Photograph by Elizabeth Dranitzke

Maureen Shea and Kenn Allen

Maureen Shea and Kenn Allen are active volunteers, involved parishioners of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and Capitol Hill residents for nearly 50 years. In 2023 they received a Capitol Hill Community Foundation Achievement Award for their dedication to the community.

In this interview, Maureen and Kenn reflect on their deep involvement in St. Mark’s and their appreciation for a neighborhood where people know one another. They talk about the recent history of St. Mark’s, its role as a hub and gathering place for the arts, education, and social justice work, and some of the community organizations it has been involved with. They also share stories about life on their close-knit multigenerational block, which has become a perfect location for aging in place. Their reflections on the Covid-19 pandemic are a reminder that neighborhood connections made isolation more bearable, and their story about celebrating the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993 with a black-tie dinner at JimmyT’s Place on East Capitol Street is a classic.


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Interview Date
February 10, 2023
Stephanie Deutsch
Betsy Barnett
Ellen Hirzy

Full Directory

Interview with Maureen Shea and Kenn Allen
Interview Date: February 10, 2023
Interviewer: Stephanie Deutsch
Transcriber: Betsy Barnett
Editor: Ellen Hirzy

                Photograph by Elizabeth Dranitzke

This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project.
Not to be reproduced without permission.

DEUTSCH: This is Stephanie Deutsch. I am with Kenn Allen and Maureen Shea. It is February 10, 2023. And Maureen, I’d love to start with you and just hear, where did you grow up? I know it was Hudson, New York, but I need more.
SHEA: Well, close. I mostly grew up on a lake near Hudson called Copake Lake.
SHEA: C-O-P-A-K-E Lake.
DEUTSCH: C-O-P-A-K-E. Not Kopek, like Russian money [laughs].
SHEA: Correct. And my stepfather and his father had had a summer house there that was a fishing cottage, and when he and my mother married they made it into a year-round home. We were the only people who lived there year-round.
DEUTSCH: Really?
SHEA: Yes. And I had a horse, we had dogs. It was as different from living on Capitol Hill as it’s possible to be. I rode my horse to the school bus in the winter if we were snowed in, which we were frequently.
SHEA: Because it was a private road to get to where all the summer cottages and our house were.
DEUTSCH: Now, just a minute. What was the horse’s name?
SHEA: Princess.
DEUTSCH: Princess.
SHEA: She was a brown and white Pinto. And then she would turn around and go home where my mother …
DEUTSCH: Just by herself?
SHEA: Yes. … would feed her a lovely, warm breakfast. And then by afternoon they would be able to get out to get us. [Interviewer laughs.] So it was a pretty … And I was an only child. So my world was really all these wonderful animals and riding and …
DEUTSCH: Now, what animals besides Princess?
SHEA: Well, there was Princess, and later there was Brush Fire, and there were the dogs.
DEUTSCH: Brush Fire?
SHEA: Mm-hmm.
DEUTSCH: That was another horse?
SHEA: That was another horse. And then the primary dog was Sniff.
DEUTSCH: Sniff? [Laughs.]
SHEA: S-N-I-F-F. A black Lab, but we also had her full sister. So there were always dogs. There were horses. It was a really fun growing up. And then I went to boarding school for four years.
DEUTSCH: And where did you go to boarding school?
SHEA: Emma Willard [School] in Troy, New York. And then I went off to Hollins College in Virginia and spent a year in Paris.
DEUTSCH: A year in Paris?
SHEA: Mm-hmm.
DEUTSCH: Junior year?
SHEA: Well, it wasn’t quite but it was an equivalent. You went the second half of your sophomore year, the first half of your junior year. And then that summer they had a wonderful …
DEUTSCH: Travel.
SHEA: … travel thing that they did where we went to Russia and we went to Greece.
DEUTSCH: Oh, my gosh.
SHEA: We went to Italy.
DEUTSCH: So how was that, being in Paris?
SHEA: It was fabulous. It was, of course, wonderful. And went to the Sciences Po [Paris Institute of Political Studies]. And I suffered. I had a hard time with French [interviewer laughs] because I’m not a language person. But in high school we had had —our French teacher made us speak only French from the first day of class. So I actually could get along pretty well. But when it came to actually studying, et cetera, I had a terrible time. But, anyway, but I got through it. It was a wonderful time. Kenn is looking at me. I’m surprised. …
DEUTSCH: What did you major in?
SHEA: Political science [laughs].
DEUTSCH: Of course.
SHEA: Of course. And then I went off to New York City and lived with a friend and then with my cousin, and struggled along as one does. And then, because having had all that wonderful travel, I wanted to travel again and had no money. So I heard about a job in Vietnam and headed off to Vietnam in 1966 and spent six months in Saigon.
DEUTSCH: What was the job?
SHEA: It was working for a company called Simulmatics. And we were interviewing defectors from the Vietcong. And I ran the office, and I transcribed the interviews, so I know something about transcribing …
SHEA: … interviews. And I met my future first husband, Les Aspin, there, and then came back to the U.S. and ended up in Wisconsin.
DEUTSCH: What was Les Aspin doing there? Was he secretary … no.
SHEA: No, he was in the Defense …
DEUTSCH: He was in the Senate.
SHEA: No, he was in the Defense Department working.
SHEA: Yeah. And we married and then …
DEUTSCH: In that dear little church.
SHEA: In that dear little church, St. John’s in the Wilderness at Copake Falls. And then we came to Washington when he was elected [to the House of Representatives].
DEUTSCH: So that was what brought you to Washington.
SHEA: Mm-hmm.
DEUTSCH: And where did you live?
SHEA: In Georgetown.
DEUTSCH: Okay. Shall we go over to Kenn for a while and then come back to you?
SHEA: Yeah, yeah.
DEUTSCH: So we’ve got you to DC. You’re in Georgetown.
SHEA: Mm-hmm.
SHEA: Kenn is staring at me.
ALLEN: I’m just picking up clues here. Things to talk about.
DEUTSCH: Well, okay. Where did you grow up?
ALLEN: I was born in a little town called Monticello, Illinois, which is in East Central Illinois. And where the family was, the family hometown. I can go out to the cemetery there, stand in one place, and see people from all four branches of my family.
ALLEN: But then, that’s a two-minute walk. And we lived there until, I don’t know, until I was four, maybe, and then we moved south to another little town. And then my dad was a schoolteacher and administrator, so he went to be principal of a grade school there. And we moved down toward southern Illinois for a few years where he was principal of a school. And then we came back north. My mother was very family oriented so she really couldn’t stand to be away from the family. I think she always hated my father because they didn’t just stay there in Monticello for having to do whatever you do. But, now, it’s a 20-minute, at most, drive over to Urbana, Illinois, where the University of Illinois is. It’s a big town, et cetera. But people didn’t do that back then because it wasn’t a 20-minute interstate drive. It was whatever it was, right? Or you got on the interurban and rode over. Okay? I actually rode on the last interurban trip.
DEUTSCH: I never even heard that word, interurban.
ALLEN: It was like a multicar trolley car, small-gauge rail …
DEUTSCH: Really?
ALLEN: … that ran between small towns in Illinois and other parts of the country. Anyway, we moved to the little town of Melvin, Illinois, where my dad became superintendent of schools and we …
DEUTSCH: Melvin, M-E-L-V-I-N?
ALLEN: Yep. A roaring metropolis of 400-and-some people. And we were there for six years, the longest we ever lived anywhere, I think, almost.
DEUTSCH: Did you say 400 people?
ALLEN: Yeah. Around 400. Maybe 425, but I don’t know. They came and went.
DEUTSCH: Did you have sisters and brothers?
ALLEN: I had one sister who is six years younger than me. My mother had had a child … My mom and dad moved around right before the war because he was in the Navy. So they were in South Carolina for a while. Then they were in California for a while before he shipped out to the South Pacific. She came home pregnant, had the baby, who only lived a few months and then died. And I think was the, obviously, the traumatic moment of my mother’s life and almost everything radiated from that—all the pain in the family, all the way we were raised, et cetera, you know. Really, you know, I had …
DEUTSCH: You were really …
DEUTSCH: . . . kind of …
ALLEN: Well, I mean, you know, I had to be protected. I had to be saved, you know.
ALLEN: So, “Don’t climb on that,” you know, kind of thing. Anyway, so we moved around. We moved to the funny little town of Good Hope, Illinois, which is a town of 200-and-some people. It was a consolidated school district where Dad was the superintendent. And then we finally moved to a real town, a city almost: Galena, Illinois.
DEUTSCH: Ulysses S. Grant.
ALLEN: Exactly. Where Dad was superintendent. They lived there, and I did my last two years of high school there. Okay? I’ve often said in speeches and writing that when we lived in Melvin I don’t remember the word “volunteer” or “volunteering” ever uttered in my presence. I mean it probably was; it didn’t register with me. But when I look back on it, everything that had a value in that town was being done by volunteers—the Scouts, the church choir, the kids’ baseball league.
DEUTSCH: Okay. Slow down because I’ve got to get that. That is really interesting.
ALLEN: Church stuff. I mean everything except the schoolteachers. But people didn’t talk about it in that way. It was just the way you lived your life there because …
DEUTSCH: It was such a natural thing that it was not …
ALLEN: Yeah. Businesses did things, like the bank sponsored the—this is really going to blow your mind. So this was in the early 1950s. In the summer they would stretch a big screen across one of the streets leading up to the main street. It was sort of a little hill. Big screen. And then they’d bring movies in and show movies on that screen and that’s how we saw movies. They were old and, you know, and all that.
DEUTSCH: Was it free?
ALLEN: Oh, yeah, because you brought a towel or a blanket or a pillow and sat in the middle of this street that had been closed and watched them. So it was sort of an early example of a company giving back to the community in this somewhat, now, in retrospect, odd way. But that’s the way it was.
DEUTSCH: And do you remember your parents doing things, volunteer type things?
ALLEN: No [laughs].
DEUTSCH: Everyone else in town did.
ALLEN: Well, people did, yeah. It was because my father was a big deal in town. He was the superintendent of schools. And that made a difference. That sort of set us apart in a way.
DEUTSCH: Right, right. You were important.
ALLEN: Yeah. Anyway.
DEUTSCH: Was your family churchgoers? Were you part of a church?
ALLEN: Part of the Methodist church there. Yeah—the entire time. My parents rarely went to church. Occasionally, high holiday kind of goers. Yeah. Some times more than others. In Melvin they went more often than later.
DEUTSCH: Did you do scouting? Were you a scout?
ALLEN: I was a miserable scout. Yes, I was a Cub Scout. And that was okay.
DEUTSCH: Miserable as in [crosstalk] or miserable as in I didn’t like it?
ALLEN: No, Cub Scouts was fun because it was easy. You know, go out and collect 20 rocks and get a merit badge or, you know, a little whatever. That kind of thing. I was an awful Boy Scout and I only stayed in Boy Scouts for a year, I think. It was stupid. It made no sense to me. I have …
DEUTSCH: I’m not going to quote you as saying it was stupid.
ALLEN: Well, it was stupid.
DEUTSCH: You’ll get hate mail [laughs].
SHEA: Right, yeah.
ALLEN: Well, that’s fine.
SHEA: Thank you.
ALLEN: But it was—I have no mechanical ability. I can’t cut wood. I can’t do much of anything. So the kind of stuff that scouts did, you know, knot tying seemed to me a waste of time.
DEUTSCH: [Laughs] Let others tie the knots.
ALLEN: I mean, I’d just as soon be at home reading or something. Anyway, so when I graduated from high school and it was—there’s a point for me telling you this that’s not bragging, okay?—that I was the valedictorian of the class. But I had only been there two years, so that caused great resentment, particularly among the girl who I beat out who was also my girlfriend at the time.
ALLEN: Yeah.
DEUTSCH: Okay, just a second. Let me get that down. [Shea laughs.] That I will fit in.
ALLEN: Anyway. So it came time and I had always wanted to go to the University of Illinois. I mean, we grew up with the University of Illinois. My dad had his master’s degrees from there and that’s what everybody in East Central Illinois focused on was the University of Illinois. So there was no question about that. And so I got in, and I went, and I was pretty miserable because suddenly it was like when I was in seventh grade—we had to go to another town to be in seventh grade—and I had to take agriculture. Okay? There was an agriculture class for all the boys. And I was one of three town boys in the class. So when it came to, you know, here, let’s talk about cows, and they’d put up this big chart with all the cows. Well, all these other kids knew what the hell every cow was. I had no idea. So I didn’t do well in that. And I did worse in industrial arts, shop class. Anyway, there was a point to that and I forget now what it was.
DEUTSCH: Well, when you got to college …
ALLEN: Oh, yes. Okay, so I was lost. I came from small towns. I met kids who had had four years of Mongolian or something, you know, in high school, these kids coming from these big Chicago suburban high schools where, you know, I’d had a little bit of basic physics, and they were building nuclear reactors or some damn thing, you know. So I really felt out of my element. And should I tell her about foreign language?
SHEA: No, no. Let’s not go there. It’s a long story.
ALLEN: Yeah, I don’t want that part recorded.
DEUTSCH: Thank you for telling me later.
ALLEN: Yeah, oh, it’s a great story. When we’re done, I’ll tell you because you’ll love it. Because it’s another thing I have no ability to do.
DEUTSCH: [Laughs.] I’m making a note.
ALLEN: [Laughing.] I really have very little talent at things. So I got through my freshman year and I did okay except for one class, which is the story I’ll tell you later. And I thought about it, and I realized over the summer that when I went back I had to find something to do other than be in class. Because I had always had—or to run around with guys in the dorm.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. You needed something to really engage you.
ALLEN: Yes, yes. And something outside the classroom, and something that could be mine in a way. So I saw a little note in the school paper announcing a meeting to be held in the student union. It was bringing together a group of students who wanted to start a program to do volunteer service in the community. And so I went. I don’t know, there were 50 kids there or something. And they explained it all. There was an assistant dean of men who was leading it.
DEUTSCH: What year are we? ’60? …
ALLEN: ’64. ’64 to ’65. ’65,’66. Something like that.
DEUTSCH: Okay, yep.
ALLEN: And, so they asked for people to volunteer to run projects, you know, to become part of the leadership from the get-go. And I went up and looked. You know, you could sign your name for something. And I put down that I wanted to be the project director for nursing homes and the aged. [Shea laughs.] And I chose that because there were no names there, so I figured I had a half decent chance of getting it. And we’d had—my grandfather had lived with us the last year and a half of his life when we were in the town of Melvin. And so I was comfortable with old people. I was always around my grandparents and all, and how bad could this be?
DEUTSCH: Great story. [Shea laughs.]
ALLEN: And so I did. And we went out to a nursing home, Greenbriar Nursing Home. And I met Mr. Shelby, and he says, “Oh, what do you want to do, what are you here for?” And I had no damned idea why I was there except to, okay, be nice, talk, chat. He said, “Let’s play checkers.”
DEUTSCH: Mr. Shelby is an old guy in the nursing home.
ALLEN: Oh, he was 90-something. He had ears like an elephant. His ears that kept growing. And he beat me in three moves. [Shea laughs.]
DEUTSCH: In three moves?
ALLEN: Mm-hmm. And I didn’t believe it, but he showed me how. I never beat him in the two years I went out there.
DEUTSCH: That is sobering.
ALLEN: And we’d go out on Saturday with—I organized a little group of people, a couple of guys from my dorm floor, and then there were other kids signed up, you know. Because there was a big promo about this. You know, they have these days where people sign up for extracurricular activities and all that. And one thing led to another, and I was on the steering committee for this. And I became the—I don’t know what we called it. I guess I became the chair of the coordinating committee or something like that. The position only became available because the guy who was the first chair flunked out of college because of this. Because he was spending all his time on this.
DEUTSCH: He was spending so much time.
ALLEN: Yeah. So I followed in his footsteps and came damn close to that outcome. The assistant dean of men had to intervene to keep him in school and give him a chance to make up stuff. So he did get his degree. [To Shea] That was Steve Morrison, who you met.
SHEA: Mm-hmm.
ALLEN: And we were an independent lot. We decided that we needed some distance from the university, so we incorporated ourself as a nonprofit organization. People in the university administration almost crapped when we did that.
SHEA: I don’t think that’s a good term.
DEUTSCH: You mean incorporated as an …
ALLEN: We did. Independent nonprofit corporation. We became our own organization independent of the university. But we were smart enough to position ourself to demand everything we could possibly get out of the university. So we were, I think, the only student group—now remember, this is the mid ’60s now—that were allowed to use university cars. You know, these big cars with the emblem on them. And the reason we needed them is because we really did amazing things. We sent kids 50, 60 miles north to the state mental hospitals in Kankakee and Manteno. We sent kids 50 miles south to Lincoln, Illinois, to the Lincoln State School [for people with developmental disabilities].
DEUTSCH: Well, now you’ve branched out beyond the elderly. You’re now doing [crosstalk].
ALLEN: Oh, yeah. We were doing everything. We had kids doing tutoring in 40 schools, not 40, 20 schools, I think. Maybe more than that. Grade schools. We had kids out in a poor white …
DEUTSCH: Did you say in 80 different schools?
ALLEN: No. I think it was between 20 and 30 different elementary schools. We had kids in a low-income white neighborhood just on the edge of town. They created a community center out there to bring the people together. We worked in the black community of Champaign-Urbana, which was a very distinct part of town. I was out there the night Martin Luther King was shot because that’s where we had to be because we did things in that community. And, anyway, we were very independent, so we had these cars. So we asserted ourselves. Now, the interesting thing was we were not allowed to list this activity in the yearbook because it was not fully approved. It was that time, you know. But I got to do fun things.
DEUTSCH: They must have been so relieved that you weren’t protesting the war in Vietnam. I would think they would, you know. I mean, this was a time when a lot of stuff was going on.
ALLEN: Oh, yeah, yeah.
DEUTSCH: You know.
ALLEN: Fast forward. I did not graduate on time [Shea laughs] because I didn’t go to many classes for a couple of years. I had a pattern. I would go the first day of class. I’d go back for the midterm and go back for the final. And, somehow, I made it through. But I didn’t make it through. I came up some credits short and …
DEUTSCH: What were you majoring in?
ALLEN: Whatever I had enough credits. Political science basically was it. I met a wonderful man named Dan Perrino. And Dan became the dean of what was called the Student Programs and Services office—SPAS.
ALLEN: Right. That’s how we were known on campus. And he was very creative. He was a musician. That’s a whole different story I can tell you separately someday. But he saved me. He realized that I needed something good to do because I was—I didn’t know what I was going to do next, even though I hadn’t graduated. And so he got me a job as—what the hell was it called? A research associate or something in his office. There was some weird title. And my first assignment was to work partly for this VIP program, the one that I helped create, as sort of an adviser-staffer for them. Because they’d grown hugely …
DEUTSCH: What was the VIP program?
ALLEN: The Volunteer Illini Projects.
ALLEN: That was VIP. Sorry.
DEUTSCH: Volunteer?
ALLEN: Illini Projects. I-L-L-I-N-I.
DEUTSCH: I-L-L-I-N-I. What does that mean? Oh, is that Illinois?
ALLEN: It’s Illini. [Interviewer laughs.]
SHEA: It’s what they call themselves at the university, the Illini.
ALLEN: Yeah. The Illini were …
ALLEN: … a native American tribe …
DEUTSCH: Okay. I didn’t know.
ALLEN: … or community. Whatever they were. So we were the VIP program, Volunteer Illini Projects.
DEUTSCH: Okay. Got it.
ALLEN: Okay, sorry. I thought you …
DEUTSCH: Glad I asked.
ALLEN: So anyway, so I worked with Dan for a couple of years. And one of my assignments was to spend every Friday and Saturday night in the student union walking around the halls with the men who were the staff people, you know, who patrolled the halls, the building night manager kind of people. Because this was when we were having an influx of African American teenage boys from the neighborhoods come in.
DEUTSCH: Come into the dorm?
ALLEN: Come into the Illini student union.
DEUTSCH: The student union, yeah.
ALLEN: Okay. And so my job was to stand between them, some of whom I knew, and these redneck staff members who would have just as soon called the cops and beat them up.
ALLEN: And then stand between them and the cops, who would have gladly beaten them up.
ALLEN: So that was sort of fun. Anyway, one thing led to another. I got involved with the governor of Illinois Richard Ogilvie’s office. They were starting a program to set up student volunteer programs all across the state. So I helped them with that as a consultant. And then I got an opportunity to come to Washington.
DEUTSCH: At some point you graduated?
ALLEN: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. [Interviewer laughs.] Yeah, I did.
SHEA: How many years, Kenn?
SHEA: Seven.
ALLEN: Seven? Seven years. [Shea laughs.]
ALLEN: But I …
SHEA: I just thought we’d throw that in.
ALLEN: The way I did it was I was married by then, and I sat in this grungy little apartment with my then-wife and I took correspondence courses in 19th-century British literature.
DEUTSCH: Middlemarch, Jane Eyre, all that.
ALLEN: Yeah. All that stuff, which I’d never read. But back then correspondence courses meant you got a notebook like you’ve got which had assignments. And then you filled out and wrote things and typed essays and all that. I did that and then my adviser, who was in the political science department, he came up with a project that I would essentially write the story of VIP or working in the community or whatever and analyze that. And that got me a semester’s worth of credit. We put it all together and finally I got my degree. Okay? And then I went to graduate school out there for one year in the administration of higher education. And one of my teachers was the retired president of the university, who I had gotten to know. So anyway …
DEUTSCH: Getting your master’s at Illinois?
ALLEN: Well, I started. I didn’t—because I got the chance to come to Washington, and who would pass that up?
ALLEN: And it was in—I came in January of 1974 for a six-month assignment, and never went back, just stayed. And …
DEUTSCH: Did you instantly love Washington? I mean, was it …
ALLEN: No, no, not at all. I found—because my wife, who was working on a graduate degree at U of I, stayed back because we thought this was really only going to be for six months. And I had an apartment just a block or so north of Scott Circle on 16th Street. And it was a hideous, modernish kind of building. It was a small, not even one-bedroom apartment. I mean it was just, you know… That part of Washington in 1974 was no fun. If you walked downtown at night, everything was dark There was nothing. There was a place called the Blue Mirror Café [Blue Mirror Grill, 1300 block of F Street NW]. [Shea laughs.] And I would go there sometimes. I’d make my way down there to get something to eat at night, all right?
DEUTSCH: Where was the Blue Mirror?
SHEA: Where was it?
ALLEN: G Street. F or G, like between someplace 10th, 11th, 9th, 10th someplace down there.
DEUTSCH: I believe you.
ALLEN: And it would be the only place with lights on. So anyway, then, at the end of the six months I stayed. I was working for an organization called the National Center for Voluntary Action. The chairman was George Romney, who had just retired as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. And I got to know him very well.
DEUTSCH: Mitt’s dad.
ALLEN: Mitt’s dad. And I was with that organization in various incarnations from then until 1988.
DEUTSCH: Were they mainly doing U.S.-based volunteer, or had you gone international?
ALLEN: No, it was all U.S.
ALLEN: And it was a national leadership resource organization to promote the development of volunteering around the country and local volunteer centers, or what they called then, voluntary action centers. And …
DEUTSCH: Was it mainly focused on, like, tutoring or, I mean, what …
ALLEN: It was community, it was social services …
ALLEN: … broadly. Health and social services, education, et cetera. So the idea was to create these centers, organizations at the local level that then would manage … There used to be things called volunteer bureaus in some towns where you could go in and say, “I want to volunteer.” And they’d go through their little index file and say, “Oh, well, you’d be great at being a librarian. Why don’t you, you know—and here’s the person to call,” et cetera. It was an organization that had started huge. It started in the Nixon era. It was all based in the, you know, [the idea that] the private sector can take care of the problems of the country. Voluntary action can take care of all the problems. We don’t need all these government programs. And it was born with a huge amount of money. Their first board of directors—Henry Ford II was the first board chair. I mean it looked like the Committee to Re-Elect the President [a fundraising organization for Nixon’s 1972 campaign). And with a lot of good people thrown into it, but too much of the CREEP group. Oh, W. Clement Stone from Chicago, Mr. Positive Mental Attitude, was a big member of the board and a big giver.
DEUTSCH: I don’t know him. Mr. Positive Mental Attitude. [Laughs.]
ALLEN: Oh, yes. Mr. Stone’s motto was “do it now, do it now,” you know. “Whatever the human mind can conceive and believe, the human mind can achieve.”
DEUTSCH: I’m exhausted just hearing that. [Shea laughs.]
ALLEN: If I heard that once, I heard it eight million times.
DEUTSCH: Whatever …
ALLEN: Yeah, I’ll give it to you later. I’ve got it here. I can spell it out again.
DEUTSCH: Your human mind can …
ALLEN: Anyway, after I’d been there a couple of years, it really fell on very hard times. They got rid of the executive director, who had been on loan to them from Mr. Stone.
DEUTSCH: Who was the executive director?
ALLEN: I’m not going to name him.
ALLEN: I mean, the name would mean nothing but why remember him?
ALLEN: Why do that? Anyway, and at the tender age of 29—so it would have been 1975—they named me the executive director. I’d been there two years. Maybe it was 19 … It was after that.
ALLEN: It must have been after that. It was then. Yeah, I was 29 because my dad had died the year I got the job. So it was 1976. So yeah, I was 29.
ALLEN: Anyway, so I kept doing it and Maureen came to work for us.
DEUTSCH: Okay, just a minute. At some point you got divorced?
ALLEN: Yeah. Not then. I mean, I was still married. And, I can’t tell them what I said about you. [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: Well, wait a minute. Okay, Maureen comes to work for you.
SHEA: You can tell. You can tell. Yes.
ALLEN: Yes. Yeah. And …
DEUTSCH: What did you say?
ALLEN: I might have at one point referred to her as the “cute congressional wife.” And she swatted me alongside the head.
SHEA: Remember you have the mic on?
ALLEN: Yeah, I know.
DEUTSCH: Cute just isn’t a word that, you know, we as, you know …
ALLEN: You don’t think she’s cute? I still think she’s cute. [Deutsch laughs.] For heaven’s sake. My parents …
SHEA: It was not in that vein, however, that you made that comment.
ALLEN: Possibly not.
SHEA: Yeah. So let’s be clear about that [laughs].
ALLEN: In the year after I became the executive director, between 1979, 1980, both my parents died. Is that right, 1979–80? That’s terrible that I can’t remember that. No, I’m sorry. 1975–76, both my parents died. My dad died of a heart attack. He just dropped dead. And six months later my mother was diagnosed with a—well, she had brain surgery. And it was a malignancy. And my sister came home to take care of her, et cetera, and she died a year and four days after my father. Which probably made her happy because she was miserable after he died. I mean she didn’t have any—she was just miserable because that was her life. Anyway, so it was all whatever. So then, Maureen and I one day looked across the crowded room …
SHEA: Let’s not overdo here.
ALLEN: We were both divorced at the time. And here we are, lo these many years later.
SHEA: Well, you had bought a house on Capitol Hill.
ALLEN: Oh, yes. Okay. Yes.
DEUTSCH: You looked across a crowded room, you thought, “She’s cute.” Maureen thought …
SHEA: Worse than that.
DEUTSCH: Okay. And …
ALLEN: That’s—Worse than that. So when my then wife came to Washington we rented a house at 10th and Independence SE. And it was a tough go for us. 10th and Independence was sort of on the edge.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. I was there then.
ALLEN: Yeah. And then we decided to buy a house, and we ended up at 1129 G Street NE.
DEUTSCH: Mm. That was kind of …
ALLEN: Yeah, no. Very out there. We were the first whites on the block. But living two doors down from us were the first black family who had come to the block.
ALLEN: Yeah.
DEUTSCH: You mean they’d been there …
ALLEN: Thirty years.
DEUTSCH: Decades. Yeah.
ALLEN: Decades. And raised kids there and all. And it was close enough… Well, it was sad because H Street was still a disaster area. And then she and I got divorced. Maureen and I got together. We lived on G Street together for how many years?
SHEA: Well, we were married in 1980.
ALLEN: Right.
SHEA: And we moved to A Street SE in 1985.
ALLEN: So I’d been there probably seven years at that point and Maureen had been there five years or so. And in that time, I think the most important thing that happened, other than surviving being broken into several times, and it was the time, the era when every night there were helicopters overhead with their spotlights.
ALLEN: Right. And, I mean, we knew a couple of times we were getting—when my first wife and I were there together a couple of times we got robbed by people who lived in the next block. And so it was sort of a tough go. And I think, well, the two most important things I think that happened while we were there were, first, our son was born.
DEUTSCH: That’s a big deal.
SHEA: That was a big deal.
ALLEN: That was a huge deal.
DEUTSCH: What year was he born?
ALLEN: 1982.
SHEA: Mm-hmm.
ALLEN: And the second most important thing I think is that we found St. Mark’s [St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 301 A Street SE]. And Maureen will tell you how we found St. Mark’s.
SHEA: Well, I mean, the other interesting part is that despite all that, after our son was born—and Kenn traveled a fair amount, so I was there alone with a small child, and there were no other children on the block. All of that would be very different today.
DEUTSCH: Definitely.
SHEA: Right. So we decided, well, maybe we need to look in the suburbs. So we went out one weekend and we were so horrified that we said no, we’re not going to move to the suburbs, but we will move closer in on the Hill. And we were lucky enough that it was a time when Hill property was not hot …
SHEA: … and so we could afford to do it.
ALLEN: As opposed to suburban property.
SHEA: Which was …
ALLEN: We went into one house where the guys we left, the realtors, said, “Aren’t you going to put your name on the list and make an offer?” We said, “Well, we’ve got to think it over.” “Well, if you do it today, I’ll guarantee the owner will see your offer.” And we said, “Well, how many? You know, do you have offers? “He said, “You’ll be the 29th that they’ll review.” That was from that day of an open house.
DEUTSCH: This was like Arlington or …
ALLEN: It was—no, it was north.
SHEA: North Bethesda.
ALLEN: Bethesda. Yeah.
SHEA: Anyway, so that was a, you know, sort of a defining moment of ...
DEUTSCH: Well, you know what. I think a lot of us have had that experience where… With us it was, okay, we should move to Northwest. And I looked at, like, three houses in Northwest and I just thought, I don’t want to. I just don’t want to. But I did move closer in.
SHEA: I mean, it’s just interesting.
SHEA: You know, so—
ALLEN: But we were very lucky to find the house we’re in now.
SHEA: Which was because of St. Mark’s.
DEUTSCH: So Maureen, what was the St. Mark’s story?
SHEA: Well, [clock chimes] I read Harry McPherson’s book, A Political Education, and in it he talked a lot about St. Mark’s because …
SHEA: … it was a very important part of his life. And I thought, well, that sounds like an interesting church. Why in the world we were looking for a church I can’t remember.
ALLEN: We just spontaneously …
SHEA: Spontaneously started.
ALLEN: And we went up to a Methodist church on 16th Street.
SHEA: We did?
ALLEN: Yes. For one Sunday and that was when we got there and they were doing communion that Sunday and it was grape juice in the little glasses.
DEUTSCH: Little plastic cups?
ALLEN: No. Little glass things in a tray, you know. And we went to an Episcopal church in Georgetown with your friend …
SHEA: I remember none of this.
ALLEN: Oh, who was …
SHEA: I don’t know.
ALLEN: Yes, the one …
SHEA: Okay.
DEUTSCH: It doesn’t matter.
SHEA: It doesn’t matter who it was.
ALLEN: We’re going to get this.
SHEA: So anyway, we go into St. Mark’s …
DEUTSCH: So based on Harry McPherson’s book.
SHEA: Book. We said, okay, this sounds interesting. Let’s go look.
ALLEN: You know who Harry McPherson was?
DEUTSCH: I sure do. I’ve had dinner with him.
ALLEN: Oh, great.
SHEA: Yeah.
SHEA: And it’s a wonderful book, as an aside I will say. And, so there stood Bowdie Craighill, who made an announcement wearing a top hat and black leotard. And we looked at each other and said, well, this would be an interesting place. And so we started going to St. Mark’s. And it was really as simple as that. I had had no tradition of religion in my life. My father was a Catholic, my parents were divorced, I didn’t go to church. When I went to boarding school, every year they asked you your religion, and I would put Protestant. [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: That’s a good generic.
SHEA: It was a good generic term. And at the same [time] there was a group, the baby group that came out of that, of the Kleins and the Bergs and us. And the Kleins were the ones who told us about a couple from St. Mark’s who lived at 505 A Street SE and who were going to sell their house. And so we approached them. And we made an offer, which they refused, but they didn’t make it formal and then they listed it with a broker and it didn’t sell. And so we went back to them after it sat on the market for a bit and we renegotiated.
ALLEN: But they had excluded us from the listing.
SHEA: In real estate, if you haven’t said a final no, if you’ve had a previous offer, then they didn’t have to—the real estate agent didn’t get any credit for the sale to us, which saved us enough money that we could actually buy the house. I mean it was …
ALLEN: Yeah, because it knocked it down by six percent or so.
SHEA: … percent, whatever that was. [Phone starts to ring.] Can you turn it off now?
ALLEN: I will now.
SHEA: And so that’s how we got to move to Fifth and A [Streets SE].
DEUTSCH: Fifth and A. So what year was that?
SHEA: 1985. We moved in August. It was the hottest day of the year. I remember it well. [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: And did you immediately kind of become part of the fabric of the block. I mean, how did that build up?
SHEA: Well, you know, there were kids. And so the Ramshaws were a few doors down, and it turned out that Mary’s mother was the best friend of my mother’s next-door neighbor in Mexico. How is that for obscure?
SHEA: Okay. Which was hilarious. And, you know, there was Arty Delaney across the street and J. D. Sand across the street and it was a great block for kids… And I think the block party happened when we moved. I can’t remember if it was right away. And the block party had just gotten started.
ALLEN: We were year three.
SHEA: And then the Ramshaws had the bad taste to move off of the Hill. And Mary had organized it [the block party] so she passed it on to me. And so I did it for, I don’t know, 30 years. And, now I’ve skillfully given it over to Helen [Cymrot].
DEUTSCH: And the block party was always Labor Day weekend.
SHEA: No, actually, we’d always have great angst about when it should be. For a long time it was in June when the kids got out of school. And then, as kids and people started to be away more we figured out that Labor Day was …
DEUTSCH: A better time.
SHEA: Was a much better time. And thus it has been ever since.
DEUTSCH: Any particularly memorable moments from the block party?
SHEA: Well, there was the year, we—perhaps I won’t put in his name but—a previous resident drove through the barriers because he’d had a bit too much to drink. [Deutsch laughs.] They were all just really fun. There were bicycle races, and there were balloon fights, and it was just great. But what happened eventually was, all of a sudden, people would say, “Well, we want to be invited to the block party,” and didn’t live on the block. And we’d never thought of it as a …
DEUTSCH: An exclusive kind of thing.
SHEA: … kind of thing. And we’d say, “Okay, sure, why not?” So it kept getting bigger and bigger. So we would spread the word further and further. But it was sort of funny because ... And, then, if you got invited and somebody else …
DEUTSCH: Even me?
SHEA: Right. And if somebody saw you there walking down …
DEUTSCH: So it really grew and grew.
ALLEN: Oh, yes.
SHEA: It kept growing. And then, you know, it was interesting, thinking about it in terms of the [Covid-19] pandemic. I think living on Capitol Hill was a savior for us because we still continued to see people even in different circumstances. And we did some fun things. It wasn’t exactly the block party, but I’d send out an invitation and say, okay, we need to celebrate this, or it’s New Year’s, or whatever. Just to keep a sense of that. And we, actually, our side of the block, we don’t have an alley or garages behind us unlike the opposite side. There is actually a different social dynamic of our side, because we all have to come out the front door. We see each other more. The people in the back, they are more often going out the back door to their cars or whatever.
DEUTSCH: That’s so funny.
ALLEN: Oh, yeah. There’s a new family that moved onto the block in what had been originally the Alexander house, and it took a long time for us to meet them because they weren’t using their front door.
SHEA: We didn’t even know if they were there.
DEUTSCH: That’s so funny.
SHEA: And one of the results of that was on Friday nights when we were all still working, people began to see we were going out to dinner, not necessarily together but going out to dinner. So it sort of slowly, “Oh, okay, well, we’ll meet up with you at whatever restaurant because it’s Friday and it’s good to do it.” And it was very informal. And then we found out that one of our neighbors, who was now widowed, Friday night had been her date night with her husband. So we said, “Okay, we’ve got to be more organized about this. So Friday night dinners began of going out, and that continues to this day.”
DEUTSCH: And where do you go?
SHEA: Well, we go to La Plaza or we go to Las Placitas or we sometimes bring in pizza. And, now, …
DEUTSCH: How many people do Friday night dinner?
SHEA: Well, it could be as few as four and as many as 12, because if you have guests coming to town—we have friends who’ve come two or three times to Friday night dinner. [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: Are you in charge? I mean do you kind of keep track of it?
SHEA: I did. For a long time I would organize it and then I passed that on. I‘m a big believer in giving it to the next generation to continue. And so now, Mark [Kantor] and Lawranne [Stewart] do it unless they’re away, in which case I do it. But now, because one of us has been sick, we’re doing it in different houses and we’re …
DEUTSCH: Doing it in houses?
SHEA: … ordering out. Yes.
ALLEN: Yeah.
SHEA: And, so one way or the other, it sort of—and whoever is free can come. There’s no—again, it may be four people or it may be six or eight.
ALLEN: It got up as high as 12 at one point. Pretty consistently there were 10, 11, 12.
SHEA: And during the pandemic—I still can’t believe it. I did it. I organized—every week we had a Zoom call.
ALLEN: For everyone on our side of the block.
SHEA: For everyone on our side.
SHEA: And it was really important as I …
DEUTSCH: How many people was it?
ALLEN: It was the same group.
SHEA: There’d be 12 or so. Again …
ALLEN: We could get up as high as 12 or so.
DEUTSCH: But very important.
ALLEN: Oh, yeah.
SHEA: I think it really helped everybody. Yes. And then, as things loosened up and people were getting out and seeing each other, you didn’t have that need anymore.
DEUTSCH: Right. We weren’t so cooped up.
ALLEN: We have become—Our side of our block is a NORC. N-O-R-C, all capital letters.
SHEA: And we know this because it was one of the Literary Feast stories when we hosted a Literary Feast one time [the Capitol Hill Community Foundation’s annual fundraiser for grants to neighborhood schools]. I loved the Literary Feast because you got to meet all these people you didn’t know.
ALLEN: Right.
SHEA: And there was a lovely couple there. It was their first outing since their baby had been born, and we were describing our side of the block and the difference, and she said you’re a NORC. And we said what?
DEUTSCH: What is a NORC?
SHEA: It’s a naturally occurring retirement community. And you can Google it.
DEUTSCH: It’s a thing.
SHEA: And it’s a thing.
ALLEN: Oh, yeah.
SHEA: And … that’s our side of the block. So now, one of us is having chemo, and so people are sending food over and adjusting things. And if somebody needs something, if we know about it, though they’re all the most independent crew, we’ll try and do something. But, yeah, isn’t that hilarious?
SHEA: A NORC. And I would never have known that term …
ALLEN: You didn’t know you lived down the street from a NORC.
DEUTSCH: I didn’t know I lived anywhere near a NORC.
SHEA: Near a NORC. And, in fact, I think if you looked around Capitol Hill you would see lots of them. The joy is that we also have young kids. So it’s not the only thing on the block.
DEUTSCH: Right, right. It’s not just discussion of aches and pains.
SHEA: But there was a story in the Hill Rag about the man on 10th Street, I think, and how he had lived there for all these years, and he had taken in everyone’s packages. And then, when he got sick, the neighbors went in and cared for him. Well …
SHEA: I thought he had a NORC, too.
SHEA: A NORC. Yeah. So it’s an interesting …
DEUTSCH: Tell me about the parties at Jimmy T’s [Jimmy T’s Place, 501 East Capitol Street SE].
SHEA: [Laughs and pauses] So when Bill Clinton was elected, we knew we weren’t going to be going to an inaugural party.
DEUTSCH: Really.
SHEA: But we needed to celebrate. And none of us wanted—So anyway, so we went to Cynde [Cynde Tiches Foster], co-owner of Jimmy T’s, and asked her if we could have an inauguration party—it would be black tie—there. And, because it was a private party, we could have drinks. And we would bring appetizers, which were Bill’s favorite nachos, and we would bring dessert, which were Hillary’s cookies.
ALLEN: Chocolate chip cookies.
SHEA: Chocolate chip cookies. And …
DEUTSCH: You had been involved in the campaign, I assume. I mean …
SHEA: Well, not really. No. But I was a good loyal Democrat. I was …
DEUTSCH: Okay, okay. You weren’t—okay.
DEUTSCH: Hillary’s favorite chocolate chip cookies.
SHEA: Chocolate chip cookies and Bill’s favorite nachos. And Cynde cooked …
ALLEN: In the end, so we offered to bring food and they said, “No, we’ll cook.” Remember?
SHEA: Right.
ALLEN: And, so people ordered off the menu. [Allen and Shea laugh.]
DEUTSCH: How many people came?
SHEA: A lot. It was full. Yeah.
ALLEN: Oh, clearly you weren‘t around then. And you didn’t …
DEUTSCH: Well, I didn’t live here.
ALLEN: Oh, you didn’t live here.
DEUTSCH: I mean I lived over there.
SHEA: Yeah.
ALLEN: Oh, well, that’s why you don’t remember the hullabaloo out there and …
DEUTSCH: Yeah. I’m feeling so left out.
SHEA: And we went out. We waved when they went out to the stadium [DC Armory] for one of the inaugural balls.
ALLEN: How did we know to do that? You had some idea of what time. You’d found out something about what time they would go out there.
SHEA: Who knows? Anyway, we went out and waved as they went by, and we were in black tie. It was very … [Interviewer laughs.]
DEUTSCH: I love it. Are there any photographs of that?
SHEA: Yeah. I’d have to go find them.
ALLEN: That’s a good question.
DEUTSCH: Just the whole concept of black tie and Jimmy T’s …
SHEA: And Jimmy T’s. So we did it again for the re-election. And it was really fun.
ALLEN: And then we did it a third time.
SHEA: For my birthday.
ALLEN: For which birthday?
DEUTSCH: And I was invited to that. And I think I went briefly.
SHEA: And that was when we had it catered.
ALLEN: Yeah.
SHEA: We had …
ALLEN: Well, we didn’t have it catered exactly. Well, yes.
SHEA: Yeah.
ALLEN: I went out and got the …
SHEA: Middle Eastern food.
ALLEN: … Middle Eastern food, yeah, from some place out in …
SHEA: And, then, everyone wanted to serve, be behind the counter, and Cynde was stunned.
ALLEN: Oh, yeah. All these people—I don’t remember which party that was.
SHEA: It was that one.
ALLEN: At your birthday party. Everybody wanted to go stand behind the counter. [Interviewer laughs] And Cynde and John [the other co-owner] were just, “What’s wrong with you people?” And it was all these people who had been coming there for years and had never gotten to see it from behind the counter. And they wanted the experience of being back there. [Interviewer laughs]
SHEA: It was hilarious.
ALLEN: See, you left too early. It got wild and crazy like that.
DEUTSCH: Wild and crazy, obviously.
SHEA: But, you know, it does go back to the community piece.
ALLEN: Yeah.
SHEA: Which is, during the pandemic, when we were loyally, as you did, going and ordering take-out food from Jimmy T’s, because we feel a real connection …
DEUTSCH: Definitely.
SHEA: … to that place, you know. And every time our, you know, if our son is away, he comes back, he goes to Jimmy T’s, as do many others. But this whole sense of community and how it’s built and how important it is in getting you through tough times. And they helped us and we helped them in that because it was one more thing you could do. It was a relief not to have to cook and all.
DEUTSCH: The sense of community—that’s a really interesting and important observation. That the sense of community, it’s always a good thing, but in tough times it really …
SHEA: In tough times. You know, the people that you knew, you weren’t going to people’s houses, but at least you saw them on the street and you could check on them. And we went to Joselito [660 Pennsylvania Avenue SE] a lot and carried out, and you know they made it through. And I think one of the reasons they may have is because they really served the community, and they worked hard at it and they took care of their people. And …
ALLEN: I went in one time and he had a big table set up to pick up our food, and he had toilet paper and cooking oil and all that that he was selling, you know. But you thought wow, I mean, this guy’s hustling. He’s keeping this place going, right?
SHEA: And those were the things that were in short supply.
SHEA: Yeah.
ALLEN: And because I had moved out of my office downtown I was going every day to the corner grocery to get my bottle of Coke Zero. And so I got to know him, you know. You know, over here. The guy who was the last one there.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah. Mr. Park.
ALLEN: Park, yeah. And it got to be a thing between us because I would try and give him exact change every day. And I had this big thing of quarters that I had saved over the years. And it lasted until the end. [Laughs.]
DEUTSCH: And you got rid of them.
ALLEN: Yeah.
DEUTSCH: There’s a lot that we’ve left out, but there’s a couple of things I want to talk about. One is also Hill centered. Everyone Home DC, Capitol Hill Group Ministry. Talk to me a little bit about that.
ALLEN: Well, it’s in the context of St. Mark’s, because when we started at St. Mark’s outreach was not big on the agenda.
ALLEN: And the rector, Jim Adams, was not wild about it. He didn’t do anything with it, you know. He didn’t promote it, didn’t push it. And [our son] Chris was three, so 1985. And somebody got it started to go over to the Church of the Brethren [Washington City Church of the Brethren, 337 North Carolina Avenue SE] …
SHEA: Steve Schindel.
ALLEN: Steve Schindel …
SHEA: From St. Mark’s.
ALLEN: … started it, to go to the Church of the Brethren soup kitchen.
ALLEN: All right. And to fix a meal on a Sunday night. All right? Soup, dessert, salad …
SHEA: Cornbread.
ALLEN: … whatever. Well, you remember this.
SHEA: Yeah.
ALLEN: Okay. And they had it then the next day to serve. Okay? Well, that was a big deal at St. Mark’s.
DEUTSCH: Was it Steve’s idea?
SHEA: Mm-hmm.
ALLEN: Yes, it was totally Steve’s, Steve and Joan. They discovered that the Church of the Brethren did not have a decent refrigerator, so Steve did a …
SHEA: Walk.
ALLEN: Was it a hike?
SHEA: A walk.
ALLEN: A walk up the C and O Canal, 50 miles or something they did to raise money. And people gave money for it. And Chris came with us to do this on a Sunday. It was one Sunday night a month. And we’d fix macaroni and cheese casseroles. And I still remember one time, you know, he’s still in his car seat and I was getting him into it or out of it and he said “Now, I a volunteer, too.”
DEUTSCH: [Laughs] Oh, God.
SHEA: The kids loved it because they could mix the stuff with their hands.
ALLEN: Oh, the pudding, pudding.
SHEA: The pudding.
ALLEN: That’s what it was.
SHEA: Oh, yeah. They had a wonderful …
ALLEN: Big thing of—and get in there and mix it up.
DEUTSCH: Oh, that’s so beautiful.
ALLEN: It was fantastic. So anyway, so the big deal, though, was the night that Jim Adams came and chopped vegetables with us. Because it was the chopping the vegetables for the soup.
DEUTSCH: It was endless.
SHEA: Endless.
ALLEN: Yes. Because we’d bring in …
SHEA: And they were huge.
ALLEN … bring in big sacks of onions and this kind and that, you know, from a wholesaler actually. And Jack Richards did a lot of that work.
DEUTSCH: Yes, I remember Jack. No, I never did that. I went in during the week and I served.
ALLEN: Okay.
DEUTSCH: And I did that with Roger Craig for years. But I never did the Sunday night thing.
ALLEN: Mm. Anyway, so that started more of—got “outreach” started. Now, going back, as I’ve been doing, if you read our Gospel every week, the, you know, our online bulletin, you’ll see this stuff from the archives. You do see that, right?
ALLEN: At the very end of the Gospel.
SHEA: You have to go to the very end, which you probably don’t.
ALLEN: This Sunday 14 years ago. This Sunday 48 years ago. We have bulletins going back to 1947. So for the last, going on almost a year, every week I’ve been putting a blurb at the end. I go back and find a bulletin for that Sunday x number of years back.
DEUTSCH: I’m not sure I even get it.
ALLEN: They’re fascinating. It comes electronically, the Gospel. And it’s at the end. It doesn’t go more than …
DEUTSCH: It must be so much fun.
ALLEN: … about 150 words. And, oh, it’s great fun. It’s great fun. But, anyway, I can see that there’s always been outreach activities at St. Mark’s. It was just the extent to which they were promoted or valued or whatever. Right? I mean back in the late 1940s they were doing bazaars to raise money for the Episcopal Home for the Aged.
SHEA: Well, and Bill Baxter [St. Mark’s rector, 1954–1966] certainly did things.
ALLEN: Absolutely.
SHEA: They opened up for sit-ins and all kinds of things.
ALLEN: Right. It was very activist during Bill’s time. They organized a group to go down when Dr. [Martin Luther] King spoke at the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington [August 28, 1963]. Bill and some—well, yes, I think a couple of parishioners went with him, went to Selma and marched [Selma to Montgomery marches in Alabama, March 1965].
DEUTSCH: Bill Baxter went to Selma?
DEUTSCH: Was he with—I mean, in the walk across the bridge?
ALLEN: Yeah. Yeah. And he wrote about it. Well, he didn’t write it—in that book that what’s her name put together. The …
SHEA: Jo Ellen [Hayden].
ALLEN: Jo Ellen put together. The oral history from him.
DEUTSCH: Mm-hmm.
ALLEN: It’s in there. And, so there was this strain of activism. And, so it started to develop. And I may have my timing mixed up here. They needed somebody to represent St. Mark’s on Samaritan Ministry [of Greater Washington].
SHEA: Right.
ALLEN: Yeah. On the board, because we were one of the founding parishes of Samaritan Ministry, and every parish had a spot, had a seat on the board. I don’t think I was the first to do it, but I ...
SHEA: I did it, actually, before you.
ALLEN: Oh, you did?
SHEA: Mm-hmm.
ALLEN: Well, you talk about it.
SHEA: I don’t even know how it happened but, anyway, I did Samaritan Ministry and then you did it. And then there was Capitol Hill Group Ministry.
DEUTSCH: So Samaritan Ministry was before Capitol Hill Group Ministry.
ALLEN: No, it’s different. Capitol Hill Group Ministry started out in the 1950s, I think. Certainly in the early 1960s.
DEUTSCH: Early 1960s, I think.
SHEA: Yeah.
ALLEN: Okay. And their big—and, basically, at the beginning it was just the ministers getting together and talking and meeting regularly. And I don’t know if they did some Bible study. They were just sort of learning from each other. They were a collegial group. And their big joint project was the Easter Parade.
SHEA: Mm-hmm.
ALLEN: All right. You remember the Easter Parade?
DEUTSCH: I have heard about the Easter Parade. I was never there for it.
ALLEN: There were, I don’t know, a half dozen churches that participated. I think the first was all, I think they were all Protestant churches. I may be wrong about that. But it would start at one church and then they’d go around the Hill and people from, you know, from …
DEUTSCH: And end up at Lincoln Park.
SHEA: Mm-hmm.
ALLEN: … CHUMC [Capitol Hill United Methodist Church, 421 Seward Square SE] and the Presbys [Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church, 201 Fourth Street SE] and the Lutherans [Lutheran Church of the Reformation, 212 East Capitol Street NE] and us and I don’t know who all.
DEUTSCH: Christ Church probably.
ALLEN: Christ Church [620 G Street SE], I assume. And there was the year that they had the calliope to do it, et cetera, et cetera. Well, so it started out that way and then it began to look at social issues and particularly the issues around unhoused or under-housed people. And that got going into human services, providing human services. All volunteer based at the beginning obviously. Taking sandwiches out, whatever. I don’t remember. So the two of us each—I’d forgotten that Maureen had been on the Samaritan Ministry board—and then I got involved with Capitol Hill Group Ministry. And my first big activity with them was to help put on the golf tournament to raise money. Martha Huizenga and I were for several years the co-chairs of the golf tournament.
DEUTSCH: Yes, I remember that.
ALLEN: And I was on the board. And I was on the board when we went through a period of change.
DEUTSCH: The renaming? That period of change?
ALLEN: No, no, not that, no. Before that. St. Mark’s was also critical in creating Shirley’s Place [1338 G Street SE].
ALLEN: Right. And we were heavily involved in that as a church, as an institution. But I was on the board there when there was a staff change, when our former …
SHEA: Emily …
ALLEN: St. Mark’s, Emily …
SHEA: Guthrie.
ALLEN: Had been …
ALLEN: Had been the executive director.
ALLEN: And I think I was on the board part of that time. And then she left and they hired another woman …
DEUTSCH: Barfonce [Baldwin]. Yes, I remember.
ALLEN: Yes, okay. And it was during Barfonce’s time that we developed a—when I was on the board—a strategic plan, a new strategic plan for them that I would say probably, if you could find it, you’d see a fair connection between it and what they’ve become.
DEUTSCH: Mm-hmm. Sort of the beginning.
ALLEN: It was the beginning of the dreaming. It was the beginning of the dreaming, I think, on an organized basis, right? And, so that, yeah, that was it. And I was on the board for a couple of terms and then rotated off. But, then—I think it was under Paul’s [Paul Abernathy, St. Mark’s rector, 1998–2015] time that Paul asked Nancy Van Scoyoc and me to co-chair and to put together the first official outreach board.
SHEA: At St. Mark’s.
ALLEN: At St. Mark’s. Okay? And that got us into figuring out what that should look like and then getting vestry approval, et cetera, putting it together and beginning to pull the programs together and trying to give it more visibility. So I served for I don’t know how long on that.
DEUTSCH: A long time.
ALLEN: Doesn’t seem that long, but maybe it was. And it became the vehicle for funding of programs, for doing some strategic planning., getting groups together to at least talk together. Yeah. I think in retrospect we weren’t activist enough. It was a distribute-the-power kind of operation, you know. Let a thousand flowers bloom. So you had all these, just like we have now, these independent projects. All right. We talked a lot about having a big signature project, and we never got that. We could never agree on what that was. There were too many ideas about what the signature should be about. Right?
DEUTSCH: Yeah. That’s still ongoing.
ALLEN: And that’s still ongoing, right? And, so we still have—and that’s, you know, in retrospect was that good or bad? I don’t know. At one point Shirley’s Place was a signature project for St. Mark’s. But then, we lost— I think we’ve moved away from that.
DEUTSCH: The shelter ministry in the summer.
ALLEN: Oh, the shelter ministry. Yes.
SHEA: Yeah. But I think some of it, and it’s one of those interesting points, is that as it went from Capitol Hill Group Ministry to Everyone Home DC it became much more of a professional …
DEUTSCH: Right. Oh, yes.
SHEA: … organization and so I don’t think, I don’t know, that there’s any vehicle that gets the heads of the various faith institutions together …
SHEA: … anymore. I don’t know that that exists. And it’s doing wonderful work, what Everyone Home is doing, but, you know …
DEUTSCH: It’s citywide. It no longer has the Capitol Hill focus.
SHEA: At all.
ALLEN: And it’s very professionalized.
DEUTSCH: Very professional, yeah.
SHEA: And going to Shirley’s Place—I don’t know. Now it’s all about contributing gift cards or something for backpacks or Thanksgiving dinner, you know. You used to do those physical things and you don’t.
DEUTSCH: The Christmas parties.
SHEA: Yeah. And, so it’s just that’s a whole other reflection about how things change.
ALLEN: Right.
DEUTSCH: Are we okay? Okay. I know this is long, but I have a couple more things I want to ask you about. One is one of the major things you took on at St. Mark’s, Kenn, was being junior warden, which means you have the upkeep of a 130-year old building.
ALLEN: You want me to reminisce about that?
DEUTSCH: The good old days.
SHEA: There isn’t enough time.
ALLEN: I was on the vestry. Paul Abernathy was the rector, and I served my—it’s a three-year term and I think I only served two of them and then decided to run for senior warden. And, as was the custom always at St. Mark’s, there was no opposition. It wasn’t much of an election. There was only one year when there was—Remember …
SHEA: I remember.
ALLEN: … one where there was opposition to …
SHEA: Senior warden.
ALLEN: … senior warden. And there was one once for junior warden. And …
SHEA: Anyway.
DEUTSCH: In this case, there was a huge sigh of relief. Aah.
SHEA: Right.
ALLEN: Yes, I think so.
DEUTSCH: And Allen is willing to take on senior warden.
ALLEN: I don’t know that anyone thought that it was a good idea that it was me, just that there was a warm body who was willing to take it. But, so I insisted that, even though I was unopposed, I wanted to speak at the annual meeting where we do the election so people would know what they were getting. Because I had an agenda of things that I wanted to get done in my two years. And the first one on the list was I wanted to do an assessment of the building and I wanted to come out of, by the end of the two years, I wanted us to come out with a plan for what we needed and wanted to do with the building. And no one objected. So we started, and we were quite serious about it. We did a complete, you know, we got consultants to do an analysis of the condition of the building. And you will recall at the time our offices for the church were in the townhouse …
DEUTSCH: Baxter.
ALLEN: … on Third Street, Baxter House [111 Third Street SE]. And so we had limited space in the church, right? And so a critically important part of it was the dreaming process that we went through, where we invited everyone at St. Mark’s to dream about what we wanted to be and how that related to the building. It started as dreams about the building ,and that took us into, of course, the dreams about what we wanted to be and how we wanted to live. And we ended up— it is true, we have them recorded—1,001 dreams. We may have made up the one at the end. But, most of them were about the building but a huge percentage of them were about programs.
DEUTSCH: Being something.
ALLEN: Being something. Right? And so we pushed on, and we learned about what the restrictions were going to be since we’re a historic property. We got a consultant, Emily Eig, who’s a fantastic historic preservation consultant. And she guided us through the whole process. We got an architect to consult with us. Well, we went through the whole process, the planning process. And we got the Episcopal Church Foundation, based in New York, which at the time was helping parishes do capital campaigns. And they would consult with you about how to get started and then they’d help you find a consultant, a paid consultant. We got money out of our endowment to do the planning process, and we were pretty well done by the time my term was up as senior warden. And I broke precedent—because the precedent generally at St. Mark’s was that, at the end of their term, the senior warden disappeared into a state of exhaustion [interviewer laughs] and had to recover. But I announced to Paul Abernathy, our rector, that I wanted to stay on, not as senior warden, but as co-chair of the committee that was going to oversee the project. So Mike Townsend, who you know, and I were the co-chairs.
DEUTSCH: The restoration. Or the …
ALLEN: For the Vision 2020 we called it.
DEUTSCH: I remember.
ALLEN: And we undertook to raise money. We leaned on people we knew who—sometimes we had to encourage them to move from one level to another level of giving. Sometimes being disruptive to households [interviewer laughs] when there might be some gap in perceptions of what should be given.
SHEA: Including your own.
ALLEN: Including our own. Yes. [Shea laughs] … And the project kept getting bigger and bigger and more complicated. And we kept adding things that we wanted to do. And we realized, I think we knew, certainly, that our dream, our big dream, was that we were creating a place not just for us but for the neighborhood. That we wanted to be able to be a destination for people who needed space. So we were very deliberate about the kinds of things we built into the building. You know, we host the St. Mark’s Players, the theater group. And they were extraordinarily active in that period and we wanted to preserve them. So we built in special storage space—too much, most people would say—for their stuff, their theater stuff. We thought about audiovisual needs in other rooms, et cetera. And we really conceived of it as a place where people could come and have meetings or social events, and you know. So we have been a primary destination for some Capitol Hill school PTAs when they’re doing their whatever they call them now. When they do …
DEUTSCH: Auctions.
ALLEN: … their auctions and other fundraising events. The [Capitol Hill] Community Foundation has been there. A couple of other groups. I mean it’s …
SHEA: Capitol Hill Village.
ALLEN: Capitol Hill Village, yes. They’ve been regular until the pandemic. We have a lot of repeat business.
DEUTSCH: And concerts.
ALLEN: Concerts.
DEUTSCH: The Folger Consort and the ...
ALLEN: Oh, we’re big on concerts now. [Shea laughs.] But we preserved our nave. We didn’t change it, but we preserved our nave to keep it as what we think is, I’m pretty sure, is the largest single open space on Capitol Hill that’s not government owned. I mean, the Armory.
ALLEN: But we are slightly bigger than the North Hall. Our nave is slightly bigger than the North Hall, I believe.
DEUTSCH: At the [Eastern] Market.
ALLEN: Yeah, yeah. Sorry. At the Market. Anyway, so that was our big project. And it cost us over someplace between four and five million dollars to do. We raised the money from a variety of ways, mainly from gifts and from …
DEUTSCH: Legacies.
ALLEN: Well, just outright gifts. They didn’t die to give it to us. [Allen and interviewer laugh] And we took some money out of our endowment, which was controversial, but it put us over the top. And then we came out of it with a million dollar mortgage, which subsequently was retired totally through a legacy gift. So that was it. And, so then I sort of retired from leadership. And a couple of years later I was asked to become the junior warden, which is the person responsible for the care and feeding of the building.
DEUTSCH: The person to whom all headache-inducing issues are addressed.
ALLEN: Possibly, yes. And, so we decided, two other guys—Pete Eveleth, who lives here on the Hill and who you know and who’s a member of St. Mark’s, was a huge advocate for historic preservation and Don Gangloff, who does not live on the Hill, a member …
DEUTSCH: Who’s an architect.
ALLEN: Architect and specializes in historic preservation. And,so we undertook to do a further assessment. In between there I’d been involved with our friend Doris Burton and Mary Cooper in planning and executing the renovation of the stained glass windows in the nave, that had been largely underwritten by the Coopers, our parish historians, from his estate, and other gifts. Anyway, so we were doing this assessment basically of the main building, because we’d rebuilt everything else, so the nave building, the sanctuary building. And we discovered that—it got our attention when a piece fell off of our tower and was found splintered on the sidewalk below,
ALLEN: So that became the focus of our Extended Vision Campaign and effort to totally restore the tower and the front façade of the church. And we did another capital campaign. We raised the money. And I looked at it the other day. We were walking down Third Street in the late afternoon, and I saw it for the first time that way. … I see it every day, right? But it was just something hit me, and I looked and I could see the work we had done. I could see how wonderfully it looked. So that’s that.
DEUTSCH: Well, it’s an amazing contribution to the community.
ALLEN: Well, you know, we were obviously set back by the shutdown. We were shut down for almost exactly a year, from March of 2020 until April of 2021. But, you know, people kept things going, kept things alive online, as you know. Maureen and I had a special volunteer responsibility. We were entrusted with the keys to the mailbox. And so we went down every day, Monday through Saturday, in the afternoon, and got the mail. And sorted it and took out the money that was in it, the checks. You learned to recognize which envelopes were worth looking at.
DEUTSCH: I thought you were going to talk about your coffee ministry.
SHEA: I thought you were going to talk about Bella.
ALLEN: I am going to. We had the blessing that the month before the shutdown, on February 19th, our friend Bella came to live with us. Came from her birth home in Wisconsin. She’s a retired breeding mother, an Australian labradoodle. So she accompanied us every day to take care of the mail for a year. And to this day, mid-afternoon she takes us to St. Mark’s.
SHEA: And we can’t go in the other direction.
ALLEN: No. We take her for her afternoon walk, we go to St. Mark’s. And she goes up to the door and waits to be told that everything’s okay. And we go off for a walk.
DEUTSCH: How many pots of coffee do you suppose you have made, just roughly. Like 10,000?
DEUTSCH: 5,000?
SHEA: A lot. I’d like though to say one more thing about the spaces, because I think it was both a matter of having reasonably priced space available, but also there are a number of groups who meet at St. Mark’s …
SHEA: … without paying.
ALLEN: Right.
SHEA: So …
DEUTSCH: AA [Alcoholics Anonymous].
SHEA: I don’t know what the deal is. I don’t know if AA pays or ... I don’t think so, but ...
ALLEN: I don’t think so.
SHEA: You know, you realize when —I was there doing something one time, and a man came in and said, “I’m looking for a meeting”. And there was a concert. And there’s a difference between a concert and a meeting, and I said, “Oh, I think I know where you want to go. Come with me.” Well, he was from out of town and, you know, he’d checked and this was an AA meeting, and so I took him down. I mean, you just realize how important—in that moment you realize that that’s important. And Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, you know, we’ve met there. Good Neighbors of Capitol Hill board meetings are there for free. So there’s just a lot in terms of the community itself that’s …
ALLEN: And we now do the National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence.
SHEA: Yeah.
DEUTSCH: How many years has that been?
SHEA: Well, the actual vigil has been eight. The first year they were at the [Washington National] Cathedral. The next year they were at the cathedral but they came to us to do their lobbying. And the vigil has been eight years, and that’s the most complicated and difficult thing we do. It’s logistically, there are people coming from all over the country, and there are all kinds of logistical issues about feeding them and all of that. And then there’s just dealing with and hosting all of these people who have been through such terrible trauma that takes a whole other level of understanding, compassion, hospitality. Whatever unreasonable demand you are making we will get it done sort of attitude. And this year, obviously we had President Biden come, so that was huge.
DEUTSCH: Talk about complexity. Yeah.
SHEA: Talk about complexity. Some of the neighbors are still unhappy about the parking. Anyway, not our fault. So I think that just looking at it, at least me, I’m just happy we’re able to do all those things that go beyond. For those of us who go and worship there, there’s a whole other gift in this of community that’s important.
DEUTSCH: This is very interesting. I mean, I lived through all this but I never really thought about someone, you, consciously deciding that this building is an asset not just for the community of people who worship there but for the neighborhood and, in a larger sense, that really was visionary.
ALLEN: It was a great investment. [Shea laughs.]
SHEA: It was also—you know, there had been a Head Start program there for a while.
DEUTSCH: Had there?
SHEA: Yes.
ALLEN: Yeah.
SHEA: And people remembered that. And I think sensed a loss when it left. It didn’t leave because of St. Mark’s. I think there were things about where kids were. You wanted the programs to be where the kids were, and we weren’t where they were. So I think that really is nice and it is nice to be able to offer that to people.
ALLEN: And it’s part of the St. Mark’s tradition, in a way. I mean, for a long time, St. Barnabas Deaf Church held their services in our … This was before the first renovation. Back in the ’60s and ’70s. Or ’60s, I guess, ’50s and ‘60s. They were there. There have always been community groups that have used it. You can see it. I can see it in the bulletin, you know.
ALLEN: I think it’s, yeah, it’s become that—well, where I was going, I had two thoughts, I’m sorry. One was just to note that we’ve been the home for the Montessori school [District Montessori] for the last few years.
ALLEN: They’ll be moving out now that they have their own space. But that’s been an important addition. And I need to note, because she won’t, that Maureen is heavily involved with the gun violence efforts and with the vigil. Indeed, I think the vigil would not be what it is if Maureen wasn’t involved.
SHEA: A huge overstatement, so let’s not include it.
ALLEN: I think one of the nice things about St. Mark’s for us, because you started asking this question, has been the opportunity to engage with the hospitality function. It is tiring, wouldn’t you say?
SHEA: It’s a pain to go to Costco on a regular basis and buy all that stuff. But on Sunday when you look around and everybody’s standing around and chatting and talking, and it’s because there’s hospitality that keeps them there, and the kids are happy and the parents are enjoying it, then you say, “Ah, yes, this was worth it.” [Laughs.] So it is, again building community. I saw a thing about a study that people said that the important thing to them about going to church was the Eucharist and coffee hour. So …
DEUTSCH: And, in a way, they’re the same thing [laughs].
SHEA: Yes.
ALLEN: Right.
SHEA: Exactly.
ALLEN: The breaking of the bread.
DEUTSCH: You’re being fed.
SHEA: You’re being fed. And, so …
DEUTSCH: Well, in a way, that brings me to sort of what I wanted to end up with. There’s a lot we haven’t covered, but I feel like this is a lot. You know, we need to kind of take a break. I mean I haven’t asked you about Good Neighbors Capitol Hill. But I just wanted to ask sort of in general, how would you say—what gives you the willingness, the eagerness even, to engage with all these community-building activities?
SHEA: Okay. The truth is I love doing it. [Interviewer and Shea laugh.] … In the overall, it gives me—I have had a really good life. Okay? And, so for me it’s an opportunity to share some of that, because I have the time to do this and I can do it. And I get to meet amazing people. I mean, it’s really fun. I do Food Rescue and I take food sometimes over to an Episcopal church in Old Town [Alexandria]. And they are just as nice as they can be.
SHEA: And, so engaging in these things is, I do think and hope, meaningful for someone and helpful, but I have to admit that I really just like doing it. I don’t do it begrudgingly. I guess that’s, you know, it. And it is not because I think I ought to. I think we really are called to do it. But, for me, that call is pretty easy to accept.
DEUTSCH: That’s beautiful. How about you, Kenn? Are you going to top that?
ALLEN: I can never top anything that Maureen says [Shea laughs] when she’s pulling everything together like that. I think that St. Mark’s offers an easy way to remain active and involved and to feel like you’re doing something worthwhile. Okay? I mean, people have expressed surprise that I’m spending a lot of time working on the archives and parish history. But, for me, it’s fun. It’s educational. It uses my skills. And, I think, you know, we ought to, we have to remember the past. I really believe that, you know. It’s an easy way to go to Costco because we always buy a few things for ourselves …
ALLEN: … while we’re out there. On our tab, not on the church’s, I hasten to add. And it’s a way of being of service and to contribute to building community. I think that, you know, you could go into any church on Sunday morning and hear the gospel, hear a sermon, whatever, right? Sing a song or two. But what’s important, I think, for people is being part of community And, as Maureen said, it’s not hard to get up a little earlier and go make some coffee and put out some cookies when you see the people in there in community. When you’re there the most exciting time of all is when Sunday School lets out and they all pour into the parish hall. [Interviewer and Shea laugh.]
DEUTSCH: For cookies and …
ALLEN: For cookies and juice and all that, and it’s noisy and all. And, you know, you begin to make friends with some of the kids. And, you know, you can just stand and revel in the energy in it all. And, so making a few pots of coffee and putting out some cookies is not a heavy lift to help that happen.
SHEA: I know you’re finishing up. I do want to say something about the [Capitol Hill Community] Foundation, though, as long as they’re being nice enough to give us this award we don’t really think we deserve. But, anyway. Which is, I think the foundation has really helped educate us about all the things going on on the Hill. And I think that’s been a really important thing. And also providing these wonderful—I mean I loved the Literary Feast. We went one year, and we said we were going to Romania for a wedding, and the woman—it turned out her first husband was Romanian and she said let’s get together. She planned our whole trip to Transylvania for us. You know, it was just a delight. And so I personally feel real gratitude to the foundation for what it tells us about our community and supports it. And it has provided these certain opportunities along the way to get to know some of the people we never would have met otherwise.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. The Literary Feast in particular.
SHEA: Yeah. Was a particularly good—yeah.
ALLEN: When I was working, you know, I had an office downtown, I’d walk over to Eastern Market Metro every day in the morning and would walk along Seventh Street, you know, from Independence to Seventh. And—I’m not going to do it now—when Eastern Market burned …
SHEA: Oh, yeah.
ALLEN: And I stood there and cried because it’s so emotional, because I thought it was destroying the community, had the potential to destroy the community. But I knew that the foundation would do something. Right? And it did.
DEUTSCH: Yep. Nicky Cymrot was probably standing on the corner with tears in her eyes next to you.
SHEA: Yes, yeah. No, I remember all of us out there and just, you know. But what the foundation did again in that moment was to help those of us who had been standing there.
DEUTSCH: Like what should we do?
SHEA: What should we do?
SHEA: And, also when the Arthur Capper [Senior Apartments, 900 Fifth Street SE ], when they had that fire and the foundation stepped in, I mean, that’s a really big deal and, again …
DEUTSCH: Well, in a way, something sort of similar happened with the Eastern [High School] band. [See interview with James Perry on this website.]
SHEA: Mm-hmm. Yes.
DEUTSCH: In fact, I have to check with Nicky as to how that all got started. But, somehow, the foundation was just inundated with people wanting—I got calls. I’m not even on the board anymore and I got calls from people saying, “I’ve got an instrument I want to donate to the Eastern High School band. What should I do?”
SHEA: I think it started with a story in the [Washington] Post.
DEUTSCH: Story in the Post.
SHEA: And then it went viral.
DEUTSCH: Yeah. About the band.
SHEA: About the band. And hearing Nicky describe hilariously she thought something was wrong with her phone because she gets pinged every time there’s a donation. [Interviewer laughs.] And her phone was just—and she couldn’t—What is wrong?
DEUTSCH: My phone. Why is it pinging?
SHEA: Yeah, yeah. So you know, for us, I think, being honored by the foundation, given who they are, is huge. I mean, undeserving as we are. But there we are.
DEUTSCH: I think that’s a good place to end now unless you have something.
ALLEN: No, I was just going to say I think that the foundation has a life to it. I hope it can continue to expand that life and get more and more people who pay attention and understand, because it has the potential not just to collect money and give it away.
ALLEN: But to also help stimulate things, to be a catalytic force as well and an educational force. And I think it is one of the great assets of this neighborhood.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, I do, too.
ALLEN: And it really is—so we’re sort of stunned by this whole thing.
DEUTSCH: After hearing you talk, Kenn, I’m just surprised that it took us this long to give you the award. Honestly, you’re incredibly deserving.
Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project
Kenn Allen and Maureen Shea Interview, February 10, 2023
FINAL EDITS 11/9/2023

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