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Remembering Mr. Olympic Center

Denny Allen dies unexpectedly, memorial events set

February 8, 2019
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor (aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - The state Olympic Regional Development Authority flag in front of the Olympic Center was lowered to half mast this week as the community began mourning R. Dennis "Denny" Allen, who died unexpectedly Friday, Feb. 1 at the age of 64.

A Lake Placid native, Allen retired in April 2018 as the Olympic Center's longtime general manager.

"On behalf of the Olympic Authority, we are deeply saddened and heartbroken by the passing of our longtime friend and colleague," said ORDA President/CEO Mike Pratt in a prepared statement. "From the very beginning, Denny was a fixture of the Olympic Center and the Authority, where he served for 36 years."

Article Photos

Former Olympic Center General Manager Denny Allen poses on April 20, 2018 at the Herb Brooks Arena before retiring from the state Olympic Regional Development Authority.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

Allen's death came as a surprise to many, including his cousin, town of North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi.

"It's one of those unfortunate things that hit you between the eyes with a brick," Politi said Sunday, Feb. 3. "You just don't expect these things. You can't figure it out. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason."

As soon as his death was confirmed on Friday, tributes began being posted by members of the community on Facebook. A post by Desperados Restaurant in Lake Placid summed up the feelings of many.

"Some people are friends, some people are community legends, some people are known for their true goodness and kindness all around the world. Denny Allen was quite literally all of these things to us, and more. To the incomparably iconic Denny, who will be deeply missed by far too many to count, may he rest in peace."

Sue (Ortloff) Cameron, who graduated from the Lake Placid High School with Allen in 1972, posted a number of photos on her Facebook page, including images from a hockey game, the senior play and being crowned king of the 1972 LPHS Winter Carnival.

"Denny always had the best sense of humor," Cameron wrote. "I remember the time he 'accidentally' threw all my books out the 3rd floor window in English class. I still to this day am not sure if he meant to or if they just slipped out of his hands. He would never divulge the truth."

Cameron was the volunteer director for the International Children's Winter Games in early January and shared an image of Allen's ICWG volunteer credential and some memories of that time together.

"We laughed about how times had changed since his retirement and his Volunteer status. And he told me about the plans he and Karen had for their next travel adventures. Denny was always so proud of 'his' arena and his staff. He never put himself above what he would ask of other people. His staff loved him and he them. ... And he would probably kill me for posting some of these yearbook photos."

On April 27, 2018 - the day Allen retired from ORDA - his friends held a surprise party for him at the Top of the Park restaurant, where Politi handed him a key to the town of North Elba, an honor only reserved "for special people."

"Denny was a one-of-a-kind guy," Politi said. "Everybody loved him. He was a great ambassador for Lake Placid. He was a great supporter of all of our youth programs. He took a lot of pride in getting the kids into sport activities, especially the winter sports activities.

"The amazing thing about Denny is I don't know anybody who didn't like him, even when he said no. Denny was that kind of a person."

Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall said Sunday, Feb. 3, that whenever he got a phone call from Allen, he knew he was calling for something that was worthwhile.

"He's a guy that cared about everything," Randall said. "He cared about the people around him. He cared about the community. He cared about our young people. I can't say enough good about him."

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Memorial services

Calling hours for Allen will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7 at the M. B. Clark Funeral Home in Lake Placid. A Mass of Christian Burial - essentially the funeral - will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 8 at the Olympic Center's 1980 Rink Herb Brooks Arena with the Rev. John Yonkovig, of St. Agnes Catholic Church, officiating.

The village of Lake Placid has granted use of the Main Street parking lot between Stewart's and High Peaks Cyclery, as well as the lower half of the Main Street lot, for those attending Allen's memorial service at the Olympic Center. Additional parking is available in the Wesvalley lot with shuttles to the Olympic Center beginning at 9 a.m.

On Friday night, from 7 to 9, there will be an Open Skate Memorial for Allen at the Olympic Speedskating Oval. There will be free skate rentals.

"Everyone is especially encouraged to attend at 8 p.m. when there will be a brief ceremony to honor Denny's legacy," said co-organizer Greg Borzilleri said. "A one-lap skate/walk-around, passing of the torch, a lighted lantern release and a final good-bye will be celebrated."

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Tough week at ORDA

Monday morning, Feb. 4, the mood at ORDA was somber, according to Director of Events Jeff Potter. Most employees were in shock.

"It kind of knocks you for a loop," Potter said Monday. "It's surreal. I can't even wrap my head around it. Everybody's just a little bit stunned. He was a fixture of Lake Placid and the organization. Even though he retired nine months ago, his presence was still felt. He volunteered for some events, and he was here for the Children's Games."

In 1985, Potter started as an intern at ORDA, and Allen was the Olympic Center operations manager at the time. Potter called him a mentor.

"He just knew how to get things done," Potter said. "He was a big part of our international success. I think people had a lot of faith in us and in Denny to get the job done and to host good events. That reputation has carried on. He did what it took to make sure an event was successful, whether it's the public or an official or an athlete, that they felt welcomed and that we were doing our best to provide an experience at Lake Placid that was second to none."

Potter said he learned a lot about pride and performance from Allen - work hard and take pride in what you're doing. Allen was always doing things to better the events, the youth and the community.

"He lived that life, and he led by example," Potter said. "People that worked for him had that same mindset, and if they didn't, they moved on."

As they thought about Allen this week, ORDA employees were conjuring up memories of the longtime Olympic Center GM. Potter remembered their work together on the statewide torch runs in 1991 and 1995 to raise money for the U.S. Olympic team. Allen organized the events.

"At the end of the day, we'd have some laughs and share funny stories that happened throughout the day," Potter said. "It was interesting because Denny was a pretty conservative guy when it came to travel in the early years, and he always referred to himself as Curious George. On the torch run, we went down into New York City, and it was pretty comical just the logistics of a small town coming to Manhattan. Basically, we were a circus coming to town."

Having a funeral service in the Herb Brooks Arena is unique, but Friday's memorial events for Allen are fitting, according to Potter.

"I've seen just about every other event - weddings, family reunions, birthday parties and all that," he said, "but never a (funeral) service here at the rink that I can recall.

"He probably wouldn't like all the fanfare that's going on. That's just the kind of guy that he was. He wanted the spotlight to shine on the athletes and the events and the performers. I think it's very appropriate that we honor him where he spent and dedicated a lot of his time. I can tell you, because I lived it with him, there were holidays and probably anniversaries and birthdays that we probably missed with family members as we had events over the years. He spent a lot of his life here and dedicated his life to making it a better place."

Pratt said Allen was much more than the general manager of the Olympic Center.

"He was a valued friend who we could all turn to. His warmth, kindness and generosity was felt by all who knew him. Denny's legacy expands far beyond the Olympic Center, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Allen family."

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Denny Allen's legacy

In an April 20, 2018 interview with the Lake Placid News, Allen said, "I'm healthy, my family's healthy, and it seems like a good time (to retire). I'll take advantage of some free time to do some things in this community that I like to do: hiking and skiing and skating, that type of stuff."

Born on Aug. 26, 1954 at Placid Memorial Hospital, Allen grew up in Lake Placid, the son of Bob and Gloria (Fox) Allen. Gloria was a nursing professional, working at the Lake Placid General Hospital and Placid Memorial Hospital and volunteering her nursing services at major sporting events. Bob worked for the town of North Elba for 25 years and managed the Olympic Arena with the North Elba Park District from 1967 until his retirement in 1981.

Allen played sports in high school, notably hockey and was a member of the Blue Bombers championship hockey team in 1970. At graduation, he received the first Bud Colby Memorial Trophy for outstanding contributions to all sports.

Graduating in 1977 from St. Lawrence University with a bachelor's degree in sociology, Allen returned home to Lake Placid. He worked for Roger P. Kennedy General Contracting and did some carpentry work at the new federal prison in Ray Brook, which was used as the Olympic Village for athletes during the 1980 Winter Olympics.

In August 1978, his old hockey coach, Ray Pratt, was the sports director for the Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee and hired him in the events department as the administrative assistant for the ice sports: ice hockey, figure skating, bobsledding, speedskating and luge.

"That was when I first really got a good taste of what it's like to be in the event business, the planning and the thought that has to go into putting on events," Allen told the News.

During the 1980 Winter Olympics, Allen was the manager of the Olympic Speedskating Oval. After the Olympics, he worked briefly at the federal prison as a prison guard. By 1981, he was at the Olympic Center working for the North Elba Park District and then ORDA in 1982, first as the director of operations, then director of events and finally general manager.

"I think I was one of the first ORDA employees, certainly from this venue," Allen said.

Working at the Olympic Center, he followed in the footsteps of his father. During his career at ORDA, Allen was involved in countless national and international events for figure skating, ice hockey and speedskating, plus numerous concerts and conventions. He was also a consultant and field-of-play supervisor, overseeing ice preparations for short-track speedskating and figure skating for the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Winter Games. In his spare time, he coached and officiated ice hockey and worked closely with the Lake Placid Youth Athletic Association.

As the general manager, he was in charge of the Olympic Speedskating Oval, the Olympic Center arenas (1932 and 1980) and the Lake Placid Conference Center, which opened in 2011.

"It's a pretty demanding job," Allen said. "It's easily six days a week and a lot of times seven days a week."

One of the things Allen enjoyed the most about his job was getting to see the athletes behind the scenes.

"That has been very interesting to me and very rewarding to get to meet some of these people and see how genuinely kind they are and how hard working they are, and how they take so much pride in their performance and their abilities and the training that goes into some of these Olympic athletes."

Allen said Olympic figure skating gold medalist Scott Hamilton was the top athlete he liked working with at the Olympic Center, calling him the "epitome of poise, grace, professionalism."

Some of Allen's biggest accomplishments at ORDA were overseeing the construction of the Lake Placid Conference Center and the improvements at the Olympic Center.

His biggest challenges on the job revolved around the age of the Olympic Center, but he credited his staff with top-notch maintenance of the facilities.

"We've got a dedicated staff that keeps this place going just by ingenuity and grit," he said. "They take a lot of pride in this, and people see that. People feel that."

Asked about regrets, Allen said he wished he could have continued holding concerts at the Olympic Center like ORDA did in the 1980s, "the preparation, the planning, the heartache, and everything about it.

"But it's a huge financial risk and undertaking. To be successful, you really have to do more than one or two because some you'll make some money, some you'll lose some money. ... I miss that."

What kind of boss was Denny Allen?

"He can be a little hard to deal with at times, but he has a big heart," Allen said. "And that sometimes gets in his way, but I think he does a pretty good job."

In 2016, Allen joined his parents as a member of the Lake Placid Hall of Fame.

 
 

 

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