A Life Filled With Gumption and Determination
By Carla Beecher
Both born children of the Great Depression, the late Dr. Jonathan M. Allen and his wife of 57 years, Grace, were people with gumption.
It’s not a word heard that often these days, but it perfectly describes this couple who had courage, common sense, determination and initiative … and who valued family and education highly.
As a final act of generosity to college-age young people in and around Plattsburgh, Grace Howard-Allen, who died in June 2014 at the age of 100, left the remaining $500,000 from an IRA to the Plattsburgh College Foundation to manage and distribute the Allen-Howard Scholarship. The funds were added to the amount that initially created the Allen-Howard Scholarship Foundation upon Jon’s death in 2005, and brings the total family commitment to more than $1 million. It supports students hailing from northeastern New York and is based on academic merit and financial need.
“Grace grew up on a subsistence farm in Michigan where she learned self-sufficiency,” said daughter-in-law Eileen Barber Allen ’77, M’87, coordinator of the GIS laboratories in the Center for Earth and Environmental Sciences who is married to one of the couple’s four sons, Peter ’77.
A Renaissance Woman
“She was the smartest person I’ve ever known in an academic sense,” Eileen continued. “She graduated from elementary school and attended a high school that was five miles away. Her father scraped together money to buy a car so she could get there. She took the neighbor children as well. Her parents must have had a strong commitment to education, too.”
To put herself through college in the 1930s, Grace picked and delivered berries for 10 cents a quart while her mother contributed money from selling farm eggs. Grace studied commerce and math and, because of the Great Depression, was the only one in her class to get a job right after college. She first taught school before deciding to join the Navy. With a new job at the Navy’s Hydrographic Office in Washington, D.C., she earned top clearance and helped track submarines during WWII.
Grace met Jon in Washington where he was completing a surgery internship at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Both were in the thick of war efforts. Jon was always appreciative of his scholarship to Williams College, his schooling as a surgeon at Albany Medical College and the opportunities for medical training he received in the Navy.
After marrying in 1948, they returned to Jon’s native Plattsburgh where he began to build a general surgery practice. They started a family and three of their four sons, David ’74, Paul and Peter ’77, were Plattsburgh State Hudson Scholars. Paul graduated from Cornell University and earned his MD in emergency room medicine from Upstate Medical Center. Jonathan, their youngest son, graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology as an electrical engineer.
Grace ran Jon’s office until he retired in 1982. Then, at age 70, she started managing a diner in a downtown building they owned. “She was a phenomenal cook. And as a matter of principal, they stopped selling cigarettes in their restaurant,” Eileen recalled.
Ever curious, Grace had a need for knowledge. When she turned 85, she bought herself a computer and took a word processing class at Clinton Community College. In her later years, Grace was delighted that she could get Discover magazine on tape to compliment her favorite television shows “Nature” and “Nova.”
“Growing up in the Depression was important for both of them,” said Eileen. “They had a can-do attitude and did so much for others.”
Allen-Howard Scholarship Timeline
1960 - College-tuition fund established for Allen family members.
2000 - Not-for-profit Allen-Howard Scholarship Foundation established.
2005 - Plattsburgh College Foundation begins managing fund.
2014 - Final gift from Allen-Howard Allen Scholarship Foundation.
For more information about supporting SUNY Plattsburgh, please contact:
Anne Whitmore Hansen
Executive Director, Plattsburgh College Foundation
Vice President for Institutional Advancement
Office: Hawkins Hall 109
Phone: (518) 564-2090