Richard Harris (Dick) Allen, a retired mechanical engineer and scrap metal industry executive, volunteer handyman and patron of the arts in Cincinnati, died Oct. 31 at age 96 at his home in Pasadena, Calif., surrounded by his children.
Friends and family recalled Dick as a calm and helpful presence in the lives of many people, a skeptical and analytical thinker, intolerant of nonsense, confident in his abilities but always kind and gentlemanly, a patient explainer who possessed no need to hurt others.
Allen was born in 1923 and grew up in Cincinnati, the child of Priscilla Harris and Carl Allen, a small businessman. He attended University School, Walnut Hills High School, and Cornell University. He left Cornell in 1943 to enlist in the U.S. Army, which sent him first to Aberdeen, Maryland, in the ordnance department and then to Berkeley, California, to learn Chinese. On May 8, 1945, he sailed from Los Angeles to India, then flew “over the hump” to Kunming and served in the Courier Service in China. The Army gave him compassionate leave a year later to return to Cincinnati to care for his cancer-stricken father. He ultimately graduated with an engineering degree from Cornell University in 1947.
After setting the affairs of his father’s bankrupt steam cooling company, Allen married Barbara Bettman in 1948, and began his career at Crosley Corp., where he worked on projects ranging from gun turrets in the B-29 bomber to home refrigerators; among his many patents was an electric ice cream maker that plugged into the wall and churned inside a freezer.
In 1955, Allen was hired by his cousin, David J. Joseph of the David J. Joseph Co. scrap metal company. During his 28-year career at the firm, its business expanded dramatically, and eventually the Joseph Company became the leading scrap metal firm in the country. Dick opened 13 scrap yards from Utah to Florida where box cars were cut up and automobiles were shredded and the scrap sold to steel mills to be incorporated into new steel.
Shortly after the Environmental Protection Agency came into being, Allen invented an after-burner that removed pollutants from the smoke emitted from rail cars as they were burned to remove non-metallic materials. He also developed one of the first automobile shredders.
A lifelong Democrat and strong believer in civil rights, Allen helped create the first racially integrated private swimming club in Cincinnati, Clinton Hills Swim Club, and co-chaired the North Avondale Neighborhood Association, which fought white flight and helped maintain racial harmony in a neighborhood in which African-Americans had started to settle in the 1960s.
Jewish but a devout atheist, Allen was also skeptical of radicalism, but tried to keep an open mind during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. His son Arthur recalled asking him what hippies were and getting the response, “They’re people who are against the government and the Vietnam War, and maybe they’re right.”
In 1983, at age 60, Allen retired as a senior vice president at DJ Joseph, saying he realized how bored he was with his work when he recorded his pulse at 40 during an office meeting.
During the first 20 years of his retirement, Allen volunteered at least one full day a week at People Working Cooperatively, an organization that provides free upgrades and repairs in the homes of elderly and low-income Cincinnatians. Allen once estimated he visited 2,000 houses during this time.
Retirement was also an opportunity for studying Italian, and Barbara and Dick traveled extensively in Italy, as well as other parts of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. During this time Allen was also chair of the Cincinnati Chamber Music Society as well as the Port Authority of Cincinnati. The Allens often hosted visiting musicians at their North Avondale home. Allen took up downhill skiing at age 40 and skied in the Western mountains two or three times a year with various ski clubs or his children and grandchildren, taking his last downhill run at age 93.
In 2015, with Barbara’s health failing, the couple moved to Pasadena, California, where they lived a few miles from their daughter Emily. Dick is also survived by his daughter Susie (Richard DiCarlo), of New Orleans, sons Nick of Los Angeles and Arthur (Margaret Talbot) of Washington, D.C.; grandchildren Ben Coates (Vivian Lam), Julian Feeley (Phoebe Feeley), Andrea, Isaac, Alexandra, Jacob and Lucy Allen, Rennie and Lyle DiCarlo, and Asi Goralsky Cohen; and great-grandchildren Emma and Juniper Coates, and Josie and Aesop Feeley. He shared 67 years of marriage with his wife Barbara, who died in 2016. His daughter Katie died in 2002. An older brother, Carl Allen, died in 1989.
Funeral services were held in Los Angeles at the Home of Peace cemetery on Nov. 5. Mourners are encouraged to donate to People Working Cooperatively, http://www.pwchomerepairs.org/support-pwc/donate, which repairs the homes of low-income residents in the Greater Cincinnati area.