By Kendra Tobes
Today is quiet in my home after the many family and friends paid their respects and shared the times they had with my husband. A few days after the funeral, Norm Scherzer asked me to write an article and share things you may not have known about this “mentch.”
In Yiddish, a mentch is a person who is good, kind and does things for others without need of accolades. Allan was that kind of person. He was tough when he had to be tough, but underneath he was a pussycat. Even in his last days, when staying awake was a massive effort, he answered questions and gave suggestions to those who asked.
Allan’s giving goes back to his teenage years when he belonged to the synagogue’s youth group. Detroit has a huge Thanksgiving Day parade and Allan would spend the night before the parade blowing up balloons, and sold them the next day to raise funds for the youth group.
If there was a meeting and people needed rides or accommodations, Allan was either arranging for help or doing it himself.
Allan and I met at a meeting of a B’nai B’rith group called “L’Chayim” — to life. He was on a panel; I was in the audience on the opposing side. He later asked some of his friends: “Who was the big-mouth girl in the audience?” We were married two years later.
Allan’s biggest joy was doing for others and that included me. Every night, before he came home, he’d call to see if I needed him to stop for something — even after he’d spent 13 hours at work.
When my son and daughter were younger, after tax season he would take them separately on a three-day trip. My daughter loved to shop and Allan would faithfully wait at all the places while she perused their content. Amusement parks and roller coasters were our son’s love. They became Allan’s, so that he could reconnect with his son.
After we were married, I worked at a school for emotionally disturbed children. Allan was fascinated by my stories, and after I left the school to start a family, they asked Allan to be on their board. He stayed on the board through the school’s transition to a community mental health agency. He helped guide that agency’s merger with another. The combined group started with a budget of $250,000; today it is a $ 9+ million agency. He spent hours negotiating a loan to purchase and renovate three buildings for the agency’s use. He taught the bookkeeper and deputy director how to do the monthly statements and was the confidant for the executive director.
<>Allan has always jumped into things with gusto and both feet, always thinking of ways to make things better. When Allan had his heart attack in 1987, he found out everything he could about what happened to him and how to improve his life. For the next 19 years — including two weeks before he died — he rose at 5:15 a.m. to attend a cardiac rehab facility that offered water aerobics at 6:30 a.m. Water was his passion and 6:30 was the only time it was offered. There he made friends with people 20 and 30 years older than himself.
One gentleman with whom Allan was especially close lost his wife and soon became too ill to visit her gravesite, which was about four hours north of where we lived. Allan picked up the gentleman and drove him there, helped him find the gravesite and then drove him home. Allan never complained about the drive, only how much he enjoyed this man’s company.
This was not unusual. When the people from cardiac rehab wanted to have a social gathering, Allan arranged it. When someone failed to show up for rehab, he called to check on them and offered to pick them up.
He always was friendly with the rehab staff and was interested in their lives, offering help or recommendations. Soon, he became an active member of the local American Heart Association and did some work on the state level.
During this time Allan became active on other boards. One was for a halfway house on the west side of the state, a two-hour drive away. He drove most of the time and took others as well.
Another board met at 8 a.m. in downtown Detroit. He would do his cardiac rehab in the morning, drive downtown for the meeting, and then begin his work day. Sometimes he’d have another meeting after work. He was able to accomplish more in one day than some people accomplished in a month.
Allan waited all winter for summer to arrive. Some late spring days, even though the temperature wasn’t the best for boating, he would tell me to bundle up and we would go “out to the lake.” He would drive our little ski boat around, knowing that very soon we’d be enjoying the warmth of the sun and the calmness of the water.
Allan was not always known for his patience, but when it came to teaching someone how to water ski, he had all the patience in the world. He would keep trying until his “student” either skied or was worn out.
A friend of ours, Joe, likes to share this story: Allan took Joe out water skiing one day. Now Joe was an accomplished water skier, but on this particular day, Joe fell in. Instead of coming quickly to pick Joe up, Allan merely checked to make sure he was OK, then turned the boat and started heading off.
“What’s up man?” Joe yelled.
Allan replied, “How long can you tread water?” using a line from a Bill Cosby skit they had heard. They had a great laugh before Joe continued skiing.
Allan’s greatest joys were his granddaughters, Emily, 4, and Shelby, 21 months. Every day last summer, one of the best summers we had in Michigan, we were out at the lake and so were the girls. My children were raised by the water and loved it as much as their father. Emily and Shelby were there, too.
Emily wanted her “Papa” to take her in the water and indeed he did. Emily is a fish and Allan was so proud to watch her swim and jump into his arms.
The Life Raft Group was another of his passions. When he was diagnosed with GIST, he found out as much as he could about the disease. There was no support group in the Detroit area, so Allan took it upon himself to start one. He noted the names of people from the Detroit metropolitan area who were posting to the Life Raft list and invited them to a meeting at Gilda’s that he’d arranged.
He encouraged people to talk about their issues and had no qualms talking about the physicians — in spite of Gilda’s policy against possible “doctor bashing.” Gilda’s usually supplied a support person to help run the meetings. That went by the wayside, as Allan took over. He arranged the dates, speakers if the group wanted one, and led the meetings.
When invited to be part of the Life Raft board, he worked hard to help support the organization. He was thrilled with the recent research money from Novartis and made known his recommendations as to how it should be used.
Allan was a fighter for anything he believed worthwhile. Sometimes he was quite vocal, sometimes quiet, but always in an intelligent, articulate manner.
I could continue for many pages about the many things Allan accomplished in his life, but the most telling was how people respected him even until the end. When Allan came home from the hospital this last time, we set him up in our library. People began coming from Chicago, Florida and Ohio to tell him how much he had meant to them and how much he was loved.
Allan was extremely active and instrumental in arranging the purchase and renovation of three buildings for the community mental health agency of which we were on the board. As a further tribute to Allan, the executive director arranged with the funeral home for the cortege to pass those buildings on the way to the cemetery. As the cortege passed, standing outside were the people Allan helped to have a clean and appropriate place to do their work, standing and giving their respects.
Soon there will be a boardroom at this agency named in his honor with his portrait on the wall to remind all of how instrumental he was in the lives of others. Allan would have been proud but with humility.
Allan was a great husband, father, grandfather and friend. Everyone he met, from the grocery store clerk to the people at the cleaners, became his friends. They enjoyed talking and being with him. We have been blessed by his being.
I would like to share some words written by one of the executive directors:
“… There are no words that can convey how much he was appreciated or how much he will be missed. In helping us fulfill our mission over the years, he has indirectly improved the quality of life for over 50,000 of Detroit’s most fragile and needy individuals. And if there is truth in what my grandfather used to say about the true worth of a man, the mark he leaves on this world is determined by the number of lives he has touched, and the number of thank yous he owed, then Allan was a man of tremendous worth.”
I have seen Life Rafters, come and they go, and every time, the news hurts me so.
Allan’s departure, is an unworldly loss, It leaves me a wreck, and makes my heart toss.
How can it be, that my friend is now gone?
I wonder aloud, as I rise with the dawn.
He fought so darned hard, to win this life race, And still in the end, he just had to face, The starkest reality, for “Rafters” for sure, Is that this gist cancer bites, there is now no known cure.
Why can’t I shake, this feeling so hollow?
Perhaps in his foot steps, someday, I must follow?
Will I long miss, this man’s heart of gold?
Who battled so hard, with courage so bold?
With all his might, he sought ways to live, Yet, all along the way, his love he did give.
This man we called Allan, was an amazing soul, He could reach into your heart, and make you feel whole.
I can see the light in his eyes, and the smile on his face, feel the urgency of friendship, as he quickened the pace.
With him, it was always “what can I do?”
Somehow, he would manage to reach out to you.
His time and his love, were his gift to this group, Without this brave man, we are thrown for a loop.
Our Michigan leader, he paid more than his due We thank God for him and his wife Kendra too.
My Ironman friend, you ran with such speed, and touched many hearts with good thought and good deed.
They say that you’ve finished, reached the end of your race, I will never forget, your love or your face.
The sweetness of friendship cannot ever die, I know this is true, as I say goodbye.
And so like your life, this poem must have end, So, I bid you adieu, my Ironman friend.
By Tom Overley