Broadcaster Garry Moore’s announcement on WPNV 106.3 FM touched people all over Peoria as city residents kept talking about Elise Allen’s legacy.
Then WEEK-TV ran a touching story on their broadcast, having been with the family for her 100th birthday four months earlier.
The acknowledgments began pouring in for Publisher and family matriarch Elise Ford Allen as people heard the news of her passing and began writing and calling from all over the country. And the acknowledgments have not stopped.
At the core of Mrs. Allen’s life were her character and integrity. Most people recalled the way her presence impacted their professional and personal lives.
Former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lisa D. LeNoir carried Mrs. Allen’s wisdom with her to Paris and high society when she was writing fashion and columns for special audiences. “Mrs. Allen said that she was depending on me to make sure that my work included a perspective about race. Mrs. Allen said that our voice was not part of the mainstream, but as a reporter, I had a responsibility to bring that point of view,” said LeNoir. “That was HER expectation of me, and I heard her voice when I was on assignment,” said LeNoir, who was a former Journal Star feature writer from 1994 -1997.
Professor LeNoir respected Mrs. Allen’s directions and mentorship because she grew up with the Black press in her family. Lisa’s late father, Mr. Ausbie LeNoir, had grown up as a newspaper delivery boy for the Chicago Defender in Mississippi.
So when Mrs. Allen spoke, Professor LeNoir took her mentorship and advice as the gospel! Her dad taught her that the black press was an essential and necessary part of society. Mrs. Allen’s work as a Black woman publisher was very impressive to Professor LeNoir because she saw this lady as a cultural icon by bridging the gap between women, Black people, and influential women in the business world.
The racial divide and oppression in Peoria made Mrs. Allen’s perspective mean more to the young writer, who was still shaping her view of the journalism world. Mrs. Allen said the general public is accustomed to reading about Blacks as entertainers, sports figures, criminals, and in the court system. We are far more than subjects in these limited categories she told LeNoir.
Mrs. Allen expected Professor LeNoir to tell the stories that had not been traditionally covered by the mainstream or Black presses. She encouraged Lisa to open the eyes of readers and introduce other lifestyle areas from a Black perspective.
“There were very few women of her stature — as a publisher—in the country. Most Black newspapers still have Black men running them. When she said, “Lisa, we are counting on you to bring our voice to your stories,” that was powerful. She knew that Black women did not always have an opportunity like that in the press,” said Professor LeNoir.
As a first-year teacher in Peoria Public Schools, Sharon Samuels Reed arrived in Peoria without family members. Reed had Mrs. Allen’s daughters in her classes. Angela was in her 6th-grade homeroom and she and her sister Barbara were on the cheerleading squad that she coached.
“Mrs. Allen was a very caring individual and an involved parent. She talked to me about life. She mentored me, and I was very comfortable with her in my life,” said Mrs. Reed. “She did not bite her tongue. She believed in family and kept them together for all of these years.”
Reed said that Mrs. Allen was a force to be reckoned with in Peoria. The balance that Mrs. Allen had between her family and her career was why so many people had her in such high regard.
Retired HR Administrator Doris Ann Symonds wrote that she also stood on Mrs. Allen’s shoulders professionally. “Mrs. Allen was a class act to follow because she was strong in core. She was articulate, humble, kind, and straightforward,” said Mrs. Symonds. “She was an amazing businesswoman and fantastic role model for women,” she added.
It was that consistent example of excellence that Mrs. Allen exhibited daily throughout the culture that made others’ lives better. She was the gold standard that women sought to be on several levels, and this particular woman will not be replaced.
Mrs. Allen was Peoria’s one-woman revolution, and her life mattered!