Friends and family grieve ‘an old soul’ gone too soon
REINBECK – Last Friday evening just after sunset, members of the Gladbrook-Reinbeck community met near the steps of the high school to pay tribute to one of their own gone much too soon.
Connor Michael Allen, just 17, tragically lost his life the previous Monday in a work-related accident. He was a 2023 graduate of G-R High School and beloved by all who encountered him, in the words of his family and friends who spoke during the Friday night vigil.
According to the Grundy County Sheriff’s Office, on July 10 Allen was riding as an unrestrained passenger in a UTV operated by another juvenile in a farm pasture three miles south of Parkersburg.
The driver lost control as he was attempting to avoid hitting a fence and the UTV flipped, pinning Allen underneath. Allen was pronounced dead at the scene.
The juvenile driver was transported to MercyOne Hospital in Waterloo for non-life-threatening injuries.
The accident remains under investigation.
Late Monday evening, Gladbrook-Reinbeck Superintendent Caleb Bonjour announced Allen’s passing on both Facebook and the school’s website, writing: “It is with deep regret that I inform you about a recent loss to our school community. On Monday afternoon, recent 2023 graduate Connor Allen suffered life ending injuries during a work related ATV accident. This loss is sure to raise many emotions, concerns, and questions for our entire school, especially our students.”
Bonjour went on to describe the supports and services the district would be providing in the days ahead “for any student who may need or want help or any type of assistance surrounding this loss.”
The vigil held in memory of Allen on the high school lawn Friday evening was facilitated by Jeremy Thesing and livestreamed on the school district’s Facebook page.
As part of the vigil, photo boards of Allen were positioned near the high school steps while a gallery of similar photos looped on a screen nearby.
Dozens and dozens of candles, tea lights, and twinkle lights were arranged on the steps behind where Thesing spoke to the gathered community which included many of Allen’s high school and neighborhood friends.
“We are so glad you’ve chosen to honor and pay tribute to the life and the smile of Connor Allen this evening,” Thesing began. “Whatever you feel, whatever happens, that’s ok. … I think it just does something to the human spirit when broken hearts meet like this and determine that – at least for this evening – our broken hearts are better together than they are alone.”
For just under an hour, Thesing with help from his wife Erica read tributes penned by Allen’s friends and family.
Allen was described by various people as both an ‘old soul’ and a ‘loyal friend’ with a ‘contagious smile’ that drew everyone in and made them feel at home.
He was a ‘lover of bridges and sunsets’ – one of his favorite pastimes was seeking out little-visited, rural bridges where he would settle in to watch the setting sun as it splashed across the horizon.
“He considered so many places home,” Thesing read aloud from a compilation of memories, “and wherever he was, Connor made you feel at home with him.”
Allen’s favorite teacher, Stasi Nelson who teaches art at Gladbrook-Reinbeck, wrote that “Connor always had a smile for me” and harbored “a spirit about him that spread to his friends and family.”
To end her thoughts, Nelson again referred to his smile, writing, “Smiles are contagious and can heal in many ways.”
Allen’s high school soccer coach Jon Dinsdale spoke during the vigil as well.
“Every time I saw Connor he had a smile on his face,” Dinsdale said of his student-athlete. “He was just a happy kid. … What a pleasure. What a pleasure.”
Following the many written and spoken tributes, Thesing invited Allen’s core group of friends – those he would ‘ride or die’ for – to help light candles for the group vigil.
As the twinkling candles lit up the night like stars sprinkled across a dark canvas, the song “Gentle on My Mind” by Glen Campbell was played – a song Allen’s mother Kristie Evans told Thesing the two had bonded over.
One of Campbell’s lyrics that stood out to Evans, Thesing said, was:
“When I walk along some railroad track and find / That you’re moving on the back roads by the rivers of my memory / And for hours you’re just gentle on my mind.”
Prior to his graduation from G-R this past May, Allen — whose future plans were to attend Hawkeye Community College to major in social work before eventually transferring to UNI — chose a quote for his ‘Senior Spotlight’ which was published in the Sun Courier.
He wrote, “We move as a quiver.”
Those who knew and loved Allen will doubtless spend many an Iowa summer evening in the days, weeks, months, and even years to come watching the water quiver near a rural bridge as the sun goes down.
And remember that smile.
G-R parents or students who are in need of grief assistance resources are encouraged to contact Superintendent Bonjour or another member of his administrative team. Bonjour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A celebration of life for Connor Michael Allen is being planned for July 29 at Elmwood Park in Reinbeck.
For those who would like to donate toward funeral expenses for Allen, checks can be mailed (with instructions) or dropped off at: Lincoln Savings Bank, P.O. Box E, 508 Main Street, Reinbeck, IA 50669. Checks should be made out to Kristie Evans. A donation jar is also available at the Casey’s in Reinbeck.