On October 31, 2021, APBP’s volunteer coordinator Dennis Allen died suddenly. Dennis was a beloved member of our community. As former APBP president Elissa Momen put it, his presence was “powerful and unapologetically real.”
Dennis was a professor in the English Department at West Virginia University for over thirty years. He was a brilliant teacher adored by students and colleagues. At APBP, he supervised student and community interns. One of those students, Charlotte Patterson, recalled her time with Dennis:
I only got to work with Dennis for about three months, but I am so thankful for the three months I was able to spend with him. He was extremely empathic; I felt like I could come to him with any concerns I had and he would always listen, offering sympathy or advice. It was absolutely impossible to have a zoom meeting with him and not laugh–at least once! He always encouraged learning and was eager to hear about the topics I had been researching or learning in class. I always looked forward to our supervision meetings, knowing I would leave in a better mood than I was in earlier in the day. I am so thankful for the time I was able to have with him while at APBP.
Dennis was the only person on the planet who could make email bearable. He made routine communication precious, wild, and personal, a heady mix of Beyoncé, Beavis and Butthead, and Marx. “Without question,” wrote Elissa, “what emerged as most prominent from his being was his wit. I believe humor heals, and so he brought this medicinal quality to his immediate surroundings. All evidence points to a gigantic heart. His commitment to this population of folks we so love was undeniable. His contribution was without measure.”
Lydia Welker, APBP’s digital communications coordinator, agreed: “One of my favorite things about Dennis is how funny and clever he was. We emailed several times a week, coordinating book deliveries, social media posts, and other APBP-related tasks. Hidden in those messages were dozens of inside jokes spanning months and months. And, of course, he was a notorious night owl; some of our best conversations happened over email in the early hours of the morning. His name still pops up as my most frequently suggested contact. I miss him terribly.”
In addition to his work with students, Dennis handled APBP special requests. A special request is a letter asking for a book or a genre we don’t have. It was important to Dennis that we send people what they most wanted to read. To respond to these letters, he built a large and vibrant online community. Here’s how he described this process:
Special requests are for those people in search of one very, very specific thing. So, if someone is looking for a book on how to build a ‘battle-bot’—which is a request we’ve gotten—we could go and get a novel and send it to him. But he’s not going to be happy. Instead, I get on Facebook and say, ‘Michael wants a battle-bot book! Can anyone help us out?’ When I put up that call, I didn’t know if such a book even existed, but turns out, it does! Someone found a used copy, brought it in, and we sent it off to him. These special request books feel like the good part of Christmas. You can send the book requested and say, “This is exactly what you asked Santa for.”
Former APBP president Judy Panagokos said she always thought of Dennis as “the Book Guy,” a phrase a volunteer used one day to describe the person who randomly appeared in the Aull Center carrying all the right books.
We miss Dennis, his humor, his commitment, that soaring intellect. We miss his kindness. He was the Book Guy. And our irreplaceable friend.
Learn more about Dennis’s legacy at his memorial website.
By Katy Ryan