‘A willingness toward learning’: Non-traditional WKU photojournalism student Dave Allen dies at 58

WKU Faculty member Jonathan Adams, left, poses with his student Dave Allen as they test the lighting for a photo booth at the annual Warren County Health Serviced Fair for Refugee and Immigrant Families.  Dave Allen who died on May 2, 2020 was volunteering with other WKU Photojournalism student to document the families at the event.  Photo by Dalton Puckett

Julianna Lowe

If Dave Allen was anything, he was a perfectionist. 

After earning his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland, a juris doctor degree from the University of Buffalo Law School, becoming bar certified and practicing law in New York, that still wasn’t enough for Allen. 

He then enrolled in WKU in Fall 2019 to study photojournalism. 

“He was a perfectionist when it came to his photos and took so many,” Mindy Allen, his wife of 15 years, said. 

David Allen died on May 2, 2020, from a heart attack. He was 58. 

Allen’s classmates at WKU observed him to be not only “creative,” but also discontent with just being good, meaning he was always pushing himself to “excel,” fellow non-traditional student Clifton Gadbois said. 

Retired from both the Air Force Reserves and active duty Army, Allen was a non-traditional student at WKU. Born in 1962 in Cincinnati, Allen has always had a “willingness toward learning,” Jonathan Adams, a photojournalism professor at WKU, said. 

Allen’s wife said he had a passion for reading, writing, teaching, photography, gardening and music. His passions were driven by his energy and desire for learning that so many of his friends and colleagues appreciated. 

In his short time at WKU, Allen made an impact on everyone that he met. People that he introduced himself to had no difficulty recognizing that he was a special person, nor did they mistake his passion for learning. 

“He was wandering our hallways before classes began,” Tim Broekema, a photojournalism professor at WKU, said of his first meeting with Allen. “I thought he was a WKU employee trying to find something, but he introduced himself as a new student, so I invited him into my office, and I quickly realized he was a special person.”

It was easy for people to see that Allen loved to learn, but most of all, he was genuinely good — and that’s what made his loss so difficult.

“I don’t think it has sunk in yet for me,” Adams said of Allen’s death. “Even with Zoom classes Dave was always the first online and we would chat.”

Allen was strikingly “easy-going and approachable,” Gadbois said of his first meeting with Allen in SJB 102. He made Gadbois feel welcomed and comforted, especially from one non-traditional student to another.

Learning was at the core of Allen’s character because he was intrigued by “how other people saw the world,” Gadbois said. Allen had a giving nature and an inspiring demeanor. In pushing himself to be better, he pushed those people around him as well. 

Allen was predeceased by his parents, Jimmy and Shirley Allen, as well as his daughter Katherine Allen and his son Joseph Allen. Beyond him, his wife Mindy Allen, siblings Michael Allen and Rebecca Hoffman, two daughters Patricia McDonald and Theresa Allen and his son, Samuel Allen. He had three grandchildren: Mason Demmer, Gavin McDonald and Lily McDonald. 

Within just a few minutes of meeting Allen, he became known as “humble,” said Broekema. It was no mistake that he “cared about others in the world.”

Allen’s stature was quiet, but in discussions, he was vocal. His excitement for learning and curiosity about the world served as an example for other students. 

“Our photojournalism faculty and staff was looking forward to Dave being a vital part of our program in the coming years,” Adams said. 

Beyond his death, Allen remains in the hearts of everyone that met him. He was impactful and unforgettable. 

“David will be missed,” Broekema said. “He died before he even realized his true potential in the photojournalism industry.”

His image remains, both in the photographs that he captured and — in true Dave fashion — his appearance in “Fly Away Home.”

“Fun fact: he was an extra in the movie “Fly Away Home,”” his wife said. “If you look close, you can see him standing behind Jeff Daniels when they are talking to the commander when they land on the military base.”

Features reporter Julianna Lowe can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow Julianna on social media at @juliannalowe.