PORTLAND — Raymond Allen was born during the Great Depression and pinched pennies all his life.
He shopped at discount stores. If something was broken, he fixed it. If he needed something, he often built it himself. His clothes were clean, but worn. And he was a dedicated math teacher who thrived on adventure.
His dedication to saving is now paying off for a new generation of Portland High School students: Allen left more than $1 million to support a scholarship fund at the school where he taugh
t for more than 20 years.
This week both the City Council and the School Board are scheduled to honor Allen for his generosity and devotion to past and future generations of local scholars.
Known as “Uncle Ray” to many, Allen established the Mabel C. Anderson Scholarship Fund in 2009. Then, following his death in September 2015, he left nearly the entirety of his estate to support the scholarship in perpetuity.
“The legacy of Raymond W. Allen gives the city of Portland a rare example of a local man devoted to others, whose personal sacrifices have created and will continue to create opportunities for local students for many years to come,” according to a joint council-School Board resolution.
In a memo to board members, Superintendent of Schools Xavier Botana said the “Portland Public Schools … thanks Mr. Raymond W. Allen for his incredible generosity and support of Portland’s schools and students.”
Botana said Allen started the scholarship with a donation of $15,000 and then continued to contribute to the fund over the years. Now, with a final accounting, it totals nearly $1.2 million.
This year, six Portland High School graduates received Mabel C. Anderson Scholarships, which are awarded to students who are in good academic standing, with good attendance, and who have been accepted to four-year college programs in science or mathematics, Botana said.
This is the largest number of students to receive the scholarship since its inception, according to Botana. Each student received $8,000 to support their studies and Botana called the fund “a wonderful example of generosity and commitment to public education in Portland.”
Joanne Nelson is the executrix of Allen’s estate; she said he named the scholarship for her grandmother. Nelson thinks of herself as Allen’s niece and said “he was a big part of our family.”
“We suspected over the years that he might be secretly rich,” she said this week. “We knew he was smart and had stocks in various companies, (so) I was not surprised, after discovering that there was indeed a lot of money, that he wanted to do something important and meaningful with it.”
What she most remembers about Allen is his “kindness, his love for his family (and) his open heart and generosity to those in need.”
“Uncle Ray” taught at PHS for 22 years, she said, and “understood the importance of giving students encouragement because they could potentially make positive contributions for all of us.
“If you saw him out shopping at the discount store, you might see him as someone to avoid, not worth your time or attention, and you would miss the opportunity to meet a great man.”
Nelson said Allen was virtually adopted by her grandmother.
She said during the depression years, Mabel Anderson, who lived near the former Union Station on St. John Street, was well known as “a kind woman,” who might give food to the men who rode the rails looking for work.
“They would stand in her backyard and yell, ‘hey lady,’ and she would put together a bag lunch from what she had available and hand it to them out her kitchen window,” Nelson said.
Her father was Anderson’s youngest child and when he was 11, Allen “was born to a young mother who needed help caring for him,” Nelson said. “Mabel opened up her arms and her heart (and) gave Raymond a loving, supportive home.”
Throughout his life, Nelson said Allen came to know “the joy of traveling to new places, finding work you are passionate about, enjoying a good, home-cooked meal, giving those in need a hand up, not a handout, and having faith in the abilities of the younger generation.”
And Nelson’s message to recipients of the Mabel C. Anderson scholarship, both past and future, is, “Base your vision of success on the lives you touch, not on what you can acquire for yourself … (and) have a positive influence on your piece of the world, large or small.”
In addition to his contributions to the Portland schools, Allen was also known for giving out Christmas presents to neighborhood children and for building one of the first clay tennis courts in Deering Oaks Park, according to the city resolution.
Allen attended Portland High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from Boston University before studying for a master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During World War II, Allen served as “a covert investigator and sharpshooter for the Army,” according to the resolution.
He was also an outstanding athlete who nearly made the U.S. Olympic swim team.
After being discharged from the Army, Allen began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Pownal. He also taught night school at the University of Southern Maine and held electronics classes in his own basement before being hired at Portland High School.
Overall, “Allen led an austere life, depriving himself of many comforts while taking pleasure in … helping others,” the joint resolution says.