Ann Allen · 2017
The idea for what became her life’s work came to Ann Allen of Akron, Indiana, when she and her first husband, Loren Sheetz, were living in Germany, while he served in the U.S. Army. The Hoosier couple eagerly anticipated receiving copies of their hometown newspaper, The Akron News, by mail. Allen had long wanted to write, and, because Loren was mechanically inclined, she decided to combine their abilities.
“I saw owning the Akron News as a perfect career for both of us,” Allen related to a friend. “I could write; he could print.”
Allen’s dream became a reality. In 1962, she and Loren purchased The Akron News. Two years later, they also bought the The Mentone News, merging the two entities into The Akron Mentone News before finally selling the newspaper in 1977.
Over the years, Allen became the model small-town newspaper owner and writer, producing reams of copy about Akron for more than five decades. Only her death at the age of 80 on Sept. 10, 2015, silenced her insightful work on the northern Indiana community, including her column “Fleeting Moments” and writing and editing the weekly “Dateline: Akron” page for The Rochester Sentinel.
“She embodied the best of what a newspaper means to a community,” said W. S. Wilson, Sentinel editor who worked with Allen from 1993 until her death. “She was a storyteller, an investigator, a favorite aunt and a community forum all wrapped in one smiling package. . . . Ann Allen was a local institution. She was local media personified.”
One of the Sentinel’s readers, Sue Clark, a high school English teacher, learning of Allen’s death, wrote the newspaper offering its staff condolences on losing such a valuable contributor and commending her work over the years. Proof of Allen’s expertise came from the fact that although many readers had no connection to the Akron area, they still looked forward to reading her articles.
“We readers felt that we knew her, her friends, and her cats from her accounts of their daily lives. We will miss her,” wrote Clark.
Allen, born in Akron on Oct. 8, 1934, possessed a “sixth sense,” Wilson said. She provided her readers, who treated her as a relative, with interesting stories about their neighbors in the community, whether they were a war veteran, immigrant, someone who collected cereal-box prizes or a Peace Corps volunteer returning from service overseas. Always she preferred “interviewing ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” Allen had all the skills required by anyone who operates a small newspaper, as she knew how to write, edit and get to the point.
These were talents she also used for writing for other markets, including a number of books on such subjects as the history of the Pike Lumber Company and that of the Akron United Methodist Church. She also produced engaging pieces on Hoosier history for the Indiana Historical Society’s popular history magazine, Traces of Indiana, and for Midwestern History. Her 2008 article on Reece Oliver, an educator, explorer and adventurer from Akron, won the Jacob P. Dunn Jr. Award for the best article in Traces.
Robin Heckman, who took over running the “Dateline: Akron” page, remembers that when her youngest child was born at home, Allen came over to her house so she could report on the news and share it with her readers. Heckman learned she could always depend upon Allen for help when she needed advice.
“I don’t know if I can count the number of times I talked with Ann . . . asking her how to approach a story, or even if I should approach it,” Heckman said. “I was a little afraid that she would catch on to my inability to do journalism, but she never did and kept encouraging me. She knew I could do it, and that my instincts were just fine.”
Allen proved to be indefatigable when it came to sometimes telling people news they preferred not to hear. When other reporters declined to write about a white supremacist spreading his racist views (he had left the Ku Klux Klan because he believed the group to be too liberal) to students at Tippecanoe Valley High School in 2010, Allen took the assignment.
“Her low-key stories made him out to be just what he was: bad news,” noted Wilson.
In 2004 Allen, ever the probing journalist, got thrown off a collective farm in Belarus and wrote about the experience for Farm World. Five years later, she was the only American at a press conference with the grand duke of Luxembourg and the visiting prime minister of Denmark in the grand duke’s castle in Bourglinster.
Jacquelyn D. Bixler, who first met Allen in 1981, said her friend loved to write and sought to share her passion for her pastime with others. Bixler noted that Allen offered and designed a seminar in memoir writing at the libraries in Akron and Rochester. When the classes ended, participants clamored for them to continue. The group eventually morphed into the Writer’s Group, sponsored by the Akron Area Arts League, meeting monthly at the Akron library.
“Ann’s enthusiasm, encouragement and knowledge was always a source of inspiration to the group,” said Karen Camp, AAAL president. “We all came to love her for her giving spirit and her ability to laugh easily and heartily.”
Allen also had a longtime commitment to another Indiana organization, the Woman’s Press Club of Indiana, which she first joined in 1969. She won numerous awards in the group’s annual press competitions, including its 2011 Communicator of Achievement, as well as serving as the club’s president in 2004.
Fellow club member Vivian Sade, a freelance journalist from Churubusco, remembered being inspired by Allen’s “enthusiasm and boundless energy. She loved what she did and it showed.” What made her work even more impressive, Sade added, was that she was in her 70s at the time.
“I was 20 years younger and could not keep up with Ann,” she said.
Allen remained dedicated to her craft until the end of her life, producing her final column shortly before she died. She also had been collecting stories for a history of Akron she intended to write.
“Many of us lost not only a good friend, but also a porthole into the history and the folklore of our community,” said Janet Hawley, director of the Akron Public Library.” She was, and will always be, irreplaceable.”
By Ray Boomhower