‘Mother of Yavapai College,’ Opal Allen, honored posthumously for indirectly lifting hundreds of thousands of lives
Loved ones and fans of the late Opal Tenney Goodman Allen had to wait 54 years for the recognition she clearly deserved for being both the ignition and the ramrod that rallied the community behind a “junior college” for Yavapai County.
The long wait ended joyfully Nov. 3 when dozens of extended family members and friends gathered for the dedication of the “Opal Tenney Goodman Allen Founder’s Foyer” in Building 19 on the Yavapai College Prescott campus.
YC leaders and family members acknowledged in remarks that the tribute to the woman known as the “Mother of Yavapai College” was long overdue — so long in fact it was difficult to find a worthy space to put Opal’s name on. Many of the already-named spaces, including the Prescott Campus Boyd Tenney Library named for Opal’s brother, honor male community leaders and donors, some of whom supported the junior college campaign Opal waged from the mid to late 1960s.
In consultation with Opal’s daughter, Lark Cyr, whom Yavapai College Foundation Executive Director Mary Talosi said “gave us grace and gave us a chance” to meaningfully recognize Opal, the foyer outside the Boyd Tenney Library was chosen to bear her name.
“This is one of the most publicly accessed places at the college,” said Ashley Hust, the YCF’s Major Gifts Officer during the dedication. Hust and other dedication speakers lauded Opal’s vision and tenacity and lamented that her efforts were not recognized sooner.
“Her (Opal’s) shovel was too big to be in that picture,” YC Vice President of Community Relations and Student Development Rodney Jenkins said, referring to a projected photo of the all-male groundbreaking crew featured in YC’s commemorative 50th anniversary book. Jenkins called Opal’s overdue recognition “tragic” and said he was pleased the college was able to right this wrong. “We’re here today to set the record straight. Because of pioneers like Opal, Yavapai College exists and has lifted countless lives.”
Cyr estimated her mother has indirectly impacted a quarter of a million students to date, herself included. Cyr played on the inaugural YC’s women’s basketball team and served on the student council. “I enjoyed every minute of my time at YC,” Cyr said, thanking her “visionary” mother for gifting her and so many others the college experience close to home. “She was passionate about how this college could be a blessing in so many peoples’ lives.”
Both Cyr and YC District Governing Board Chair Deb McCasland recalled the community buzz around the junior college campaign and being part of the initial petition signature drive.
McCasland is a YC alumna, served as student activities director, as manager of the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center and is now in her eighth year and counting of District Governing Board service. “YC has been my life. I wouldn’t have been the person I am today without the college,” she said in tribute to Opal.
A mother of eight and “Grandma Goodie” of 45, Opal didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, having grown up in the country and working full time as a single mom after losing her first husband. But she desperately wanted the opportunity for others. “We need this for our young people,” Cyr said, recalling Opal’s rallying cry at community meetings and while knocking on doors to drum up support.
Also a founding member of the YC Foundation, Opal received an honorary degree from the District Governing Board in 2000. She died in 2008 and her gravestone includes the inscription “Mother of Yavapai College.”
Cyr said her mother preferred staying out of the limelight and never once bristled at being seemingly forgotten by YC history. Asked what she believes her mother’s reaction would be to seeing her name permanently affixed to the Founders Foyer, Cyr said: “It was all worth it.”