Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TOP STORY >> Idol’s parents visit Jacksonville

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville chapter of AARP held its monthly meeting Friday and honored successful Jacksonville residents. Among those recognized were special guests who were thanked for their help during Kris Allen’s childhood before he grew up to become America’s latest “Idol.”

Mayor Tommy Swaim, Mayor-elect Gary Fletcher, Aldermen Kenny Elliott, Reedie Ray and Marshall Smith, kindergarten teacher Diane Ashenburger and newly assigned Northwood Middle School principal Kim Forrest were on hand for the special program recognizing “products” of Jacksonville.

Ida Moory, program chair of the AARP’s Jacksonville chapter, organized the program “Jacksonville: A Village,” elaborating on the title of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book, “It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.”

Moory turned the presentation over to Smith, who introduced Neil and Kim Allen, parents of Jacksonville native and former Cabot substitute teacher American Idol Kris Allen.

Smith asked attendees to share their Kris Allen stories. Ashenburger, Allen’s kindergarten teacher, told the group how her school – Tolleson Elementary – kept track of the TV show.

She shared photos of Allen and his younger brother, Daniel, and told how other teachers had a special shirt made for her.

The shirt has a photo of her kindergarten class, which includes Allen on the front, and reads “Kris Allen’s Kindergarten Teacher” on the back.

“He’s always been a kid with great character,” Ashenburger said. “He is a great kid. I’m very, very proud of him.”

Ashenburger is now principal at Tolleson, but taught kindergarten at Murrel Taylor Elementary, where Allen attended.

“He absolutely remembered you as an influence in his life,” Kim Allen told Ashenburger.

His mother remembered how when he graduated high school, he got cards for two teachers who had made an impression in his life. Ashenburger was one of them.

Moory presented Ashenburger, Kim Allen and Forrest with stargazer flowers.

The Allens blew out 24 candles in honor of their son’s birthday. Amy Mattinson with North Metro Medical Center, showed a picture of the hospital – then known as Rebsamen Hospital – as it was in 1985, when Kris was born.

Moory said she got the idea for Friday’s program after reading an editorial in The Leader about Allen.

“That’s why we’re here,” she said. “To recognize Allen and us as a village.”

“Community involvement is very important,” said Swaim, who is retiring June 30. “When things happen around us, we don’t
know how it affects others.”

“It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to raise a great leader,” he continued.

The mayor said he also watched the “American Idol” finale.

Moory then presented Swaim with a budding stargazer because “he’s starting over.”

Reedie Ray was on hand to recognize Forrest. She is the daughter of Joanna and Nick Nickels and was raised in Jacksonville.

Moory closed the program by saying, “I want to be part of a village that does the right thing at the right time.”

After the program, Neil Allen spoke briefly to the group.

“You guys have talked about shaping people,” he said. “There are key people in this room that helped shape his [Kris’] life – first and foremost, his grandfather, Charlie Wood, Marshall Smith and his wife, his kindergarten teacher.

“We want to thank these people from the bottom of our hearts,” he continued.

“Thank you for everything that you’ve done,” said the Idol’s dad.