Tuesday was David L. Allen’s 90th birthday, and it was well worth celebrating.
It also happens to be a century since Coker Pedigreed Seed Co., the company he served loyally for more than forty years, was founded. So, in his honor, today’s cookies are the sweetest, most old-fashioned cookies I know how to make: molasses crinkles.
Pressly Coker, who now loyally serves the Coker Farms National Historic Landmark (which continues to testify to the legacy of Mr. Allen’s service and the Coker family’s entrepreneurial drive), and Elsie Byrd, Mr. Allen’s sister, hosted a birthday party Tuesday afternoon. They served birthday cake (three, actually) and, in honor of Mr. Allen’s wife, Divver, who couldn’t be there, they served Divver’s refreshing iced tea.
More than a hundred gathered, and I was honored to attend. Mr. Allen is among the most memorable people I have met since I moved to Hartsville.
I met him just last year, at a simple luncheon that was also held at the Coker Farms site. I was working on behalf of Coker College, along with Johnna Shirley at the Chamber of Commerce, helping to put together a program for aspiring leaders in Harstville. Mr. Allen was the first presenter on the first day of class for the program. Pressly had asked him to speak to our group so that he could share a sense of the legacy of community pride and citizen involvement that had been envisioned by Hartsville’s forefathers.
From my perspective, the most significant message Mr. Allen communicated that day (which he did very skillfully, with an ideal balance of eloquence and charm) was about the value of respect.
He wasn’t preaching it, he was living it.
Twenty-five years after the company he’d served for more than four decades had closed its doors, Mr. Allen was bragging to our class about his boss. In my experience (as a P.R. lady who gets paid to get people bragging about the boss), it’s pretty hard to get people to brag about the boss 25 seconds after he or she leaves the room, let alone 25 years after the office doors are closed!
But Mr. Allen wasn’t praising his boss and the company because of what they had done for him, he was bragging about what they’d done for the community and for the country.
He told us, and I hope I am relating this correctly, that in all the time he worked at the Coker Pedigreed Seed Company, never once did Mr. Coker or others in the company’s management structure pressure the plant breeders to approve releasing a seed to market before they thought it was ready. The management respected the professional, scientific expertise of their team that much. Clearly the feeling was mutual.
Start to finish, his presentation was wonderful. Mr. Allen epitomizes the values of leadership that I most admire: respect, caring and competence.
Then, after his talk, when our group was getting ready to leave, I went up to him to thank him for the talk. And as we were visiting, he picked up cotton boll and asked me if I’d ever looked at one closely, which I had not.
He started tugging at the little piece of cotton with his great big hands, so that I could see the tiny fibers, and I could see for myself what long-staple cotton fibers look like. Within seconds (maybe five) he’d spun an 18-inch strand of thread that was fine enough to embroider with. My eyes got big, my jaw dropped. I don’t know what I said, but he told me that the kindergarten kids he shows that trick to have the very same reaction. So I knew I was in good company.
Judging from the group at his party, I still am. How refreshing!
Happy Birthday, Mr. Allen!
p.s. If you click on the first image (of cookies and Divver’s tea), I think it’ll become large enough for you to read the recipe. If not, let me know and I’ll send it to you.