Allen family establishes endowment in honor of parents

  • NW Foundation

By Natalie Ehrhardt, Communications Specialist

The family of the late Bill and Marthola Allen has established the Bill and Marthola Smith Allen Endowed Scholarship at Northwest Mississippi Community College to honor the two pillars of the Olive Branch community.

Billy Gray “Bill” Allen was born in Cockrum in 1924 to parents William H. Allen and Edith Nora French Allen. He grew up in Cockrum and graduated from Olive Branch High School in the spring of 1942.

Shortly after graduation, he joined the United States Army Air Corps, completing training at the Army Air Forces Gunnery School before being assigned to the 11-man crew of a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber. Stationed on the island of Guam in the north Pacific, Allen flew on numerous bombing missions over Japan during his tour of duty in World War II. He was honorably discharged in February 1946 in the rank of staff sergeant after receiving the U.S. Army Air Medal.

Marthola Smith Allen was born in Dresden, Tennessee, in 1931 to parents Hannibal Woolridge Smith and Ruth Mozelle Maupin. She was raised in Dresden, attending elementary and high school there. Upon graduation, she began nursing school in Memphis.

In 1949, while working for a construction company building the Weakley County Courthouse in Dresden, Bill Allen met his future wife. The couple dated for a few short weeks before he popped the question at the movies, and she said yes. The duo exited the theatre right away and drove to Cockrum to be married.

What began as a whirlwind romance spanned 64 happy years and produced two daughters, Dr. Edith Allen Robinson and Ellen Allen Haraway (wife of former Northwest President, Dr. David Haraway); four grandchildren, Leigh Ellen Robinson Doddridge, Maggie Robinson Yacoubian, Lucia Haraway Nelson, and Dr. Neil Haraway; and 10 great-grandchildren.

After the couple married, they moved around based on Bill Allen’s construction jobs, finally settling in Olive Branch in 1959, when he became a partner in the Almac Construction Company. He was a successful businessman in the community for over 50 years, and as co-owner of Almac, built over 150 new homes in and around Olive Branch from 1970-1990.

Upon his retirement from the construction business, he served DeSoto County by supervising the construction of multiple new school facilities in the county and did not fully retire until the age of 85.

Upon their arrival to town, Marthola Allen took a job as a secretary at their church, First Baptist of Olive Branch. Later, a fellow church member hired her to be the secretary at a local insurance agency, which she ultimately purchased 14 years later, making her one of Olive Branch’s first female business owners. She owned and operated the business for 17 years until she sold it upon retirement. The Payne-Haraway Insurance Agency continues to thrive in the Olive Branch community today.

The Allens were true pillars of the Olive Branch community, serving in many ways over the years.

Bill Allen was elected deacon at the couple’s church in 1959 and served as deacon emeritus there until his death in 2016. Other involvement included serving on the city’s Board of Aldermen; serving on the county’s Board of Supervisors; charter member of the Olive Branch Chamber of Commerce; membership in Olive Branch Rotary since its inception, earning the Paul Harris Fellow Award in 2013; charter member of the Olive Branch Country Club; and director of the Olive Branch Christmas Parade for 10 years, with he and his wife named co-grand marshals of the parade in 1998.

Marthola Allen, a person of strong faith who passed in 2013 at the age of 81, taught Sunday School at church for many years, and was an active participant in Bible Study Fellowship and Community Bible Study. She also served on three Pulpit Committees and chaired one of those committees. In addition, she served on the church’s Building Committee for the construction of its Family Life Center.

Outside of church life, she was a founding member and the first president of the Olive Branch Chamber of Commerce. While serving as president, she led the effort to commission the writing of “The Town of Olive Branch” by Dr. David Haraway in conjunction with the town’s bicentennial celebration in 1976. She was also a longtime member of both the Olive Twigs and the Parent Teacher Association, at one time serving as president of both organizations. Additionally, she served on the board of the DeSoto County Museum for five years.

The couple made a highly impactful contribution to their beloved community when they were instrumental in starting the Olive Branch Volunteer Ambulance Service, for which they both earned EMT certifications and worked as volunteer first responders for 15 years. Their family enjoyed stories of exciting middle-of-the-night ambulance rides at every Sunday dinner, which was served by Marthola, described as a “fabulous” cook.

Both Bill and Marthola Allen have been inducted into the Olive Branch Hall of Fame for their extensive contributions over their lifetimes.

The family has many connections to Northwest. The Allens’ son-in-law, Dr. David Haraway, served for 20 years as the college’s seventh president. Additionally, the Allens’ daughter, Dr. Edith Allen Robinson, her husband, Lundy Robinson, and their two daughters, Leigh Ellen Robinson Doddridge and Maggie Robinson Yacoubian, graduated from Northwest. The Haraways’ son, Dr. Neil Haraway, graduated from Northwest and played baseball for the Rangers during his time as a student. The Haraways’ daughter, Lucia Haraway Nelson, has served as an art instructor at the college’s DeSoto Campus for the past 10 years.  

“It’s just always been a family place with a family atmosphere,” Nelson said. “I feel like Northwest is in my blood. I cut my teeth on art in the art building (in Senatobia) when I was eight years old with Jac Young and Lane Tutor and those guys. One thing I’ll say about all our family is that the love for Northwest runs deep. We’re proud of our history with the college.”

The Bill and Marthola Smith Allen Endowed Scholarship will be awarded to a student from DeSoto County, with preference to those from Olive Branch, who is in nursing or the EMT-Paramedic program. The medical field designation is in honor of Marthola Allen, who was a nursing student when she met her husband and was never able to finish her studies, as well as in recognition of the years of ambulance service the couple provided.