Colorful history not forgotten as Allen keeps eye on Minot

Colorful history not forgotten as Allen keeps eye on Minot

File Photo Earl Allen stands outside his realty company 10 years ago, wearing the trademark hat that he still owns.

It’s been a while since Earl Allen made headlines developing a new property or dogging another politician.

But one of the area’s most prominent real estate investors and a former city watchdog still takes an interest in Minot, according to family members who are planning a celebration of Allen’s 99th birthday Saturday.

Cake and coffee will be served Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. in the main floor area of Trinity Homes, where Allen resides.

“Hopefully, some of his old friends and young friends will be there. He’s always said he wants to make it to 100, and the way he’s going, he’ll make it,” said Allen’s daughter Dee Ann Allen. “He still goes down to dinner every evening in a sport coat. He’s a businessman through and through. There’s no casual Friday for him.”

She said her father follows the news in Minot and takes notes, continuing to be a watchdog, although no longer a vocal one in the community. He also still takes an interest in the real estate market.

“That still runs in his veins,” Dee Ann Allen said. “If he was still mobile, he would love to go to Kiwanis meetings. That was a real passion of his as well.”

Bruce Walker, a Minot Realtor, remembers the notebook Allen would pull from his pocket to jot notes during conversations. Although it wasn’t unusual to find himself on a different side of an issue from Allen, it was always a good dialogue with him, Walker said.

Allen also was always working on something, he said.

“He did a number of things that I think were good for the community over the years,” Walker said, citing the development of the Oak Park Shopping Center in 1961 as an example. “He was helpful in the development of Minot.”

Minot Realtor Gary Kramlich worked with Allen for just over two years but considers Allen a friend of 50 years.

“He’s still one of the brightest real estate people we have in the state,” he said. “He was really the first real developer we had in Minot.”

Besides starting a shopping center when the concept was new, Allen pushed for four-lane roads and increased street lighting in the city. He served on the city council in the 1960s.

“He always had an eye on the future. He never looked back,” Kramlich said. “I was always impressed in how he challenged the government and increasing taxes. That was his biggest concern and he was continually working at that. We probably could use more of that today in the city of Minot -people like Earl Allen who question, ‘Do we need to raise taxes? What can we get for less money?”

Al Schon recalls getting to know Allen through Toastmasters in the early 1980s. He had delivered a speech on second-run theaters that Allen reminded him about years later when he asked Schon, who had worked in the theater industry, about reviving the Oak Park theater for second-run movies. The theater had closed in 1980, and Schon began working with Allen in 2000 to get it operational again.

Schon said he and Allen had differing ideas on how to do up the new theater. Schon’s desire to create the right setting and Allen’s goal to keep costs low led to the kind of conflicts that make for amusing memories. Schon said the construction workers would do things Allen’s way during the week, and when Allen left to go out of town on Fridays, Schon would redirect the workers. Allen would come back on Monday, see the changes, blame Schon and bemoan there’s nothing he could do.

“In the long run, he admitted it turned out very well,” Schon said. The theater closed again for five years following the 2011 flood.

“After the flood, I had the opportunity of buying it and continuing it on. If it wasn’t for Earl, I wouldn’t be in this,” Schon said.

Allen may have had a storied history, but Jim Maxson, Allen’s attorney on a number of real estate matters over the years, hedges that most of the stories he could tell fall under attorney-client privilege.

“It was interesting,” Maxson said. “People often wondered why Earl picked me as an attorney because we are polar opposites politically. The best I can figure out is Earl figured I knew how to make payroll and I didn’t always go along with the herd, so I must be OK.”

Active in Realtor groups in the past, Allen also was an officer in the Taxpayers Union and a frequent critic of local government. From a shouting match over weeds with then Mayor Chester Reiten in 1976 to erecting a sign challenging “Champagne Government: Death by Taxes” that stood for many years, Allen waged a public battle with city leaders.

Allen graduated from Iowa State College in Ames in 1941 with an economics degree. He served in the military two years during World War II. Before establishing his real estate business in Minot, he handled real estate in Tioga and operated a branch in Williston. He opened his realty firm in Minot in 1955 and attended law school in Grand Forks in the late 1950s.

Ben Tollefson said he met Allen, a local businessman, while selling advertising in a telephone directory for his employer, Northern States Power Co. Allen was particular about his ad, and Tollefson over the years discovered that perfectionism characterized much of the way Allen approached life.

“I admired him from the standpoint he had taken a real interest in the affairs of Minot,” Tollefson said. “In his way he was working for the citizens of the community and I give him credit for that. He isn’t the easiest guy to like, but I have gotten to appreciate him and enjoy him really.

“As ornery as he could be, he was out really to make Minot a better place. He didn’t back up an inch. He was a scrapper in his own way,” he added, noting Allen was just ornery enough to hang in there to celebrate a 99th birthday.

“Knowing him,” Tollefson said, “it’s not the last one.”


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