She was a big city girl who willingly traded the frenetic bustle of the military life for the serene hills of southern West Virginia.
“I was basically an ‘army brat,’” says Lisa Allen, administrative assistant in Multicultural Affairs. “I was born in Washington, D.C., where my mother was a Registered Nurse. In addition, I was surrounded by lots of uncles and aunts who helped raise me, coming from a single parent home. My aunt was in the military and I frequently lived with her and her family so when she was transferred, I traveled with them.”
Summers and vacations, though, were spent in West Virginia with her grandparents and other family members who lived in the Ronceverte and Lewisburg areas. Those were care-free filled times hanging out with numerous cousins. But soon she had a serious decision to make. Her aunt’s family was being deployed to Japan and she was invited to go with her, but the appeal of the Orient wasn’t strong for the then-sixth grader. So, after many family consultations, it was decided that she would move to West Virginia to live with her grandparents, also passing up private school and living with her mother in Washington, D.C.
“My friends always said I’m a city/country person and I guess I am,” she says. “ I really didn’t expect it to be that different but in fact it was very different from the big city. My cousins and I had always had so much fun.” But despite the differences she hung in there, made new friends and found new interests. After graduating from Greenbrier East High School she had every intention of going back to D.C. to attend Howard University or to head to West Virginia University, because that’s where most of her friends were going. But, unexpectedly, an astute older cousin pointed her toward Marshall. It would be a good place for her, the cousin believed.
“I had never been to Huntington and I didn’t know much about Marshall. Then in my senior year a very close friend invited me to come for Homecoming weekend and I had a great time. I loved that Marshall is in a little city format. I realized I had missed so many of the amenities of a big city, the museums, musical performances, live happenings, all the energy. My mother checked it out and approved, so that’s how I ended up at Marshall!”
She got a two-year degree in Paralegal Studies and then went into the 2 plus 2 program and eventually earned a Regents Bachelor of Arts degree. She was on a trip to Hawaii, enjoying the sand and sea, when a call came from her close friend and sorority sister, the late Janis Winkfield. There was a part-time desk coordinator job working through Residence Services, Winkfield told her. Was she interested? Indeed she was, Allen says, and subsequently she was hired for that position. Actually, that job set her on a whole new career path.
“I found I really liked working with students and I wanted to do that rather than go into criminal justice,” she explains. Within a year she moved to a full-time position in Greek Affairs , an enticing opportunity for her since she was a founding member of Marshall’s chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated. She has worked 19 years in the Student Affairs Division, where she has learned and loved to work with all the students and staff. They are my second family, she said. Then, three years ago she joined the staff of Multicultural Affairs and she bubbles with enthusiasm for their programs and the ongoing work they do.
“We work with diverse campus and community populations. We have multiple, ongoing multicultural programs and initiatives. Right now we’re expanding in new directions toward a more inclusive division. Our Vice President, Dr. (Shari) Clarke, wants us to work with all persons who have historically been underrepresented in society. Last year we hosted the inaugural Multicultural Faculty, Staff and Friends Reception, bringing 'town and gown' together in a celebration of diversity. We also sponsored a Top O’ the Morning St. Patrick’s Day Celebration for the Huntington campus, which featured Irish music, coffee, sweet treats and a leprechaun who then visited St. Joseph's grade school. This year we will sponsor a celebration for Cinco de Mayo. We are collaborating with the Jewish community in hopes of re-establishing a Jewish Student Association. We’re in the planning stage for a powwow next year which will bring Native Americans to the campus for a weekend-long adventure. There are always events going on and lots of things coming up. I’m learning so much about diversity ... the languages, the customs and the music. It’s like being back in the city with all nationalities and their customs.”
And Allen has a diverse life off the job as well. Keeping up with her active son, Dominic, who is a freshman at Huntington High, is almost a full-time job. “In our family everyone is involved with their children.” she says “He’s a very good student and also very athletic. He’s involved in football, basketball and baseball. And he loves Marshall; he really grew up on campus....he has season tickets to the games and his goal is to play football for Marshall.” She shows support off the field as well, as she sits on several youth boards in the Huntington area.
Game days in the fall you will find Allen helping out in the stadium boxes, something she was recruited to do by her friend, Winkfield. “Janis always worked in the boxes, hostessing, doing catering, overseeing food service. I’ve continued to be a hostess. It’s a fun thing to do and exciting to be there for the game.”
And then there’s the quilting. “ I decided I wanted to learn to quilt, so about five years ago I started taking classes that met every Sunday at St. Joseph. I had never quilted before, but the instructor said I should do well. This is where I learned I’m a precise person; I want every stitch to be perfect. I found quilting to be very relaxing and it was a social time. The sewers were wonderful; if you made a mistake they knew how to fix it. Each of us was to make a quilt with the Underground Railroad theme. I have mine half done, but I had to quit working on it because I was so involved in other things at the time, particularly my son’s activities. But I really intend to finish it one day.”
Allen loves music and movies and has made sure Dominic has been exposed to all kinds of cultural events, she says. They take full advantage of the many concerts and plays that Marshall and the community offer. And she’s a good sport with a sense of fun. Look closely and you could even see her and Dominic at a midnight showing of a Harry Potter movie. “He knows if it’s a school night he has to get up the next day and go to school, no excuses, and he does.” she says firmly. In fact the late shows were such a lark she went to a recent “Twilight” preview and took a friend with her. “She was amazed at how people were dressed and at how many people were out at that time of night. For one of the Harry Potter movies people were lined up around the block.”
Allen always makes time to attend services at the Full Gospel Assembly and right now she’s carving out time to resume Zumba classes on Saturday mornings.
Each year her large extended family holds an eagerly awaited reunion, and each year they select a different family locale. It’s a time for young and old to reconnect. “My mother is from a family of nine children and there are 28 grandchildren. I’m the youngest, so I’m still the ‘baby’ to my aunts and uncles. I get bossed around a lot,” she says laughing. Ironically, years after she turned down an opportunity to go to Japan, she and Dominic may be heading there in the next year or so. A cousin has been transferred there and the family is thinking about making Japan a reunion destination. “Right now my future plans are to work on getting us to Japan!” she says.
Allen has never regretted her decision to work in the various student affairs
areas. “I’m glad I realized early that I wanted to work with students. Looking
back I’ve seen so many students who weren’t sure of what they wanted to do,
where they wanted to be. Then they graduate, they go out and do well and become
professionals in their fields. It’s important for me to do things well. I have
had so many people who have helped me and mentored me. I like to pass that on.”
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