Fort Collins community remembers Joe Allen

Matthew Bailey

A Fort Collins man died last Wednesday in the waters of the Pacific Ocean by Rockaway Beach, Oregon while trying to save his son, who has since been presumed dead.

50-year-old Robert Joseph Allen, who was trying to rescue his son Samuel Vicente Allen, worked at Fossil Ridge High School as an Alternative Cooperative
Education coordinator and teacher. 

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In the week that has passed since Allen’s death, several FRHS coworkers, friends and a student have reached out to The Rocky Mountain Collegian and shared their stories and comments.

“Joe was the kindest person I ever met!” wrote Carol Petruska, a friend and former Safeway coworker of Allen, wrote in an email to The Collegian. “He was a hard worker. He loved his family more than anything. As you can see, he would even risk his own life for them.”

Petruska wrote Allen would always greet her with a warm smile and with the utmost kindness, and he offered her a job when she thought there was no opportunity left for her.

“He will be missed greatly,” Petruska wrote. “God must have needed Joe for something else. What a beautiful soul!”

Lisa Murphy, whose son Michael was in Allen’s ACE program for one semester, described Allen as a person who always had a caring smile who was able to relate to kids with special needs in a way which they enjoyed.

“After my son graduated from high school, we didn’t see Mr. Joe unless we went to the local Safeway store where he was also working,” Murphy wrote to The Collegian. “When he would see my son Michael come into the store, they would immediately start making this sound towards each other that had started when Michael was at the high school and Michael has never forgotten it. It was their thing.”

Murphy wrote that their family is very thankful Allen was a part of their son’s life.

David Van Skiver, a FRHS student who was also in Allen’s ACE program, said Allen was a very nice person who helped him a lot, especially during tough times.

Van Skiver said Allen taught him individual living skills and how to get a job. Van Skiver said that when he failed an advisory class, Allen helped him figure out what to say to his parents.

“I’ll remember the good times I had with him in class, like all the funny jokes he told,” Van Skiver said. “He and I would be able to talk sometimes before and after class. I’m going to miss him so much.”

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Shawna Schade, whose son Dominic was also in Allen’s ACE program, explained how Allen helped her son who suffers from epilepsy in an email to The Collegian.

“My son started Fossil five years ago,” Schade wrote. “I was so worried that he would have a hard time fitting in or be bullied because of his disability. Mr. Allen helped Dominic become a little bit more independent.”

Allen, who was a part of Dominic’s life for the past five years, taught Dominic working skills, such as how to count money and give change back, and he built up Dominic’s confidence overall.

“He was a great man and individual,” Schade said. “He was the type of person that was so selfless and always had a smile on his face. All the kids loved him. He was just a great person all around. He will be greatly missed.”

Jesse Mathews, who taught at FRHS with Allen, described Allen as a friendly, empathetic guy who made FRHS a much more enjoyable place.

Mathews said the way Allen worked with kids was especially inspiring, saying that Allen would never seem to grow impatient and was very exuberant.

“Mainly every day, I would get a coffee and/or a burrito from the School Grounds where he’d work with the kids, teaching them skills,” Mathews said. “He’d help them count change and make drinks. Sometimes when things got hard at work, just taking a little break to go and get a coffee and talk to him was a nice thing to look forward to at work.”

The coffee cart program Mathews would meet Allen at was one of a number of student-run school businesses Allen helped build, FRHS Principal Julie Chaplain said.

“Every morning, our staff members would go there to get coffee, and Joe’s welcoming face would be there every morning to greet them as they came in,” Chaplain said.

Chaplain explained how she worked with Allen as she moved through the administration, saying that as a special education teacher herself, she worked with many kids together with Allen and was able to watch her students grow because of him.

Chaplain said Allen helped change students’ lives, making efforts to partner with other local businesses who could help kids and frequently applying for grants for his students.

“He had a unique way of making kids feel so connected and so valuable,” Chaplain said. “As a person, Joe was one of the kindest, most patient men I’ve ever known, and everybody who came into contact I think immediately felt his warmth and his love.”

Collegian news reporter Matt Bailey can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @MattBailey760.