As part of its celebration of Black History Month, Brown-Forman recently recognized longtime employee and Spalding alumna Elmer Lucille Allen as the first winner of the Strategic Progressive Leaders and Achievers with a Shared Heritage (SPLASH) Advocacy Award.
Moving forward, the title of the award will bear her name.
Allen, a 1953 graduate of Spalding (then called Nazareth College) who was among the school’s first African-American students, was Brown-Forman’s first black chemist and worked there from 1966 to 1997. At the time of her retirement, she held the title of senior analytical chemist. Allen has remained involved with the company and maintains many friendships there.
A crowd of about 150 of her friends, relatives and colleagues attended a reception on Feb. 1 to honor the 86-year-old Allen.
Allen, a graduate of Central High School, enrolled at Spalding in 1951 and majored in general education with a specialty in chemistry and mathematics.
Early in her tenure at Brown-Forman, she said, she analyzed raw products such as corn, rye and malt. In later years, she analyzed final products and tracked samples.
She said she enjoyed working at Brown-Forman while seeing it grow into a major company with products sold throughout the world. She also praised the diversity of its workforce.
“You led the way, but you don’t really realize you led the way,” she said. “Like when I went to Spalding, I had never been to class with a white student before. So it was a learning experience.
During remarks to the crowd, she reflected on her career and encouraged her colleagues to give to Spalding’s Lauderdale Miller Endowed Scholarship, which she helped create. The scholarship, which goes to African-American women, is named for Patricia Lauderdale Bell and Barbara Miller, who were Nazareth College’s first black graduates in 1951. (Here’s a list of all of Spalding’s endowed scholarships.)
Allen has remained active and involved with her alma mater and was the recipient of the 2011 Caritas Medal as Spalding’s alumna of the year.
“Like the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Spalding is a community,” she said. “You have to go outside yourself. You don’t think about you; you think about everybody else. I’m so proud of what Spalding has become. It’s a diverse community, and (President Tori Murden McClure) does an excellent job of recruiting.”
Allen is also an accomplished artist specializing in ceramics and fiber. She received a master’s degree in creative arts from the University of Louisville in 2002.