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The Kenton community has been very kind to R.E. Allen, but the kindness has been repaid many times over.
Allen’s candy business grew from a company which made a profit its first year of less than one dollar, to a nationwide producer of paper cups and products. In exchange, the Allen family has provided a total of $2.13 million in scholarships to area college-bound seniors.
In recent years, 1,158 Kenton High School graduates and children of International Paper employees have been awarded funding to further their education from a foundation established by Allen and his first wife, Joan.
Allen grew up in Bellefontaine and served with the Fighting Tigers in China during World War II.
“I was in China for a year,” he said, “and I never wanted to go back.”
Upon his return to Ohio, he married Joan, a graduate of Kenton High School, and the couple were attending classes at Ohio State University when they learned in 1947 they were to be starting a family. Allen wanted to begin a candy distribution business in Bellefontaine, but, he recalled, at that time of rationing, an allocation was needed from the government. None were available in Logan County.
An allocation was available in Kenton, Allen was told, and the young couple secured it. They set up their business in a storefront on North Detroit St., Allen recalled, where they paid $10 a month for rent. The former beauty parlor was converted into an office and warehouse for nationally-distributed candy bars and gum.
Allen borrowed his father’s 1937 Buick to secure orders and deliver the product to customers within a 40-mile radius of his new home.
“Dad loaned me his ten-year-old car and I took the back seat out to deliver candy,” he said with a chuckle. “The first year we made a profit of 97 cents.”
The profits increased in following years and soon the Allens were looking to expand. They entered the vending business, filling machines with candy, gum, soft drinks, cigarettes and sandwiches, which were made at their new building. Eight workers prepared and distributed the food to the vending machines from what is now the Michael Angelo’s Pizza building.
The Allens set up their offices on West Ohio Street and again, expanded their products. The company was purchasing bulk candy and placing them in a saran bag which was then sold from display racks. Allen decided he could reduce costs and produce a better container for the candy, so he purchase the necessary equipment and began making the bags in Kenton.
It was the beginning of R.E. Allen, Incorporated.
“I sold the bags for about 15 years,” he recalled. “I bought an airplane and made calls on customers as far west as Denver and all along the East Coast.”
In less than 20 years, Allen had come a long way from his dad’s borrowed Buick and still, he was just getting started. His company expanded into production of Styrofoam products and launched the Aztec Plastic Company.
But it was the challenges of his vending business that set Allen on the path on which he would find the most success.
The cups he used in the machines were delivered by commercial freight, he said.
“They put step ladders or steel rods on top of the cup boxes and damaged the cups,” he said. “They wouldn’t vend, so I bought a cup machine.”
He purchased a building at the corner of Espy and Detroit streets and began making his own cups. It solved the problem of damaged cups, but he soon found the one machine could make enough paper cups in three hours to meet the business’s demand for a week.
“There was all this extra time to make cups,” said Allen, so he began marketing the paper cups he produced in Kenton. “I got into the cup business by accident.”
The business, Imperial Cup, continued to grow and the Allens continued to invest in the Kenton community. They built a warehouse and wholesale business at a new building along the Erie Railroad on the city’s south side and built a second building across the street to meet the growing demand for their paper cups.
By the time he sold the company in 1990 to the Federated Paper Board of New Jersey, the Allens were operating plants in Kenton, Georgia, Maryland, Wisconsin and California, which produced its own sleeves and ink and included a fleet of 60 semi trucks and 100 trailers.
Four years later, the company was sold to International Paper, who continues to be a major employer in the county today.
At the time of the sale, said Edison Klingler, Allen knew each of his Kenton employees and in many cases, their families. Nationally, the company employed more than 800 workers in their plants.
R.E. and the late Joan Allen wanted to give something back to the community which had supported their business adventures since 1947 and set aside $1 million to begin a scholarship fund.
“We wanted to give something back to the community that sponsored us over the years,” said Allen.
This year, the R.E. and Joan S. Allen Scholarships will award $51,000 to graduates of Kenton High School. The scholarships are also available to workers at International Paper and their families and are renewable for up to four years, said Klingler.
Klingler began his term on the scholarship foundation board as a member of the Kenton City Schools Board of Education, but now represents the Allen family as a member of the foundation.
“The scholarships are a great legacy for the Allen family,” said Klingler.
Allen said when he visits the community each spring for the presentation of the awards, he is welcomed warmly.
“People come up to me and shake my hand and thank me everywhere I go here,” he said. “I would have to say we are pretty proud of what we have done.”
By DAN ROBINSON
Times staff writer