Oct. 29, 2010

As head manager for Notre Dame’s 1957 football team during his senior year at Notre Dame, Marty Allen had an up-close view of one of the most famous games in college football history, Notre Dame’s 7-0 victory over Oklahoma, which snapped the Sooners’ NCAA-record 47-game winning streak, which still stands today.

Little did Allen know how much more history he would end up seeing from a front-row seat over the next 50 years.

As the long-time chairman of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation and now chairman emeritus and lifetime member of the Foundation’s board of trustees, Allen has been at the forefront of promoting the Foundation’s work of supporting the Ford Presidential Library and Museum. As Allen explains, it was the desire of President Ford not to perpetuate monuments to himself, but instead to provide a unique view of history.

“He did not want it to be a memorial to himself,” says Allen, whose relationship with the 38th President of the United States dated back to Ford’s days as a U.S. congressman representing the Grand Rapids area. “He wanted it to be a living history lesson for young people, and working on that part of it was very special.”

Allen was in the second half of an extremely distinguished and successful career in banking when he was invited to serve on the board of trustees of the newly-established Foundation in 1981. Four years later, Allen received a call from Ford, asking him to become chairman of the Foundation board.

“I hesitated and then reminded him, `Mr. President, I think you’ve forgotten something. I have an undergraduate degree from Notre Dame and a graduate degree from Michigan State,'” recalls Allen of invoking two great rivals of Ford’s alma mater, the University of Michigan. “He replied, `Well, you’ve gotten wiser since you married Sue, a U of M graduate.'”

While Ford’s allegiance to the University of Michigan was famous – the former All-American center on the Wolverines’ football team often had Michigan’s fight song, “Victors,” played at state events – he also had a great affinity for Notre Dame. Ford enjoyed a very close relationship with former Notre Dame president Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, and was awarded both an honorary doctorate and an honorary monogram by Notre Dame. When the NCAA created a lifetime achievement award in President Ford’s honor, Fr. Hesburgh was the first-ever recipient.

Allen accompanied the former president when he addressed the Notre Dame football team before to the 1997 Boston College game, and also when Ford presented the U.S. flag on the field prior to the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.

As they walked to present the flag to a member of the Irish Guard, Ford remarked to Allen, “This is one of the neatest things I’ve ever done.”

The former president then proceeded to give the member of the Irish Guard a full military salute, prompting Allen to observe, “I thought the kid was going to faint.”

In addition to the privilege of a close professional and personal relationship with Ford, Allen has been the recipient of many of his own honors. Reflecting his deep commitment to education, he has been acknowledged with honorary doctorate degrees from Aquinas College and Grand Valley State University, as well as the Harvey Foster Award from Notre Dame’s Alumni Association for his involvement in the University’s athletic activities and his community endeavors.

Allen’s community involvement has been by no means been limited to education. He continues to be involved in human services, community development, religion, sports organizations and philanthropy. Among the many honors bestowed upon him are commendations from the President of the United States and the Governor of Michigan for exceptional service to others. He is also the recipient of the 2009 Michigan Sports Hall of Fame Gerald R. Ford Lifetime Achievement Award “in recognition for his contribution to sports and untiring efforts to improve the quality of life for the people of Michigan.”

“So many of these things really relate to the Notre Dame philosophy of helping others,” says Allen. “From the time I graduated to right now, I’ve tried to take a stewardship approach with time, whatever talent I have, and financially.”

Allen played football as a freshman at Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids, and then was a manager for his final three years. He knew that he wanted to be involved in the Notre Dame student managers program before he ever set foot on campus. But Allen didn’t have any expectations beyond giving the very competitive program his best shot.

“There was no question that I was going to try out for it, but I had no idea if I was going to make it,” says Allen of the process by which he eventually earned the role of head football manager out of nearly 100 candidates from his freshman class.

“I never set goals like that,” he says. “It’s been my nature, if I do take something on, I just work very hard at it.

“A lot of times, that’s how I wound up being the head of a variety of organizations,” Allen says. “I never had those as goals.”

One of the organizations that Allen has found himself heading is Notre Dame’s Monogram Club, serving as president in 1997-98 and also as a member of the Club’s board of directors and in his current role as advisor to the board. Along with the men who immediately preceded and followed him as president, Dan Shannon and Mike Heaton, Allen helped guide the Club to a greater emphasis on supporting the University in issues of greater importance to current and former student-athletes.

“If you look at what the Club and its staff have done on the human services side of things, if you add it all up, it’s quite a lot,” Allen says. “Each year, the Club’s leadership just gets better and better.

“It has been rewarding to work with a group that achieved so much for Notre Dame, and at the same gain new friendships over the 20 years in which I have been involved on the Monogram board.”

Of course, Allen fits right in with a group of great achievers, and he credits much of his success to his experience as a student manager.

“It’s a special experience,” he says.

Allen values so highly his time as a student manager that he and his wife, Sue, donated to the University The Allen Equipment Room, which is located within the Guglielmino Athletics Complex and houses Notre Dame’s football equipment staff and storage facility.

Also located within the Gug is a plaque listing all previous football managers along with a quote from former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz that, in Allen’s view, perfectly sums up the contributions of Notre Dame student managers:

“I have always been extremely impressed with the student managers’ organization at Notre Dame. It is a very unique and impressive organization that supports so many of the varsity athletic programs. The managers play an integral role behind the scenes in support of all of the coaches and players. I wish I could buy 10% of each of their futures as they will truly be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Allen also underwrote the players’ and coaches’ entrance to the facility, and his contribution is noted with another plaque:

This entrance is dedicated to Notre Dame’s student managers – past, present and future – for their support of all varsity sport programs. The managers’ commitment of time, talent and energy serves a vital role in the success of the University’s athletic program, upholding the proud tradition of Notre Dame.

Despite all of his accomplishments, though, Allen values most his family. He and Sue recently celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary, and they have been blessed with five children –son Mike, a 1988 graduate of Notre Dame; son Steve and his wife Maria; and daughter Kat and her husband Rob. The Allens also have six grandchildren – Jaret, Kyra, Jacob, Alex, Sydney and Ty.

“My greatest pleasure is the time I spend with my family,” Allen says.

As a military veteran, an extremely successful businessman, as an honored civic leader, as a champion of education, children and families, and as a friend and confidant of a United States president, Marty Allen will leave a great number of wonderful legacies – but none as important to him and his wife Sue as those children and grandchildren.