LOIS THOMPSON ALLEN
The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At A Glance:
Born: July 7, 1904, Canyon City, Colorado
Died: October 31, 1999
Maiden Name: Lois Katherine Thompson
Race/Nationality/Ethnic Background: Caucasian
Marrried: Andrew Allen, April, 1931
Children: Shirley and Harry
Primary City and County of Residence and Work:
Winnemucca, Humboldt County, Beowawe, Eureka County, Sparks, Sun Valley, Washoe County
Major Fields of Work: Teacher, School Principal, Business Owner
Other Role Identities: Wife, Mother, Foster Parent
Born July 7, 1904, in Canon City, Colorado, Lois Katherine Thompson Allen was the youngest and only girl of four children born to Richard B. and Mattie H. Thompson. The family lived in Canon City, later in Denver, and then moved to Winnemucca, Nevada. After a challenging time in elementary school, Lois graduated from Winnemucca High School.
There’s a bit of an interesting story about that Winnemucca Elementary School. While living in Denver and in elementary school, Lois contracted the dreaded scarlet fever. There were no miracle drugs at that time, so the entire family was quarantined for six weeks. A quarantine meant no school. Just about the time Lois recovered, her youngest brother came down with the same disease and the family was quarantined for another six weeks. Both children missed twelve weeks of school. Shortly thereafter the family moved to Winnemucca, Nevada. Neighbor children there assured Lois and her brother, Harry, that they would be “put back” when they entered the Winnemucca Elementary School. Not to be deterred, Lois got hold of the report cards and school information from Denver, and “promoted” both herself and her brother, not one, but two grades. She figured they’d be “put back” one grade, and since she added an “extra” grade, they would end up where she decided they should be. A small problem arose when they were not held back, and struggled at the new school in grades where they didn’t belong! Truth finally surfaced when their father went to the school to confront the principal regarding the children’s lessons which were way beyond their abilities. Even then they were not “held back”, and both Harry and Lois had to live with her unfortunate decision. Lois remembered the principal’s rule regarding “no talking”. Any child who talked out of turn saw his/her name put on the blackboard. Every time the name appeared, the child was required to stay after school and memorize ten lines of poetry. Never one to be recalcitrant, Lois often said she learned the entire poem, “Evangeline”, while spending many hours after school. It’s interesting to note that Lois and the principal, Miss Jesse Diamond, became good friends many years later when their teaching paths crossed in Carlin Nevada.
After the tempestuous elementary school career and high school graduation, Lois set about her goal of attending college. One way she earned money was to travel by train to various “whistle-stops” in northern Nevada where she sold a hand lotion which her father made from glycerin and rosewater. Once she had sufficient funds she decided to go to Chicago, Illinois, where an older brother lived. She planned to attend Northwestern University. That adventure did not go well after she saw some of the infamous “1920s’ gangster activity” on a Chicago street. She returned to Winnemucca and opted to attend San Jose State Teachers College in California.
Her career at San Jose was good for as long as it lasted. Her grades were good, (except for “Physiology and Hygiene”, when she bought a fancy bracelet with shiny green stones instead of the book for the course.) She got along well with her roommates (a couple of whom were life-long friends), and her social life included attending many dances. Sadly, the dreaded “Spanish flu” epidemic took its toll on Lois, and she returned to Winnemucca, dreadfully ill and unable to continue at San Jose State. Following her recuperation, she attended the University of Nevada Normal School in Reno, and received her teaching certificate.
With certificate in hand, Lois set out to begin her teaching career. At the time, “new ” teachers were required to teach in a “country school” (or “out in the sticks” as she put it). She was assigned to the school in Orovada, Nevada. There she lived with a Basque family where only she and the hired hand spoke English. She rode the bus to school along with the children from different ranches, and learned to eat Basque food (except for “blood pudding”). She later taught in Carlin, Nevada, where one of her assignments was teaching girl’s physical training. The biggest drawback to that, aside from the fact that she did not enjoy physical training, was that the class was held after school. She had no choice in the matter. One of her recollections was having to produce a spring program where all of the students would be involved, dancing, singing, and otherwise performing. Another memory about the Carlin school was the principal Miss Diamond, who was a taskmaster extraordinaire. All the teachers were required to attend church each Sunday with the principal.
Lois taught at the Allen Ranch School, south of Cortez, Nevada. There were a few students from surrounding ranches and the Allen family. The law at that time required at least five students for a school to remain open. As with all schools, the student population varied when children moved in, got old enough to quit, or moved away. The Allen Ranch School was down to three students when the District Superintendent made a visit and wanted to know where the others were. It’s possible there were some vague answers to him, as he permitted the school to remain open until the end of the term. One memory of this teaching assignment was that, as part of her duties, she had to ride a mule several miles to the mailbox. At that time the stage from Beowawe delivered the mail.
About 1930 the elementary school in Beowawe, Nevada, was Lois’s next assignment. The facility was a two-room school and offered no electricity, running water, or heat. The “teacherage” was in the back of the same building. “Facilities” were outside in back, one for girls, and one for boys. There was a large playground with swings, a slide, and a merry-go-round. Some distance from the building there was a water pump where a lucky student could go each day with a bucket to be filled and returned to the coat room at the front of the building. Each student had a tin cup hanging on a nail, and used a dipper to get water. The jail house was next door.
No heat in the building meant the teacher had to ensure there was sufficient wood to keep the wood stove burning and light the fire each day. Andrew Allen (from the Allen Ranch) was working at the Beowawe Mercantile by this time, and he was a member of the School Board. Lois asked him several times to have a load of wood delivered. Didn’t happen. She knew the route he would take when delivering supplies to different customers, so she waited until she knew he’d be driving past the school, whereupon she took a desk from the classroom to the front yard, and proceeded to chop it up when he drove past. The wood was delivered that afternoon.
Lois and Andrew were married in April, 1931. Note the year, as it was during the throes of the Great Depression. The rule was that married women were not permitted to teach in public school if the husband was employed. Andrew still worked at the Beowawe Mercantile, so Lois’s career as a teacher was about to come to an end. The District Superintendent allowed her to continue to teach for the remainder of the year, but she was not permitted to teach after that.
The young couple managed to borrow $500.00 from a friend, purchased the Beowawe Mercantile, and renamed it “Allen Mercantile”. Merchandise came by train, including meat, milk, and coal, as well as general foodstuffs and ice cream. There were a couple of generators to provide electricity. The Humboldt River, which one could usually walk across without getting wet feet, flooded every spring. The water came into their house on more than one occasion. Flood insurance was unheard of, but brooms, mops, and shovels were quite handy. A fire destroyed unwrapped wedding presents. It was difficult operating a general store in a very small town during the Depression. By sheer determination and perseverance, they managed to keep the doors open. Lois often said they didn’t lose any money when the banks failed because they had no money in the bank or anywhere else.
During WWII, Lois handled the Ration Stamps for the community, as well as the store. These had to be accounted for and turned in to the Ration authority at regular intervals. She also helped organize scrap-iron drives. On at least one occasion, two men (Andrew was one), drove two teams of horses with wagons and children volunteers to go around the area and pick up all manner of scrap materials which were then loaded on a railroad car and sent to the war. Everyone tried to help with the war effort, even the Allen family dog. The Army called for dogs to be used in combat, so Lois offered up Teddy, a mongrel of sorts, but a really nice dog. Teddy went off on a train to dog boot-camp, and no more was thought about him. Sometime later, a very nice crate arrived by train, and Teddy was returned, complete with honorable discharge papers and a serial number tattooed on his inner leg. The family decided he was 4-F, a term for those ineligible for the draft.
By 1945, Lois’s parents who lived in Sparks were in declining health. Lois and Andrew realized that their two children faced being boarded out after they completed eighth grade. The Beowawe school included grades one through eight, and if students didn’t leave school altogether after that, they had to board with someone in either Carlin or Elko during the week. It was no longer feasible for them to ride the train alone (too many “Troop” trains), and boarding wasn’t a good idea anyway. With that in mind, Lois and Andrew sold the Allen Mercantile and the two houses they owned, and moved to Sparks.
After arriving in Sparks, they worked at Hansen’s Grocery Store in Sparks, and helped Lois’s parents manage their rental units while their own new grocery store was being built. Lois’s parents passed away in 1946 and the rental units and the new store occupied most of the Allen’s time. When the store finally opened it was operated seven days a week, 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. Despite it being in a good location when built at Prater Way and “B” street, the store ran into decreased customer usage when supermarkets opened, and the change of U.S. 40 to Interstate 80 resulted in major changes in traffic patterns. By the end of the 1940s, the store was just a little neighborhood market.
Lois had been substituting in the Sparks School District for a short time when the District Superintendent John Fant contacted her and asked her to take an interim teacher job at a difficult school. The story was that the students had run off seventeen teachers by Thanksgiving time, snowballing the last one out of the building. This was the original Sun Valley School. Lois said she’d take the job until a full-time person was found. The Sun Valley School was not part of the Washoe County System at that time and had its own school board, comprised of three members.
Lois visited the school, which was in total disarray. She managed to clean up the two classrooms and started the new job, teaching grades one through four. A young male teacher, JayWood Raw, was recruited to teach grades five through eight. There was no law enforcement readily available in Sun Valley, so Lois relied on a friendly neighbor lady to go to school with her each day. This lady was introduced as a person from the Sheriff’s department who would take any troublemakers to the office in Reno. No one knew this lady didn’t even know how to drive. Lois took a large collection of comic books from the store, handed them out to the children to maintain some semblance of order while she sorted out the disaster of books, papers, and other debris. A student who became rowdy, or bullied other students, was sent home not to return until a parent came for reinstatement. JayWood survived the older students for a couple of years and then went to teach in the Sparks schools. He was replaced at the Sun Valley School by Granville Leavitt, who remained there, along with Lois, for several more years. The school eventually became part of the Washoe County School District.
Stories about life at the Sun Valley School are legion. Lois always had the best interests of the students at heart, whether they thought so or not. She learned there was to be a district-wide music festival for grades seven through twelve. Sun Valley School had no music program, but Lois was not deterred. She corralled the seventh and eighth grade girls, made them practice (even on weekends) and learn a couple of songs so they could sing at the festival. They had to wear similar skirts and blouses so she rounded those up for girls who did not have any, and they did participate. Their rating was good, not as high as some, and probably better than others. Lois was determined that these children from a disadvantaged area, could meet and complete with students from the Sparks and Reno schools.
In 1959 Lois appeared on the popular show, “Queen for a Day.” Her wish, if she were to become “Queen”, was for money to provide sufficient milk for all the students in the Sun Valley School. While she didn’t win the coveted prize, it wasn’t long until a federal program provided weekly milk deliveries to the school. Children had milk every day, and even took milk home for the weekend. At some point statistics showed that the Sun Valley School outpaced all similar schools in the United States for milk consumption.
The school was seriously lacking for funds, and had no money for niceties such as paper and books. Lois went to the County Court House and regularly got the paper ballots which went unused after an election. Students used the back of the ballots for their schoolwork. She got old or unused textbooks, story books, and workbooks from other schools, libraries and the like.
One particular memory involved field trips. Lois was not a fan of these trips – she always thought the children learned more by being in school. However, on one occasion she acquiesced and allowed a teacher to plan a field trip to the Nevada Shoe Factory on Sierra Street in Reno. Plans were made, the children ready and waiting, but no bus arrived. Lois had neglected to order the bus. That very afternoon, February 5, 1957, at 1:03 p.m., a gas explosion destroyed the shoe factory and several adjacent buildings. There were two fatalities and more than forty people were hospitalized. The children would have been there at the exact time of the explosion. After reading the graphic descriptions of the carnage, Lois said, “The Lord had his arms around me when I forgot to order the bus.”
Before computers and other electronic methods of keeping attendance records, the principal of any school was required to maintain a Register. Lois took this responsibility very seriously, to the point of taking the Register with her regardless of her destination. When it wasn’t in her office at the school, it was in the trunk of her car, or home on the dining room table. She was meticulous in her record-keeping, and no one else was allowed to work on the Register.
After several years the District planned to build a new school adjacent to the original building. It had started life as the Community Building, a concrete-block structure without much in the way of amenities. As always, unusual plans were circulating in educational circles, and the “round building” came into being. Lois wasn’t totally enthused about the “round building concept”, but took it in stride and worked diligently to see it to completion. At one point during the summertime construction, there was a spate of vandalism, broken windows, graffiti, and the like. Sun Valley still had no law enforcement quartered in the community, so Lois decided she would prevent further damages. Every evening for a few weeks, she took her dog, drove to the school from Sparks, and remained there overnight. She made sure the word got out that there would be someone in the building at night. The vandalism stopped.
In the mid-1950s Lois and Andrew took on the added responsibility of raising two foster children, both boys. A very sad situation in Sun Valley resulted in a family’s seventeen children being removed to foster care. Richard, a special-needs child, and Mike, came to live with the Allen family. They remained part of the family until they graduated from high school.
Lois’s teaching career at the Sun Valley School spanned many assignments, from interim teacher to teacher, teacher/principal, and finally principal. During this time, by sheer determination and boundless effort, attending both summer school and night classes, she obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada. This achievement was followed by earning a principal’s certificate and a Master of Education degree. During the several years of full-time teaching and attending summer school and night classes, she, with Andy, raised their two children plus two male foster children. She cared for her semi-invalid husband, and assisted him in managing the rental properties as well as the grocery store. She was the bookkeeper, accountant, and always prepared their own income taxes.
Lois continued as principal of the Sun Valley School until her retirement. After retirement Lois continued to operate, with her husband, the rental business and the family grocery store in Sparks. They retired from the grocery business about 1965. Lois remained active with the Washoe County Retired Teachers Association and RSVP.
Shortly after Lois’s retirement, the present Lois Allen Elementary School was built on McGuffey Road in Sun Valley. Against her protestations to the contrary, the Washoe County District and members of the Sun Valley community named the new school “Lois Allen Elementary School”. There was a cornerstone-laying ceremony which was attended by community members, students, teachers, staff, administrators and friends. When the grand opening was held, a capacity crowd was in attendance. One of the classes made a quilt and presented it to Lois. The Washoe County School District placed a large brass plaque in the entry of the building. It eloquently described the contributions Lois Allen made to the Sun Valley School, the students, and the community. At the time of Lois’ funeral in November, 1999, a reception was held at the school and, again, a capacity crowd paid tribute to a pioneer teacher in Sun Valley.
Lois Allen can be remembered as a dynamic force in the Valley. She was adamant that the children learned to read. She made it a priority to see that all the children were treated fairly and with compassion. On more than one occasion she reminded a teacher not to put red marks all over a child’s paper, regardless of the quality of the work. Any person who needed some kind of help could go to Lois for advice. She worked behind the scenes to ensure the children did not want. There was never a stronger advocate for Nevada.
Lois passed away on Nevada Day, October 31, 1999, at age 95. It is fitting to know that at her funeral, a music tape of the Lois Allen Elementary School fourth grade chorus was played. The song was “Home Means Nevada.”
Researched Patti Bernard and Arline Laferry. Written by Shirley Allen Mink, Lois’s daughter. Uploaded to Web site July 2016.
Sources of Information:
- Recollections by Shirley Allen Mink
- Marriage of Allan Andrew and Lois Thompson, Reno Evening Gazette, April 6, 1931, p. 4.
- “Happenings in Sparks”, Nevada State Journal, April 7, 1931, p. 3.
- “Miss Lois Thompson Has Gone to Accept Position as Teacher in the Public School”, Nevada State Journal, September 11, 1929, p. 4.
- “Lois Andrew Says Goodbye to Students at Sun Valley School”, Nevada State Journal, June 11, 1970, p. 3.
- “Obituary of Lois Thompson Allen”, Reno Evening Gazette, November 3, 1999, page 3C.
- 1910 United States Federal Census, Colorado, Fremont County, South Canon Ward 1, under Father: Richard Thompson.
- 1920 United States Federal Census, Nevada, Humboldt County, Union (Winnemucca PCT), under Father: Richard Thompson.
- 1930 United States Federal Census, Nevada, Elko County, Carlin.