East Bernstadt Ind. board member becomes Kentucky's longest-serving current district leader - 50 years; tenure has involved only two contested re-election bids

Sentinel-Echo, London, June 21, 2016

EB School Board member longest running in state
By Kelly McKinney

When Gene Allen first started serving on the East Bernstadt School Board, classrooms didn’t have smartboards, computers or tablets.

They had chalkboards and loose-leaf paper and pencil sharpeners on the wall. The schools’ secretaries likely used typewriters to create their correspondence, and email was a long, long way away.

Allen, 73, has seen lots of change, which isn’t surprising considering he is in his 50th year on the board. This past June, Allen became the longest-running school board member in Kentucky, when Shirley “Buck” Treadway retired from Barbourville Independent School Board.

Allen said his long stretch on the board has been a wonderful time.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure.”

Allen can’t remember things nearly as well as he used to. He says that, when he drove a truck for Sara Lee, before he retired, he knew the name of everyone on his route. He isn’t that great at names anymore, but he does remember the many great people he has met as part of his role on the school board.

In fact, one thing that keeps him happy in his role is interacting with other board members and the teachers and others at the schools.

“I’ve met a lot of really nice people,” he said.

Allen’s 52-year-marriage is only slighter longer than his time on the board. His wife has always been supportive of his service on the board, he said. She is part of the reason Allen has served so long.

When Allen gets home from a meeting, he is met by his wife, curious to know what happened.

“She’s always full of questions,” Allen said.

His wife also is the first one to let people know that Allen serves on the board.

“She takes great pride in it,” he said.

Allen was just 23 when he started serving on the board at the request of then - superintendent R.B. Mason.

“Mr. Mason was a real good friend of mine,” Allen said. “He needed some new people in there.”

That was in 1966.

Allen remembers that race as a competitive one. But he won, and has won 12 times since. For most of those, it wasn’t tough to keep his seat. But there were a couple of times he had to fight for it.

“I’ve had to campaign twice,” he said.

After 13 years, Allen became chair of the board and has remained chair since.

As chair, he signs graduating students’ diplomas. His son’s was the first one he signed.

That was in 1979.

Allen said being named chair was a great honor.

“It was nice,” he said. “I appreciated it — that the rest of them appointed me.”

Allen was born in Pittsburg, Ky., but, not long after, his family moved to East Bernstadt, where Allen has lived the remainder of his life save for a six-month stint in London.

Allen graduated from Sue Bennett College, and served as a salesperson for Sara Lee Bakery until his retirement.

East Bernstadt Schools are near and dear to Allen’s heart. He went to school there, as did both his sons. One of his sons is now a detective with the Kentucky State Police and the other is a supervisor with CSX Railroad.

In his 50 years, Allen missed only two or three meetings of the board, he said.

Allen said his service on the school board hasn’t lessened in importance over the years, but rather increased.

“It means more than ever now,” he said. “It seems like the past few years it’s meant a lot.”

The second longest-running East Bernstadt School Board member is Jim Sutton, with about 20 years in, according to Allen.

Twenty years is a long time, but Allen has put in two and a half times that.

That time has taught Allen a lot, one of the most important being the ability to adapt.

“A lot of people don’t like change, but changes are necessary,” Allen said.

One significant change he has really felt at the schools has been the level of security, he said. When Allen first started on the board, anyone could walk into the schools. Now, people have to be buzzed in and have to check in at the office.

“Kids are taken so much better care of than they used to be,” he said. “Changes sometimes are for the best.”

With this belief, Allen has been able to truly consider other’s points of view, he said.

“I learned a long time ago to think about things,” he said. “Even if I see it one way, I’m able to change my mind. I’ve changed my mind on a lot of things.”

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