Burton Prentice Allen, Jr. – better known as “Pete” – died at his home in Milaca, Minnesota, on Wednesday, April 4, 2012. He was 83. Cause of death was idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (hardening of the lung tissues with no specific cause) and lung cancer.
At the time of his diagnosis, he was given a maximum life expectancy of four years; he lived for eight years. During that time, Pete was appreciative of his mostly good health and to be given the opportunity to complete projects – personally, professionally and within his community. He considered the last few years to be “bonus time,” which was lived with grace, joy and Pete’s humble easygoing attitude. In his final days, Pete broke from his typically reserved Scandinavian nature, and “I love you” was often heard around the Allen family home.
B.P. Allen, Jr. was born in Milaca, Minnesota, on November 23, 1928, to Burton and Stella Thompson Allen. His parents allowed him to pick his own first name, and he was known as just “Pete” until he chose to take his father’s name. He grew up in Wabash, Indiana, where his dad moved in 1933 to start a bank where all others had failed. After graduating from Wabash High School in 1946, he attended Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana, where, for three summers, he rode on the jumping team as part of their Black Horse Troop. Since he came of age as a youngster with a slight build, Pete said he chose horsemanship as a passion and as a sport in which he could excel. He returned to Culver for the following three summers as a drill instructor and handicraft teacher.
Pete went on to graduate from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, with a B.A. major in economics and a fair amount of success on their track team. In 1952, he received his MBA in accounting from the Wharton Graduate Division of the University of Pennsylvania. During his second year in the MBA program, he was asked to teach accounting to undergraduates.
After a brief stint on the audit staff of Arthur Anderson & Co. in Chicago, Pete enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, spending three years as a 1st Lt. and Special Agent of Special Investigations with duty in the US, Germany and London.
In 1956, Pete returned to Milaca to join his father at The First National Bank of Milaca, an institution that has been in the Allen family since 1897. Pete’s father, Burton Sr., was president for many years, as had his grandfather, J.A. Allen, since the early 1900s.
Pete became president and CEO in 1965. “I think I was cut out to be a community banker,” Allen said in a 2011 genealogical interview. “I think that’s what my natural bent was for, to be a part of a small community.”
He credits the bank’s success to “the wonderful and loyal support of the bank staff and board of directors,” on which he remained active as a director until his death.
Pete always took civic responsibility very seriously and was involved at various times with numerous organizations and countless community projects. Of community service, he said, “I think at some stage in life, people have got to do some thinking about what it means to be a good citizen. What does that entail, and what opportunities are there? That's something that I think is important.”
He functioned as the chairman/president of the Milaca Chamber of Commerce (three times), Central Mille Lacs United Way, Milaca Lions Club, Milaca Golf Club, City of Milaca Planning Commission and Milaca Development Corporation. He was a member of the Zion Lutheran Church, American Legion, and VFW and an active leader of the Central Minnesota Council of Boy Scouts. In 2011, Pete and his wife, Thora, were elected to the Milaca High School Hall of Fame for their community service.
Like his father’s before him, Pete’s career in finance extended far beyond his own community bank. As a banker, he was respected on statewide and national levels and served as the president of the Minnesota Bankers Association, director of the American Bankers Association, chairman of the American Institute of Banking and director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. He was also a founder of Falcon National Bank in Foley, Minnesota, and for 12 years, was a director of ECM Publishers in Anoka.
In a small town, personal and professional lives are closely intertwined. As a young banker, Pete dated and married Thora Olson, the beautiful Miss Milaca, whose family lived above the hardware store across the street from the bank. While Pete continued to work at the bank, the couple dated during Thora’s college days at Hamline University in St. Paul, where she graduated with a degree in medical technology.
The couple married in 1959. “Probably that was the happiest day of my life when we got married,” Pete said. “I guess first I was attracted to her because she's so beautiful. Was, and is. And she was very goal-oriented and focused.”
In 1963, Pete and Thora celebrated the birth of their first son, Eric, on the exact day – and hour -- of the grand celebration that marked the opening of First National Bank’s present location. The couple went on to have three more sons, Andrew, Kirby and Matthew. “We have four fine sons, all different in every regard,” he noted.
Pete and his family enjoyed life on the Rum River near Milaca, at their cabin on the beach at Mille Lacs Lake, as well as taking long motor home trips. He also enjoyed skiing, golfing, fishing and flying. He got his solo pilots license at age 62, and participated in a 2001 “round the world” airplane derby from Dubai to Bali.
A lifelong passion for Pete was woodworking and tinkering in his workshop. Special projects – and gifts thereof – were marked with “BPA,” Pete’s horse brand from his early days.
Pete loved his antique wooden boat collection. One boat that he refinished sunk immediately on its first excursion into the water, which became an often-repeated and embellished-upon family story. Another of Pete’s classic wooden boats won three top awards at the 2000 Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance Wooden Boat Show. It was donated and now resides in the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota. Yet another boat – a 17-foot 1942 Chris-Craft barrelback -- was recently finished and returned to Pete last fall after more than three years of restoration. Like many of his unfinished projects, Pete was sad to note that he’d never see it in the water.
Pete’s advice for others: “That time wheel goes around faster than one might think. Set some focus of things that a person wants to do, whether they be work accomplishments or pleasure, for fun or travel, or whatever. I think Thora and I had a full, happy life.”
He is survived by his “loved and loving wife” of 52 years, Thora; four sons, Eric (Los Angeles), Andrew (Brooklyn Park, MN), Kirby (Onamia, MN), Matthew (Denver); granddaughter Hailey; cousins, Bill Thompson (Wayzata, MN), John Allen (Coon Rapids, MN), Bob Allen (Byron, CA); and many other relatives, including special nieces, Sherrie Allen Sargent (Highland, IL), Kim Monson (Ramsey, MN) and Candy Binsfeld (Lafayette, CO).
He is preceded in death by his parents, Burton and Stella Allen; a brother, John Thompson “Jack” Allen; a sister-in-law, Margaret Allen and a nephew, Michael “Mac” McKee Allen.
Memorial services will be a visitation with family at Trinity Lutheran Church in Milaca on Friday, April 20 from 5-8 p.m. A funeral service will be held at Trinity at 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 21, with a reception following at the Phoenix Banquet Center in Milaca.
Memorials are preferred to the Milaca Scholarship Foundation, the Zion Lutheran Church in Milaca or donors’ choice.