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John "Jack" is the proverbial seventh son. The youngest male and twelfth of the thirteen Allen children, he was born and raised in DuBois, PA. His father, serving as Postmaster of DuBois at the time, was very involved in politics and active in a wide range of community endeavors. While operating the successful Con Allen Shoe Store, Con ran the well known Holy Name band which marched in Woodrow Wilson's 2nd Inaugural Parade as well as leading the Knights of Columbus as Grand Knight. He was urged to be the Democratic candidate for Congress in 1914 but elected to remain in DuBois and raise his prodigious family. Jack's father definitely set the tone for his love of life and career long history of involvement and participation.
His parents Laura Baumgardner and Cornelius Allen were insistent that the entire Allen household be musically inclined, so it was natural for Jack to begin playing an instrument at an early age. Fund raising community programs show the Allen family, Jack included , as talented musicians arranged by his parents in enjoyable ensembles. Living just across Weber Avenue from St. Catherine's Catholic Church insured there was always an opportunity to perform.
Enrolled at St. Catherine's Academy he showed a penchant for drawing, illustrating his class yearbook The Mentor in 1929. Jack, according toThe Mentor was prophesied to become a famous architect...well, he was very successful in building a wonderful family!
Jack enlisted in the Navy as a Musicians Mate as well as serving in the signal corps. Since he had applied to and was qualified academically for the United States Naval Academy, but subsequently deemed not physically qualified by reason of color blindness, one can only marvel at his success as a signalman. He served on a number of ships including the USS Chicago and USS Seattle, large cruisers that sailed to the Far Eastern (China) Theater, during the time portrayed in the book and movie "TheSand Pebbles."
Upon release from the service Jack's musical background led him straight to the Big Bands - most notably with the Ray Pearl Orchestra although he did swing with the likes of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Jack loved to regale his listeners with stories of orchestra life in the 30's and early 40's. He recalled how all of the bands stayed in required "Band Hotels" so that the strong Musicians Union under James Petrillo would be sure to get their cut. He bragged that he taught Henry Mancini how to play the flute. Toting his double reeded pump organ from"The World Famous Folding Organ Company" Jack also did arranging for the orchestras using his gift for perfect pitch.
Andy Anderson a piano playing DuBois friend of Jack's introduced him to one of her girl friends, Helen Louise Howatt, so that they all might make a foursome to see Cab Calloway and dance to his music in a well known ball room about an hour north of DuBois. Helen not only said yes on that occasion, she also became Jack's constant companion on these weekly excursion. It must have been love at first sight because in 1937 Jack married Helen the day after Christmas in Pittsburgh. They had to squeeze it in between band sessions as the paper wrote it up, HOWATT-ALLEN NUPTIAL EVENT IS YULE FEATURE A pretty wedding of the the Christmas season, in which two popular members of DuBois' younger social set played the principal roles was solemnized in Pittsburgh, Sunday evening December 26th, when Miss Helen Louise Howatt, daughter of William Howatt, Sr., of Pifer Street became the bride of Jack B. Allen, son of Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Allen Sr. of West Weber Avenue.
Rev. Father Kerrigan performed the beautiful ring ceremony in the rectory of St. Paul's Cathedral at seven o'clock in the presence of members of both families and invited guests.
The bride was radiantly lovely in a gown of brown transparent velvet with corresponding accessories and wore a corsage of green orchids and lilies-of-the-valley. Her maid of honor, Miss Helen Ruth Burt, was attractive in a gown of brown crepe with Margo red accessories and wore a corsage of yellow Gloria roses and lilies of the valley. The groom was attired in conventional blue. Nick Barelli of Youngstown, Ohio, was best man.
After the ceremony, the wedding party attended a dinner and reception at Bill Green's in Pittsburgh.
The happy couple will be at home to their friends in Willock, PA...The wedding list included: Mr. and Mrs. Con Allen, Edward Allen, Mrs. Elymra Roller, of DuBois; Mrs. Chas McDermott of Olean, N.Y.; William Howatt, Sr., Jack Howatt, Kenneth Barraclough, of DuBois; Mr and Mrs. Robert Howatt, of Pittsburgh; Kenneth Baker of Cleveland, Ohio; Earl Anderson, of Cumberland, MD; Frank Dietrich, of Marienville, PA; Miss Sherry Lane, of Pittsburgh; Miss Laura Allen, of Bradford ;and Miss Geraldine Hindman, of Knox, PA. (Newspaper clipping, no name or date)
Together they traveled the band circuit with their anchor town of Chicago and the Aragon Ballroom. Their son Jack Jr was born in DuBois with brother Bill following in sixteen months later. Road travel became somewhat hectic with their sons using hotel bureau drawers as impromptu cribs so Jack and Helen returned to DuBois to raise their family in a community atmosphere.
Jack initially worked in the Con Allen family shoestore, went to work after the outbreak of WWII as a civilian railroad bridge guard in Kittaning, PA protecting against perceived enemy sabotage. Moving back to DuBois Jack was hired by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company as an agent and the family lived in several locations before moving in with Helen's father, William Howatt at 411 Pifer Street.
When an opening occurred for a position in Altoona, PA Jack accepted and moved his wife and by now three children - Linda Jean was the new addition - to Juniata, a local suburb, where the family home remains today. Jack often told the story about buying the Altoona house. He said there were no houses available in post war Altoona but when his friend and fellow agent Mr. Smeal revealed he was in the process of moving to a new home Jack offered to purchase his old one on the spot, sight unseen, and gave him all of the money he had in his wallet - $40 - as a down payment. In the year 2000 Helen was still residing in the family home!
Jack was an outstanding agent from the customers point of view. He was not only their insurance agent he was their tax man, financial advisor and big brother all rolled into one. If he didn't sell someone a policy ... so what! He was able to help them as a friend and that's what always took priority with him. For Jack it was a perfect fit, he loved to talk and they loved to listen.
Daughters Mary and Barbara were born in Altoona and in order to help support his enlarged family Jack would play with local bands, traveling to the neighboring towns on weekends. He made a living seldom going to bed before 2 a.m., a normal hour for any self respecting musician. Helen was more than doing her part as well. With their church "Holy Rosary," opening a parochial grade school which her daughters would attend, she became the school lunch program director. This meant planning the daily menus, preparing and cleaning. Everyone agreed she was the best!
Woven throughout his life was his love of fishing. Though fly fishing might be preferred, any fish was fair game. His attic served as his fly tying office, full of feathers, fur, yarn and hooks. The basement on the other hand, was where his tackle boxes full of lures, plugs, plastic worms , rods and reels were displayed. If he wasn't fishing somewhere he was getting ready to go. As Jack approached retirement, ironically Helen moved back into the work force, this time as Head Dietitian for the Altoona Public High School with an enrollment of over 4,000 students. She replaced a certified dietitian and supervised 28 women in meal planning, ordering and cooking for nearly ten years. Boy did they hate to see her retire.
Remaining involved in his first love, music, Jack accepted the position of Choir Director for Holy Rosary Parish, Juniata, Altoona. A devoted taskmaster, he spent long hours dedicated to making his choir one to be proud of. Everyone was well aware that Jack knew his music well and worked hard to live up to his expectations. In 1999 his oldest daughter Linda renewed his legacy by being named the new Music Director for Holy Rosary.
When his son Jack presented him with a classical guitar as a Christmas present, his musical inquisitiveness focused on this instrument as a new avenue for exploration. As he conquered acoustical as well as electric guitar and added them to his resume he became intrigued with a long dormant talent, drawing. As a senior citizen he studied at the University of California in San Diego with a course in Chinese Calligraphy and primarily sketched with pen and ink. As a tribute to his artistry, the Altoona Library posthumously exhibited his works.
Jack also became a dedicated photographer studiously absorbing all technical aspects of camera work. He used photography as a means to study his subjects from all angles helping him in his drawings.
Jack died unexpectedly shortly after returning from a weeklong fishing trip with his lifelong buddies. He will always be remembered for his wonderful stories, which were as big as the fish he caught. Although fishing was dear to him his biggest hobby was people; he loved them all and they all loved him.
All rights reserved to the families represented - 2006
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