Local alumni chosen to carry Olympic torch

On Wednesday, Dec. 5, two local Milligan alumni will help carry the Olympic Torch in the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics Torch Relay.
   Dr. Bert Allen of Jonesborough and Craig Hardy of Gray were both nominated and selected for the honor based on their community service and personal embodiment of the Olympic Spirit in their everyday lives.
   Allen is a 1967 graduate of Milligan and is now a professor of psychology at Milligan. Hardy graduated a decade later and is now a financial planner and partner in Williams & Hardy Planning Group in Johnson City. They will each carry the torch for a segment near Asheville, N.C.
   The Olympic Torch Relay will span 46 states in 125 major cities. The relay will begin on Dec. 4 in Atlanta, Ga., and 65 days later the torch will reach its destination in Salt Lake City, Utah. The relay will consist of 11,500 torchbearers running 13,500 miles.
   Allen's story is one of survival and service. In December of 1968, about a year after graduating from Milligan, Allen left the United States for a tour of duty in Vietnam.
   Three weeks after arriving in Vietnam, Allen was injured, along with two fellow soldiers. One soldier suffered spinal cord injuries and the other lost a leg due to a traumatic amputation. Allen's injuries were less serious, but from that night on, "I was scared to death. I prayed every night, and every morning was Thanksgiving," said Allen, who is still scarred by the impact of that war. "Not one day goes by that I do not think back to my experiences there.
   "Before being wounded in Vietnam, war to me was like living in a John Wayne movie. From that point on war was no longer a movie. War became War."
   Allen was awarded The Purple Heart and the Bronze Star medal for his heroism in serving his country. He served 14 months in Vietnam.
   Allen's experience in Vietnam left him with a void that could only be filled by helping others.
   "The war made me realize how precious life is and it taught me valuable life lessons. After witnessing the destruction and damage that I was a part of, I wanted to do something constructive," said Allen.
   After Vietnam, Allen completed his M.Ed. and Ed.D. in counseling psychology at LeHigh University and came to Milligan in 1979 as leader of Student Life and part-time psychology professor. He later assumed the position of head of the psychology program at Milligan, where he continues to play a dominant role in student life, interacting with students and offering counseling services.
   Allen is also very active in the community, volunteering with veterans and homeless work in the region. He is a member of Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans for Peace, and the American Psychological Association. In 1992, he was named a finalist in the J.C. Penney Golden Rule Awards competition for his volunteer services with the Johnson City Medical Center. In 1999, he was presented with the "Innovative Idea of the Year" award by Sprint Yellow Pages for helping write the tobacco education play, Harriet the Rabbit Kicks the Habit.
   Reflecting back on his favorite moments thus far at Milligan, Allen said, "I love being in the classroom and the give-and-take discussion with students. I also love witnessing these young adults grow up and return to Milligan, where we as faculty and staff can see how we have contributed to their success."
   Allen tries to be a role model to students at Milligan. "I want to be a peer to them," he said. "Someone that they can relate with."
   Lori Baimbridge, a senior at Milligan, said that Allen was a source of strength in her time of need.
   "Dr. Allen called me in Oregon over Christmas break to tell me that my best friend had been in a car accident and seriously hurt. He drove me to Knoxville several times to make sure that I got to see her. He was such a blessing for me. He went out of his way to help me. He is truly a man of God and I appreciate him very much," said Baimbridge.
   Allen helps not only students, but their families, as well. Vera Conkin, a junior at Milligan, said, "I cannot sum up Dr. Allen in one word. He has meant so much to me and to my family. My brother is in the military and could be sent to Afghanistan. Dr. Allen calls my house frequently to check on him and my parents."
   Allen has learned and enjoyed seeing students take part in convocation and chapel, going on mission trips, playing sports, and being active in praise and worship.
   "Milligan is a ministry," said Allen, "and I love being a minister."
   Allen recalls the inscription on his college ring. "It says that Christian education is the hope of the world. I truly believe that. I think that with our graduate success and faith-based education, we are changing the world."
   Allen was nominated by Ann Easter, administrative assistant to the student development area. Easter and Allen have worked together for more than 10 years in student development.
   "I can think of no one who deserves this honor more," said Easter. "Bert is honest, kind, and personable. He is respected by his peers and students. He is the most deserving person I know."
   That is why Chevy, sponsor of the Olympic Torch Relay, accepted Allen's nomination and confirmed his place on the 2002 Olympic torch relay team.
   "When Ann told me that she nominated me I was honored and very surprised," said Allen. "I thought that she was kidding. I am now part of a special group of people and I am very honored," said Allen.
   Hardy was as surprised as Allen to learn that he had been selected as an Olympic Torch bearer. So surprised that he initially thought that the letter he received telling him he had been selected was a sales gimmick -- that he had been selected for yet another credit card offer or sweepstakes entry. He didn't read past the first few lines before putting it aside. Only later when his wife and children saw the letter did he realize the enormity of the honor.
   "I'm honored to be nominated and selected because the whole notion of the Olympics is that it is one of mankind's attempts to express the better side of himself," said Hardy, who is an avid outdoorsman. "It is especially appropriate at this time in our history to be involved in such an event."
   Allen will carry the torch on Wednesday at around 10:30 a.m. in Asheville, N.C., on US 25/Hendersonville Road, near the Asheville Racquet Ball Club. Hardy will carry the torch in Greenville, S.C., earlier that morning.
   For more information about the Olympic Torch Relay, visit www.chevy.com.
   Editor's Note: This article was written by Ashley Fine, PR student at Milligan College.