Ruthenberg: Joan Allen was a gift to Enid

Baseballs spell out "Joan" and form a heart as a memorial on the front lawn of David Allen Memorial Ballpark on Saturday to Joan Allen, who died Friday at 82. Flowers with miniature bats also were added to the memorial. (Dave Ruthenberg / Enid News & Eagle)

There have been many exciting moments over the past decade or so at David Allen Memorial Ballpark. But, for me, one of the most touching moments occurred around about the sixth or seventh inning on May 31, 2019.

A packed house was on hand for the NJCAA Division II World Series championship game between the hometown Northern Oklahoma College Enid Jets and Mesa (Ariz.) Thunderbirds when public address announcer Tom Nelson addressed the festive throng.

Dave Ruthenberg

Nelson directed the fans' attention to the Jack Douma room along the first base line where Joan Allen was watching the game. Nelson told the crowd about the origins of David Allen Memorial Ballpark and how Paul and Joan Allen were primarily responsible for the beautiful ballpark that has been host to around 5,000 games or so since its opening in 1999. He asked the fans to thank the Allens.

At that moment, the record-shattering 4,220 in attendance turned to the first base line and applauded, cheered and thanked the Allens. It was one of the most heartfelt moments I have experienced at David Allen. It was genuinely from the heart as the community and fans from Mesa saluted Joan Allen (Paul was not able to attend this night).

That moment seems even more poignant following the sad news of Joan Allen's death this past Friday.

In the 11th year of hosting the World Series, the Jets went on that night to win the World Series for the first time in their history, defeating Mesa 5-4. It was undoubtedly a special moment for Joan as she got to see the Jets win a championship.

Joan was in frail health, but she was there, accompanied by her caretaker. She wasn't going to miss this, especially not at the ballpark that she and Paul gave to Enid in memory of their son.

David Allen played baseball for Enid High School and played American Legion ball, but tragedy struck shortly after high school graduation when, as a freshman at Trinity University in 1978, he was struck by a drunken driver and fell into a coma. He emerged from the coma but was left with debilitating, disabling injuries that initially prevented him from doing even the simplest functions.

David recovered to a degree, learning again how to walk and talk. He even went to work for the Allens' family business, Advance Foods. However, David died in 1995 at age 35 from complications related to the injuries suffered in that terrible accident.

From that tragedy, came what has become Enid's sporting crown jewel, considered one of the best small ballparks in America. And one of the busiest.

For a few years, my wife and I served as the host family for the umpires during the World Series, taking over the tremendous job done in that regard by the Ecksteins. Between the two of us, Deb really was the host more so than I and between her duties sat in the Douma room along the first base line and got to know Paul and Joan Allen.

The kindness exhibited by the Allens toward Deb likely would not surprise anybody in Enid who has known the Allens. Their love of baseball, the ballpark and Enid was obvious and the love of the community in return was equally palpable.

News of Joan's death on Friday at 82 was felt beyond the baseball community of course as she was active in many civic fronts, including the Enid Symphony Orchestra, where she spearheaded a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign. Oh, she also was an accomplished pilot.

But the ballpark will always hold a most unique and special place for Enid.

Ballpark director Bill Mayberry, who has been entrusted with stewardship of the ballpark, told the Enid News & Eagle on Saturday "she was the ultimate dugout mom."

"She had a friendship with the players that transcended through the ages," he said.

By Saturday morning, on the lawn leading up to the ballpark entrance, baseballs spelled out "Joan" within a heart also outlined by baseballs. By the afternoon, flowers with little baseball bats appeared within the heart as players, past and present, stopped by.

A public memorial service is planned for Monday at 6 p.m. at David Allen Memorial Ballpark.

David Allen Memorial Ballpark was never more lively than it was on May 31 when the city celebrated the Jets' winning a World Series title. While we mourn Joan's passing, it should bring a smile to anyone to know that the enduring image for her was seeing such a celebration at the ballpark that bears the name of her son.

It was a memorable night, and now, a wonderful way to remember Joan Allen.

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Ruthenberg is sports editor for the Enid News & Eagle. He can be reached at daver@enidnews.com.

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