In his twilight years, Bill Allen resides at Thrive at Frederica. Like a lot of seniors, he has many fond memories about which to reminisce, but it’s unlikely that many people have as colorful memories as he does. Now, thanks to the kindness of a retired Atlanta Brave and a Harris Teeter employee, and perhaps a pinch of kismet, he has one more.
Ryan Klesko, former first baseman and corner outfielder for the Braves, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, was on St. Simons earlier this summer as part of tour on behalf of the Braves. These aren’t guys one can just approach and ask them to add an extra event to their schedule – they’re “handled” by public relations firms and agents and lots of legal gobbledy-gook. That’s where Mark Gagliano, manager of the wine department at Harris Teeter comes in. Klesko was also making a stop in the grocery store to promote a product, so Gagliano knew he would have access to him.
As mentioned, Allen is a resident of Thrive, as is Gagliano’s mother-in-law, and Gagliano and Allen had become acquainted. This is when Gagliano learned Allen had played for the Milwaukee Braves back in the 1950s. Not one to let a great opportunity pass by, Gagliano set out to introduce the two former Braves, by approaching Klesko and simply asked him, but only after clearing the visit with Kelly Johnson the executive director of Thrive.
Happy to accept, Klesko left his engagement at Harris Teeter, and stopped by Thrive, where he and Allen were able to talk baseball.
Allen, a 1949 graduate of Glynn Academy, entered the U.S. Air Force before his 18th birthday. He served two years, and was stationed in Korea during the Korean War, and later, in Japan. When he returned to the States, he played professional baseball with the Milwaukee Braves until 1956 or so. His nickname was “Lefty” Allen.
Allen’s daughter, Mari Ann Peeples, who lives in Jacksonville, Fla., and is director of congregational care for a church there, said her dad retired from baseball when her older brother was on the way.
“They weren’t paid nearly as well as they are now,” she said, adding that the last year her dad played ball, he made a grand total of $8,700.
Peeples tells the story of the Braves fining her dad $120 because he reported to pre-season camp late one year. Allen, she said, shrugged it off, and declared he could make more money wiring houses.
Peeples said her dad began playing baseball in high school, and had always been athletic. Even when he was in the service, he didn’t give up his love of sports completely. He participated in the Olympic Track and Field Trials prior to the 1952 Olympic Games, which were held in Helsinki, Finland. Well into his 60s, Allen could be found golfing on the Seniors Mini Tour.
So, when Allen hung up his pitcher’s glove, he returned to Brunswick and founded Allen Electric and Heating, which he operated for 40 years, and subsequently, he established East Coast Ice Co., on Bay Street, in Brunswick, which serviced all the shrimp boats and many of the area restaurants.
Thrilled for her father, Peeples said Klesko’s visit came at a good time. Her dad is now 84, and is at Thrive because he didn’t recover as expected from a surgery. The visit was a well-deserved break in his regular routine.
“My dad was a hard-working man, with a big heart,” said Peeples.