The legacy of Lenoir-Rhyne University isn't its buildings, but rather the people who reside in them and leave lasting opportunities for future generations.
Few have impacted that legacy as much as the Rev. Dr. Robert Allen.
For the last 20 years, he's served as a religion professor, executive director and more at Lenoir-Rhyne, and after 54 years in ministry, Allen has retired. His last day was Thursday, July 23.
"I have a sense of peace about it," he said. "Lenoir-Rhyne gave me a direction for my life. I came here almost as a blank page. I knew I wanted to go to the seminary, but I also had a desire to go to medical school. I thought maybe I wanted to be a medical missionary. In time, I came to see the seminary is where I wanted to go. Lenoir-Rhyne gave me that destiny, and I'll be grateful for that."
A 1962 graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne College, Allen's family connection runs deep in Hickory, North Carolina with his wife, both children and several friends and family members attending, as well.
He graduated in 1966 from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary — which merged with LR in 2012 —— and returned to Hickory, where he earned an honorary doctor of divinity degree from LR.
"When I think of Dr. Allen, several wonderful qualities come to mind: mentor, confidant, wise," said Dr. Fred Whitt, university president. "Arriving at Lenoir-Rhyne University, I was not only new to a presidential role, but I was somewhat new to the Lutheran faith. I was immediately put at ease by Dr. Allen. He has been a wonderful source of knowledge and history, not only of LR and LTSS, but also sharing his faith and experience. I have appreciated the friendship we have built and the frequent visits down the hall. He was always there to help me when we experienced the loss of some of our great LR saints, and providing history and insight into these wonderful servants. The connection he has helped to develop between the Hickory campus and our Lutheran seminary have been invaluable. His role in the prayer service during my inauguration as president helped make this special occasion even more memorable."
As a newly minted pastor fresh out of seminary, Allen — a Columbia, South Carolina native — fondly remembers asking the bishop of South Carolina to escape the southern heat and receive a calling to New England. He ended up in Savannah, Georgia. Allen spent his entire career as a parish minister in the Southeast serving congregations in Georgia and the Carolinas before returning to LR.
"My life has been dedicated to the church, and I have been grateful for the multi-pronged influence I've received from my educational background and that encouragement to stay close to the church," he said.
Of his time at LR, Allen has many fond memories. From being a part of the first class to inhabit Morgan residence hall and driving the university president to the airport in Charlotte to serving as part of the group that fundraised and built Grace Chapel.
"The greatest thing was being a part of providing a place where individuals can come to find comfort and hope," he said. "To celebrate marriages, to have their little ones baptized and even to have their final benediction, there's no substitute for the joy of knowing there is a place on campus where that can occur."
On July 24, when retirement officially arrived, Allen said he didn't have any tee times set. And he didn't head out to the lake for a spot of fishing. Rather, he turned in one form of service for another.
"I've already determined two things I'm going to do; I'm going to serve," he said. "I'm going to find a place where I can help those who are disadvantaged. Maybe at the soup kitchen or (Cooperative Christian Ministries). Secondly, I get up every day at 5 o'clock for devotions, Bible study and prayer. I'm going to add an additional 30 minutes in the afternoon where I can be alone with the Lord."