Robert Wilson Allen
July 3, 2016
Robert Wilson Allen passed away on July 3, at the age of 91.
His enthusiasm and appreciation of his environment was generously shared with all. A resident of Marin and Solano counties, his dedication to the community and historical preservation is his legacy.
Robert was born in Mill Valley and raised by his parents and grand-parents. He was exposed to a wealth of the arts, as well as the history and natural history. His was a free-spirited, bohemian upbringing. Their home was a meeting place of the Bay Area artists of the day. His father headed the Northern California WPA art project. His lifelong passion for photography was nurtured by family friends including, Ansel Adams and Dorthea Lang. His awareness of the natural world, the flora and fauna was nurtured by his grandmother, a horticulturalist. He spent his youth exploring the hillsides of Mount Tamalpias, exploring West Marin and camping in the Trinity Alps and Sierra Nevada.
Robert attended elementary school at the Mill School in Mill Valley, with a year spent in Wooden Valley (Solano County). After graduating from Tamalpias High School in 1943, he joined the Army and was sent to the European theater as a member of the famous Blackhawk Infantry Division (one of only two units that served in both war theaters). After VE day he was sent to the Pacific, photographing VJ day in the Philippines.
Returning to Marin County, Robert attended Marin Junior College in Kentfield where he met his future wife, Helen Nicolaus (from Kentfield, also a Tamalpias HS graduate). As members of the Naturalist Club, they shared a passion learning about the rich natural history of Marin County and for each other. Their extensive knowledge of the flora and fauna, geology and social history of Marin County is amazing and has been shared with their children as well as generations of others. Married in 1949 they attended San Francisco State College, both earning teaching credentials.
Robert's first teaching assignment was in West Marin. He had a natural gift of being able not just to teach, but to enable his students to learn. He went beyond teaching the basics of the "3 Rs" to engendering an appreciation of history and natural history and respect for the individual. Field trips, Native American traditions, and home arts were all part of his curriculum. He was an advocate for change. Ahead of his time, he recognized and campaigned for a West Marin that went beyond the status quo of ranching to meet the challenges of the future including the creation of the Point Reyes National Seashore.
In 1962, now with a family of three daughters, he and Helen moved to Vacaville; once there a son was added. For the next 20 years Robert taught elementary school, continuing to inspire generations of students. His classroom was always filled with Indian artifacts and small animals, and students happy to expand their boundaries.
Robert and Helen (also teaching in Vacaville) centered their lives around their family. Their children were included in all activities. He never had a gender bias; his daughters all knew how to swing a hammer. There were many family trips, camping in all parts of California, as well as to Arizona to visit Robert's parents. Thanks to their father, all of his children became avid rock collectors.
Robert was dedicated to the historical preservation of Vacaville, and was an enthusiastic and effective leader. He was an active member of the Solano County Historical Society, the Pena Adobe Historical Society, the Vacaville Museum (an inaugural trustee and creator of the Native Plant Garden) and the Vacaville Heritage Council (spending many hours with his colleagues preserving the history and artifacts of the area, housed at the original City Hall). He was the leader of the City of Vacaville project that researched and placed bronze plaques on buildings in the Vacaville Downtown Historical District. His photography skills were effectively utilized in his historical society activities, restoring old photographs. His work can be seen on the walls of David Grant Hospital (Travis AFB), in many publications, and in the extensive collection at the Old City Hall.
An inaugural member of the Drake Navigator's Guild, an exacting group researchers of Sir Francis Drake's visit to the coast of Marin County in 1579. As well as archeological work, Robert extensively documented the references to the flora and fauna and native people. This work contributed to recognition of Drakes Bay in Point Reyes as Drake's landing site on the west coast. He was a member of the Yerba Buena Chapter of E Clampus Vitas. Robert enjoyed the camaraderie of his colleagues, as well as the satisfaction of being able to accurately document history.
Another of Robert's joys in life was participation in Barbershop (SPEBSQSA). He loved to sing (as well as play the harmonica). Part of the chorus, he was well known for creating the props used in their shows. He and Helen traveled the Western coast, enjoying Barbershop activities and making many friends along the way.
Robert always sought out the good in people, he was nonjudgmental. He was foremost a teacher, immensely enjoying sharing what he knew, but was always a student, learning from others. He loved to listen to others tell their tales, as well as spin his own. His was a gift of inspiration and always with a smile.
Robert is survived by his wife of 67 years, Helen (Vacaville); daughters, Janet Allen (Pt Reyes Sta), Susan Allen (Fair Oaks), and Anna Nicolaus Evans (Gravesend, England); son, Dana Allen (Lakewood CO); two grandchildren, Nicolaus and Joseph, and older sister, Hilary Ervin (Maine). Also survived by many friends throughout the Bay Area and all the students whose lives he helped shape. He will be missed by his family, friends, students, and the community.
Please honor Robert by contributing your time to community activities, preserving the heritage and supporting future generations. Contributions can be made to the Vacaville Heritage Council, 618 E.Main, Vacaville, CA 95688.
Published in The Reporter on July 13, 2016
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