kiwanis and Kiwanis Youth Programs is pages long.”
Then, visiting Kiwanian Don Canaday stepped up. Canaday is a retired Brigadier General, and he presented Allen with a Purple Heart, earned for service in the Navy in World War II. He recounted the incident when Allen was wounded: his sub chaser was attacked by a Kamikaze.
“I was just overwhelmed,” Allensays of receiving the overdue medal. “It was a complete surprise. I thought the paperwork had been lost long ago. I mentioned it to Don in passing a few years ago, and he tracked it down. It was really his doing.
“But for me, service, for my country or my community, has never been about the accolades or the benefits. It’s been about seeing a difference. It might be a very small difference— a girl at Rosemary Cottage gets a scholarship to college—but that gain is worth it.”
When Allen was district governor of Kiwanis, his theme was “Serve From the Heart.” He’s saddened by the decline of service organizations like Kiwanis, where his district membership in California, Nevada and Hawaii has decreased from 22,000 in 1998 to 13,000 today. He says: “I really don’t have much use for politics, but I believe in participation. Not enough people are doing the right thing and serving their community.
“Dedication, responsibility and commitment—I preach this all the time. Listen, get involved, step up, offer yourself to help others. I was inspired, and I hope I inspire others to serve.”