North Texas Daily

Mathematics professor reflects on years at UNT

Mathematics professor reflects on years at UNT

Mathematics professor reflects on years at UNT
September 17
23:38 2014

Logan Nyquist / Staff Writer

Professor John Ed Allen has taught mathematics at UNT longer than most traditional students’ parents have been alive. With over half a century of teaching experience, Allen adds to the diversity of campus life, while subtracting from the divisiveness of generational differences.

Allen was born and raised in the remote woods of northern Louisiana. Even today, the location is only relatable by its proximity to the nearest county.

“My father had a saw mill and would pay farmers to cut their trees for lumber,” he said. “He built our home from the lumber he sawed himself. We had no plumbing, no running water and no electricity until I was nearly a teenager.”

Born Nov. 18, 1937, Allen is one of three children who, from modest beginnings, would all become successful teachers.

“As a kid, you don’t realize how poor you are until later,” said Allen, who worked at the mill. “It was hard work, but it created a good sense of work ethic — no work, no eat.”

Inspired to seek the mind instead of the mill, he dedicated himself to the pursuit of mathematics. In May 1963, Allen received his doctorate from Oklahoma State University at age 25.

“I sent out three teaching applications. Two responded, one in Louisiana and the other in Texas. I chose North Texas because it was the most unfamiliar of the two,” Allen said. “We moved to Denton in June 1963, where I got my first teaching job, only a week after my first daughter Jennifer was born.”

He and his wife made their journey from Louisiana the old-fashioned way.

“When we moved from Louisiana to Texas, it was before seat belts and car seats,” he said. “We used a large plastic tub full of blankets and cloth as padding for Jennifer’s car seat.”

Eventually the Allens would raise two more daughters and purchase their first home in Denton.

“Our faculty and friends told us that we should begin looking to buy a house. We fell in love with this one,” said Allen, as he lifted is palms toward his ceiling.

“When we bought the house, the down payment was $250, and our monthly payments were $101,” Allen said. “I made $7,500 annually teaching, and yet we always seemed to run out of money. So, we would eat what we had and wait until our next paycheck came.”

Most professors usually teach two or three classes per semester and spend a great deal of time getting research grants over the summer.

“Back then, every spring and fall semester we taught five classes Monday through Saturday,” Allen said. “During the summer, we taught three classes Tuesday through Saturday, over one long nine-to-ten week semester.”

18_oldprof_web2

Dr. John Ed Allen lectures during his MATH 2730 class on Wednesday in Sage Hall. This year marks Dr. Allen’s 52nd year at UNT.

By 1969, the Allen family had outgrown their 1,500-square foot home in northeast Denton on what is known to locals as Idiot’s Hill. While there are many rumors to how Idiot’s Hill got its name, as a resident for over five decades, Allen stakes his claim to the title without taking insult.

“It’s called Idiot’s Hill because, at one point in time, this was considered too far from town and only an idiot would live so far from where they worked,” he said, grinning with approval.

The family considered moving to the Montecito subdivision, but Allen said the houses were too expensive.

“My neighbor was a homebuilder and I asked if it were possible to build an upstairs to my house. He said the house was strong and well-built and so we did,” Allen said.

The house more than doubled in size from the 1969 renovation and accommodated Allen’s family well. Over the next 25 years, it would undergo further additions.

“We added on to the dining room in 1994 and redid the kitchen, too,” he said. “I’ve even replaced most of the old windows so that I’m now able to get a crosswind from any direction in the house.”

From 1976-1999, Allen was the department chair of mathematics.

“I appreciated John when he was chair,” Associate Professor of Mathematics Joseph Iaia said. “He took care of a lot of things, always checked in with people, and did it all without complaining.”

Iaia first met John in 1991, when he was hired to the university’s math department. Nine years later he would marry one of Allen’s daughters to become his son-in-law.

More recently, Allen was the associate dean and director of Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, a two-year curriculum for high school-aged students interested in math and science.

Allen officially retired in 2011. However, he has yet to retire from teaching altogether.

“Even though I’m still teaching three courses this semester, retirement has made a great difference in my happiness,” Allen said. “I’m happier because I just teach. I’m not dealing with administrators, any committee work, or faculty meetings. Just teaching.”   

One place Allen can be found when he is not in the office or classroom is in his ornate backyard, gardening.

“I grow corn, squash, beans, peas, tomatoes, basil, thyme, lavender, and peppers just to name a few. This year I grew eggplant, gathered over 120 ears of corn, and over three gallons of figs,” Allen said.  “My twin sister moved back to the farm we grew up on and, as a way to stay connected to my roots, I’ve brought many plant cuttings back with me from the farm to grow in my garden.”

Allen’s backyard is outlined by a portrait-like walking path, framed within the walls of nature. Amongst the African lilies and white oaks sits a flush garden, ornate and decorated with ripe vegetables ready for picking. 

Apart from his already healthy hobbies, Allen is a regular patron at the Pohl Recreation Center.

“We see John all the time,” Director of Recreational Sports Laurie Klein said. “Sometimes we see him twice a day.”

With over 50 years of teaching under his belt, Allen has done his part.

“I probably will stop teaching eventually, as I’m beginning think more seriously about it,” Allen said. “But as for now, there is no real end in sight.”

Allen said he is proud of how much UNT has achieved throughout the years.

“I’ve seen the university grow in a positive direction and become one of the best schools in the state,” he said. “I would like to see the university pay more interest and attention to teaching functions, because teaching occurs in a lot of different ways. But overall, UNT is on the right track. They should just keep doing what they’re doing.”

Featured Image: Dr. John Ed Allen sits in his office during his office hours on Tuesday in the General Academic Building. Dr. Allen teaches math courses 1650, 2700, and 2730. Photos by Devin Dakota – Staff Photographer

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