In Memory

In Memory: John C. Allen ’62

John C. Allen '62 speaking from podium.

John C. Allen ’62 received the VMI Foundation’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, Nov. 11, 2009.—VMI Photo by Kevin Remington.

John C. Allen ’62, who received the VMI Foundation Distinguished Service Award in 2009, died April 21, 2022.

Matriculating from Clarksburg, West Virginia, Allen was the son of James F. Allen, Class of 1933, who also received the Distinguished Service Award in 1987. After attending West Virginia University for a year, Allen decided to transfer to the Institute. Later, his brother would graduate from the Institute in 1971. On choosing VMI, Allen said, “I believed that VMI would serve my objectives better in academics as well as in character building.”

Interested in a career in medicine, he studied biology at VMI. Along with his academics, Allen participated in many activities. He was on the track and swimming teams, as well as the staff of The Cadet during his rat year and was a manager of the basketball team during its 1960–61 season. He also was involved with the Virginia Academy of Science for his entire cadetship, and he was a private all four years in barracks.

In a 2009 interview, Allen was asked what lessons he took from VMI. He replied, “Looking back, the education that I received at VMI was so much more than just academics and the rigorous physical challenges. Commitment, leadership, integrity—these are the lessons learned that remain long after graduation.”

After graduation, Allen joined his family’s transportation construction firm, the J.F. Allen Company. The company was formed by Allen’s father, known as “Jimmy” to his friends, who had worked for the West Virginia Road Commission; the B&O Railroad; and his own company, the Clarksburg Excavating Company, during the 1930s. Called to active duty service in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1940, Jimmy dissolved his company. After the war, during which he rose to the grade of colonel, Jimmy and his wife established the J.F. Allen Company in 1946. Starting work with two military surplus bulldozers, the company strip-mined coal until it had the working capital needed to bid on highway contracts.

Allen’s road-building roots traced back to his ancestor, William Allen, who began work in New Jersey in 1728. Allen supervised the company’s projects related to the building of Interstate 81 in the Winchester, Virginia, area for the next several years. During this time, he met Joyce Butler McKee, a young widow with three small children, who he would marry in 1969. Allen often joked he was transformed from “a bachelor to a father of three overnight.” When he returned to West Virginia, Allen became involved in projects on three Appalachian Corridor highways and two interstate highways.

“Looking back, the education that I received at VMI was so much more than just academics and the rigorous physical challenges. Commitment, leadership, integrity—these are the lessons learned that remain long after graduation.”

John C. Allen ’62 in a 2009 interview

Allen became president of the J.F. Allen Company in 1974, and, for the next 25 years, he directed the company’s expansion into such activities as limestone quarrying; manufacturing ready-mixed concrete, concrete block, and asphalt paving; performing site development for schools, manufacturing plants, and recreation projects; and reclaiming abandoned coal mines.

The company, however, never left its roots in construction, engaging in such projects as road relocation at West Virginia’s Burnsville Lake in the late 1970s and the construction of the Stonewall Jackson Dam in Weston, West Virginia, in the 1980s. Such was the company’s sustained success that, in 1999, the Engineering News-Record included J.F. Allen Company in its list of the nation’s top 100 highway contractors. An exemplary professional citizen, Allen was on the boards of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance (which began as the Virginia Road Builders Association), and the Contractors Association of West Virginia.

Allen was well known for his many charitable activities. For example, in 2000, Allen and his wife endowed the Sara C. and James F. Allen Comprehensive Lung Cancer Program at the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center at West Virginia University. At Davis & Elkins College, where Mrs. Allen served as a trustee, the couple helped create the McDonnell Center for Health, Physical Education, and Athletics, including the Hilda and Robert R. Butler Lobby, named in honor of Mrs. Allen’s parents. Their work on behalf of the people of West Virginia was recognized in 2001 by the West Virginia Association of Fundraising Professionals, which honored them as “Outstanding West Virginia Philanthropists.” Allen served on the board of trustees of the West Virginia University Foundation, and the university honored him by inducting him into the Order of Vandalia in 2004.

Allen’s service to VMI includes a five-year term as the class agent for the Class of 1962 from 1983– 87 and four years on the VMI Foundation Board of Trustees from 1994–98. He also served on the VMI Board of Visitors from 2011–15. A donor to the Foundation Fund and the VMI Keydet Club, the highlights of his philanthropy to VMI include the James F. Allen ’33 Scholarship, established in 1980 to provide financial aid to cadets from West Virginia, and his endowment of the John C. Allen 1962 Distinguished Professorship in Chemistry in 1998. More recently, he gave generously to the General J.H. Binford Peay III ’62 Endowment for Academic Excellence. He summed up his reasons for his devotion to VMI by saying, “I believe in the traditions and values set forth at VMI. As an alumnus, contributing to VMI is my way of investing in the young men and women of our nation.”

In 2009, the VMI Foundation presented Allen with its Distinguished Service Award. Walter C. Perrin II ’62, then-VMI Foundation president and Allen’s brother rat, said at the time, “John’s long-standing and strong commitment to VMI is amply proved by his years of service as a class agent and Foundation trustee, his consistent support of faculty and cadets, and his quiet but always invaluable advice to the Foundation’s and VMI’s leaders. Anyone who is mindful of John’s service knows how richly he deserves this extraordinary honor.”

Allen is survived by his wife, Joyce; four children; 10 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

  • Scott Belliveau

    Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects

    The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.