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Briggs: Saying goodbye to 'one of the greatest women you’ll ever meet'

Esther Allen, 88, died Dec. 18, 2022 in Moorhead after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. She paved the way for generations of women, including me.

EstherAllen1
Esther Allen was a beloved community leader from Moorhead. She died Dec. 18, 2022 at 88.
Contributed/Sanford Hospital
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MOORHEAD — Sometimes you don’t realize you’re encountering greatness when you’re smack dab in the middle of it. Maybe it’s because that 'greatness' is funny and warm with arms that hug so tight they make everything else go away. But make no mistake about it, Esther Allen was all of those things — not to mention, kind, generous, and a gosh-darn force of nature.

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Esther Allen was a respected community leader in Fargo-Moorhead for decades before her death Dec. 18. 2022.
Contributed / Cindy Rogness

Esther might have been small in stature but she was larger than life in the people she inspired and the legacy she left in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Listen to this story on Tracy's podcast

From Nekoma to D.C.

Esther grew up on a farm near Nekoma, North Dakota with her close-knit family. After graduating from Nekoma High School, she moved to Moorhead to attend Concordia College. After graduation in 1955, she began her career teaching business and speech in Clinton, Minnesota before moving to Washington, D.C. to work for North Dakota Sen. Bill Langer.

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Esther Allen worked for North Dakota Sen. Bill Langer in Washington, D.C. in the late 1950s.
Contributed / Cindy Rogness

According to her obituary, it was in Washington that she met the love of her life, Clyde Allen, while taking dance lessons. It was Oct 10, 1957.

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"That was nearly 24,000 days ago," the bereaved Clyde said the other day with a twinkle in his eye.

He said in Esther's last days as he sat by her bedside, he googled how many days he had spent with his beloved wife. Not enough.

Clyde, a Massachusetts native and recent Yale graduate working for the National Security Administration in D.C., was immediately smitten with the North Dakota farm girl.

"She was cute, bright and fun! We hit it off," he says.

That's an understatement. They were engaged just 49 days later on Thanksgiving. They were married for 64 years and had two children; Cindy and Scott.

The Allen family lived in Bloomington, Minnesota for 20 years before moving to Moorhead in 1983 when Clyde took a position as Treasurer and Vice President of Financial Affairs at Concordia.

Meeting Esther

I first met Esther on one of the worst days of my life. It was Christmas Eve, 1992 and my mom had died suddenly of a brain aneurysm at age 55. I’ll never forget sitting in my dad’s office at MeritCare Hospital. My dad, sister, brother, and I were still in shock, having just left my mom’s hospital room where we had just said our goodbyes. We were in a fog when Esther and Clyde walked through the door. They were the first people we saw after the death.

I don’t even remember the words they said, I just remember Esther enveloping all of us in her arms and squeezing so tight, she manifested in all of us the physical sense that we weren’t alone.

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The Allens didn’t stay long. When they left, I remember Dad saying, “there goes one of the greatest women you’ll ever meet.”

Dad was a longtime administrator at the hospital and he explained that Esther was the first woman on the board of directors of what was then St. Luke's Hospital (the name of the hospital was later changed to MeritCare, now Sanford). That board service was just one of her impressive achievements.

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Esther Allen was the first woman to serve on the Board of Directors at St. Lukes (now Sanford) Hospital. She later served as Board Chair.
Contributed / Sanford Hospital

According to her obituary, Esther served as President of United Way of Cass-Clay, and not only was she the first woman on St. Luke’s Hospital board, she also chaired that board and received the first Esther H. Allen MeritCare Humanitarian Award, an award that can be viewed in the halls of Sanford on Broadway.

Nonprofit work was a passion. She was instrumental in starting the Parish Nurse program and the Women’s Fund, now part of the FM Area Foundation. She was also awarded a YWCA Woman of the Year award in the category of Volunteerism.

If we listed all the things Esther was involved in, it would fill a book!
A quote from Esther Allen's obituary

Retired professor Marilyn Guy — who also has an impressive resume in leadership roles in Fargo-Moorhead, including serving as interim president of Oak Grove Lutheran School — said Esther was “always a cheerleader for women and took the time necessary to write many personal notes.”

Guy explained what happened after she was the only person on a local board to take an opposing stand on a controversial topic.

“Esther wrote me the nicest and most humorous note supporting my position. The organization later reversed its position but my greatest feelings of accomplishment came from Esther’s note. I have kept it and still read it whenever I find myself in situations where people have differing views. Esther was able to discern what is right and best in so many situations and she had the courage to reach out to others in a manner that demonstrated encouragement and humor to be long remembered.”

Esther is also remembered by many for her service to Concordia College, where she served as the assistant to President Paul Dovre from 1985 to 1995.

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"I really depended on her," Dovre said.

"When I think of Esther three words come to mind: faith, family and fun!" he said with a big laugh. "In her case, those three definitely went together."

Dovre said Clyde and Esther's home, whether in Moorhead or at the lake, was always a gathering place for their vast circle of loved ones, friends and family alike. And it was Esther who always made sure everyone had enough to eat and was having fun.

"And if they weren't having fun she'd come out in a funny costume or start talking in a brogue. She made sure everyone was entertained and cared for," He said.

Dovre said Esther was also incredibly compassionate and "had an eye" for those with special needs as well as being a champion for women.

One of Esther's proudest achievements at Concordia was organizing the 1995 visit from the King and Queen of Norway to campus. In recognition, received The Royal Norwegian Order of Merit. She was also the recipient of Concordia’s Alumni Achievement award.

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Esther Allen was appointed to the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit and awarded the Knight First Class medal and certificate from the Norwegian Consul General Anfin Ullern in a ceremony in Minneapolis in 1996.
Contributed / Concordia College Archives

'I bet you're surprised to see me here!'

Life eventually slowed down for Esther, but I’d still occasionally run into her and Clyde at our church, Trinity Lutheran in Moorhead.

My favorite interactions happened when my dad would come to church with us. It was a big deal when Bruce Briggs came to church. My dad was the kindest and sweetest soul I ever knew, but he wasn’t a church guy. He just didn’t like it. (Having grown up with a pretty religious mom, he rebelled). However, being a dutiful grandpa, he would attend when my daughters were getting baptized, confirmed, or taking part in a church play. Oftentimes, the Allens would be there as well.

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Clyde and Esther Allen were married for 64 years. They loved to travel, but count some of their happiest days at Lake Lizzie where they once honeymooned and later hosted family and friends.
Contributed / Cindy Rogness

Every time Dad would run into his old friend, the regular-churchgoing Esther, in the church hallway, Dad would say “I bet you’re surprised to see me here!”

They’d share a laugh and a hug and reminisce about the old days. Their joy-filled friendship always made me smile.

After the service, Dad would almost always rave about Esther — how she used her many talents to make our community a better place and how she was a trailblazer for any woman in Fargo-Moorhead seeking to serve in leadership positions. That couldn't have always been easy for her, but because she endured, she made it easier for all of the women who followed. Also, I think, like Marilyn Guy and Paul Dovre, my dad really appreciated that Esther always did her work with a great sense of humor. I think that’s exactly what he tried to do with his professional and community service work as well.

Esther will be remembered for her laughter, her generosity, her passion for helping others and her commitment to making the world a better place.
A quote from Esther Allen's obituary

Dad died in 2019 and I didn’t see much of Esther in the last few years between the pandemic and her battle with Alzheimer’s. What I wouldn’t give to see the two of them share a hug again.

But the other day I had to chuckle when my husband, Mark, suggested maybe they did meet again.

Perhaps when Esther walked through the pearly gates of heaven, on Dec. 18, 2022, Dad was there to greet her just the way he did on his infrequent visits to church:

“Hey Esther, I bet you’re surprised to see me here!”

Then they’d once again share a laugh and a hug and reminisce about the old days.

Rest in peace, dear Esther. Job well done.

Remembering Esther Allen

There will be a celebration of life service for Esther Allen on at 2 p.m., Friday, Jan. 27, with a visitation one hour before the service at Trinity Lutheran Church, Moorhead.

The service will be live-streamed for those who are unable to attend in person. In lieu of flowers, donations are preferred to Concordia College, Trinity or Zion churches.


STEP BACK IN TIME WITH TRACY BRIGGS

Tracy Briggs Back Then with Tracy Briggs online column sig.jpg
Tracy Briggs, "Back Then with Tracy Briggs" columnist.
The Forum

Hi, I'm Tracy Briggs. Thanks for reading my column! I love going "Back Then" every week with stories about interesting people, places and things from our past. Check out a few below. If you have an idea for a story, email me at tracy.briggs@forumcomm.com.

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Tracy Briggs is an Emmy-nominated News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 35 years of experience, in broadcast, print and digital journalism.
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