You can’t drive around Springfield without seeing the names “Betty and Bobby Allison.” Yet few know even the most basic information about them. There has never been an in-depth profile of Bobby Allison, despite the millions he’s given to local charity. This story is an attempt to do that.
He is perhaps our city’s greatest benefactor, a man with a giving heart for children and premature infants.
He has donated millions to our most noble causes — helping victims of domestic violence; funding much of the cost of the Miracle League Ball Field, where those with mental and physical challenges can play baseball.
Yet we know next to nothing about Bobby Allison, and even his closest friends say they don’t know how he made his fortune.
Allison, 74, is renowned not only for his generosity, but also for his unorthodox wardrobe. Even when attending black-tie soirees, his ensemble typically includes his train engineer’s overalls and red sneakers.
A former car salesman, he has worked since approximately 1976 in sales at Custom Protein, which blends animal and marine by-products that are then used in pet food. The plant is in North Springfield.
Allison zealously guards his privacy, keeping the public at arm’s length, offering himself in two dimensions to those outside his inner circle.
He is a private man, yet you cannot walk the Missouri State University campus or drive across Springfield without seeing signs at numerous nonprofits, some of them in big lucent neon, offering thanks to “Betty and Bobby Allison” for charitable donations.
Their names are writ large on the latest and biggest version. It’s a sign along West Chestnut Expressway, near the airport — the Betty and Bobby Allison Sports Town complex.
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Bobby Allison, Springfield’s most mysterious philanthropist, dies at 74
Bobby Allison, one of Springfield’s most generous and most mysterious benefactors, died Thursday morning, Sept. 8, at the age of 74.
In Springfield, “Betty and Bobby Allison” has become as recognizable as “John Q. and Juanita K. Hammons.”
But there’s a major difference. We know the Hammons’s. We are familiar with their story, their background and how John Q. made his millions. When John Q. donated, we knew the financial roots of his charity.
In contrast, Bobby Allison is our city’s most prominent mystery and he wants to keep it that way.
Declined to be interviewed
As is his custom, Allison declined to be interviewed for this story. In addition, he encouraged those who know him best to not talk to the Springfield Daily Citizen.
Who are Bobby and Betty Allison? Are they a couple?
Many mistakenly assume Betty Allison is his wife. No, she is Bobby’s mother. She died in August 2002 at 79.
Her obituary states she was born in Coffeyville, Kansas, and “managed a day-care center, worked in state government, managed apartment complexes and was an owner of a gift shop, Aunt Betty’s Gifts ‘n Things.”
The shop was at 3548 S. National, in the Bradford Centre.
That distillation of her life is more than many know about her only child, Robert Mark Allison Jr.
Her obituary makes no mention of a husband; Allison has said he is indebted to a single mom who worked several jobs to pay the bills.
Longtime friend Jack Stack describes Allison as a “prankster” with a playful zest for life.
That sense of humor — if that’s what it was — comes across as jarring in his mother’s obituary, which Allison apparently wrote. It says, in part:
“Betty was a devoted mother who worked tirelessly to raise her worthless son Bobby. (This obituary was submitted and paid for by Bobby Allison).”
In November 2018, Biz 417 magazine listed Allison among its top 100 business leaders in Southwest Missouri.
Allison, as a writer, again left the traditional path when he stated his position at Custom Protein as “flunky.” His actual position is vice president of sales. The plant is on north Farm Road 151 (also called North Grant Avenue), Springfield.
Two of his closest friends, who have known him since at least junior high, say they honestly don’t know how Allison made his fortune.
Both were circumspect when talking about Allison, but they did talk some — even after being informed in a phone conversation with a reporter that Allison was not cooperating with this story.
They later said they preferred not to be quoted because Allison wants to remain a private person. The Citizen has chosen not to use their names.
Others who know him spoke for the record and by name.
Said one friend: “I am telling you the truth when I tell you I have no idea how he does it or what he did. … After I see he donated more money I’ll say, ‘God, Bobby, did you hit an oil well?’ and he will immediately go in a different direction.”
Allison has said he has never married and has no children, although he apparently is close to two children he is not necessarily related to — a girl and a boy. He apparently is like a grandfather to them.
The boy gave a brief speech in 2021 when Allison was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame for being a sports philanthropist and humanitarian.
Allison’s Hall of Fame bio says he owns Custom Protein and is a Parkview High graduate. Both statements appear to be inaccurate.
Thomas Carter, long-time president of Custom Protein, spoke to the Springfield Daily Citizen just long enough to say Allison has never owned the company.
“He has worked here for a long time. Over 46 years.”
Parkview High has no record of a “Bobby Allison” or a “Robert Allison” graduating from there.
His photo appears in the school’s 1965 yearbook. It is his junior year. No mention of him and no photo of him is in the 1966 yearbook.
“He is Bill Gates-smart,” says a longtime friend who spoke briefly to the Citizen. But that does not necessarily mean Allison was an outstanding student, he says.
The friend says Allison was but a young boy when he and his mother moved to Springfield from Oklahoma.
Allison joined the Marine Corps Reserve in the late 1960s, the friend says.
In 1971 Allison was a car salesman at Reliable Chevrolet, according to a eulogy he gave in 2020 for long-time friend Ed Pinegar. The eulogy was recorded and shared on Facebook.
In addition, Allison was listed as a salesman at Reliable Chevrolet in a 1971 ad in the News-Leader. In a 1972 ad, he was listed as a salesman at Motor City, a dealership on West Kearney Street.
“I really don’t want to say any more,” the friend says. “We did a lot together. We are still doing stuff.”
Most who know Allison say they either think he did go to college or don’t know and, again, Allison isn’t talking.
Brent Dunn, vice president for university advancement at Missouri State, says Allison’s charitable donations to the school’s athletic programs have been considerable.
“The gifts are just game-changers for the entire university,” Dunn says. “There are things that we probably could not do if it wasn’t for the private support.”
Allison was given MSU’s Founders Medallion in 2014 for contributions exceeding $1 million. In 2016 he was given the annual Bronze Bear award for his financial support of the university.
Dunn says Allison, who grew up here, never attended the university.
One of Allison’s closest friends is Jeff Hutchens, president and CEO of Hutchens Industries, which has manufacturing plants in Seymour and Mansfield and headquarters in Springfield.
Hutchens said he didn’t feel comfortable talking to the Citizen about his friend and he apologized.
“I am really sorry,” he says. “Believe it or not, I would love to talk about him, but he called me and told me not to. I am surprised that he has taken that tack. I’m kind of stuck.”
A prankster with a phony skunk
For close to 40 years, Jack Stack, CEO at SRC Holdings Corp. in Springfield, has been Allison’s neighbor in northeast Springfield. They are friends who are known to, in jest, exchange verbal barbs.
Allison lived on the block first. He has a backyard tennis court and he invited Stack to come over to play.
At one point on the court, Stack says, Allison became either angry or frustrated — or both.
“He threw a racket at me. It went over my head. I thought to myself ‘this is the craziest son of a (expletive) I’ve ever met.'”
Allison famously does not like to leave his home before noon, Stack says.
“He will not move off that.”
For years, Allison would order his dinner from local restaurants and have it delivered to his house via taxi cab, Stack says.
Allison has long been known for his love of Corvettes, but his Corvette-owning days might be over, Stack adds. Allison recently purchased a yellow Cadillac compact luxury SUV.
“He was starting to have a hard time getting in and out of the Corvette,” Stack says.
The two have flown together to Hot Springs, Arkansas, during the annual thoroughbred season at Oaklawn. Allison either owns or is an investor/partial owner of racehorses.
Through Bad Bob Airline LLC, Allison owns a corporate jet that seats nine passengers. This is the plane Stack was in during trips to Hot Springs. (The plane can be chartered for $4,900 an hour, according to the company’s website.)
“He is a character,” Stack says. “He has one of the best senses of humor. He’s a trickster.
“I was out at a bar and I came home and there was a skunk in my house. He put a fake skunk in my house.” (It was in the garage.)
Stack at first thought it was real and ready to spray.
“I was on the phone with animal control. I had a fishing rod and reel and tried to budge it. It never moved. Underneath it was Bobby’s card.
“Who else would think of some stupid game like that?”
When it comes to children and their needs, Stack says, Allison does not hesitate to make life better for them through his giving.
“He is an angel. He is a real angel. He has a tremendous love of children. He has donated so much money to Mercy.”
Allison contributed to Mercy’s new neonatal intensive care unit. He gave $2 million in 2012 and another $650,000 the next year.
Stack says Allison has even stepped in when he sees a rundown playground.
He has given $200,000 for the playground at Westport Elementary School and $50,000 for the nearby Hailey Owens memorial playground.
Allison was a major donor for the new $6.4 million Greenwood Laboratory School Event Center, a 23,000-square-foot building with a gym and performance stage. The school is affiliated with MSU and is on the MSU campus.
The event center opened in 2020 and is named after Betty and Bobby Allison; a photo of Betty Allison rotates with other messages on the digital display.
The same digital photo appears on a Betty and Bobby Allison sign overlooking Highway 65. It is part of Harmony House, Greene County’s only domestic violence shelter and yet another beneficiary of Allison’s financial kindness.
At Greenwood, Blue Jay players gave Allison a championship ring after the high school won the 2019 boys’ state basketball title, the school’s first since 1942.
“He does not hesitate to change things to make them better,” Stack says. “He is so full of life.”
Jim Anderson, former president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, has known Allison for years.
“He is absolutely a character. He has a heart of gold, especially for causes that deal with kids,” Anderson says.
(Anderson is on the board that oversees the Springfield Daily Citizen, a nonprofit that launched online in February.)
Allison and Anderson were on the inaugural governing board of Care to Learn, a nonprofit formed in 2008 by Springfield businessman Doug Pitt.
“He is not a morning person,” Anderson says of Allison, “although sometimes we had meetings in the morning. He groused about it, but he showed up.
“I enjoy being around him. He’s a hoot,” Anderson says. “But I don’t think he lets a lot of people get close to him.”
Allison loves golf, Anderson says.
His first known major donation — not accounting for any done anonymously — was his contribution to create the 4-hole Betty Allison Junior Golf Course at Rivercut, free for children, which opened for kids in June 2002, two months before she died. The longest hole is 65 yards.
Over the years, Allison’s donations also have improved facilities at the Twin Oaks Country Club, where the Missouri State teams play.
“Every time I go to Twin Oaks Country Club I admire his generosity and I wish we could make him an honorary member of Hickory Hills,” says Mike White, who once worked for Hutchens and whose brother works with Allison.
Allison in 2010 helped nominate Pitt for Springfield’s 2010 Humanitarian of the Year. Allison’s nomination letter was excerpted in the Springfield News-Leader.
Allison wrote: “His sacrifices in time, money and personal pleasure (his golf game is terrible) … make him a prime candidate for Humanitarian of the Year.”
The Citizen reached out to Pitt for comment; he did not respond.
Most who know him think he has a patent
Those who know Allison say in all likelihood he made his fortune through a patent, or perhaps patents, for an invention that is somehow related to his work at Custom Protein.
Although a patent is a public record, and since 1976 inventors can be searched by name, the Springfield Daily Citizen — with the help of a Springfield patent attorney —could not conclusively link any of the inventors across the nation named “Bobby Allison” or “Robert Allison” to the Bobby Allison known for his charitable giving in Springfield.
Patents are written in such detailed, mechanical and arcane language that they can be indecipherable for a layman. It is not unusual for the holder of a patent to sell it to a company.
Custom Protein is a privately-held business that processes and blends animal and marine by-products that are then used in pet food. The company does not make pet food; it sells ingredients used in it.
The company goes back to about 1939 and for many years was a rendering plant where animal carcasses were received and processed. It was called Southwest Rendering.
The rendering plant was on 68.5 acres that, back then, was outside city limits and far from any human nose, other than those of employees.
The rendering operation created a dreadful odor. The stench was not a community problem until Hillcrest High was built next door to the plant. The high school opened in 1958.
After that, houses were constructed nearby and soon there were enough complaints about the stink that a Greene County grand jury was convened to try to get the company to mitigate the air pollution.
In 1972, company president Jerry Carter — father of Custom Protein’s current president and vice president — closed the rendering operation and turned it into a blending business.
Allison has worked for the company since approximately 1976. When the Springfield Daily Citizen called the company in an unsuccessful attempt to talk to Allison, an employee referred to him on the phone as “Mr. Bobby.”
It’s entirely possible Allison has a patent in a completely different field. Or it’s possible he doesn’t have one at all.
In that brief phone interview with Thomas Carter, current president of Custom Protein, the Citizen asked if Allison had a patent that somehow related to the company’s operation.
“I really don’t know the answer to that and that’s all I have to say about Bobby,” Carter said.
“Nothing about Bobby Allison surprises me”
Without Allison’s cooperation, it is difficult to sift fiction from fact in cobbling together a cohesive arc of his life.
Stack thinks it’s possible Allison never graduated from Parkview and, instead, spent those early years traveling and making money shooting pool.
He’s fairly certain Allison once spent time in Europe hanging out with the all-star country band The Highwaymen, comprised of Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.
Is it true?
Fact: The group did tour Europe in 1992.
Fact: Nelson has Springfield connections.
Fact: Allison has posted a photo on social media of himself with Johnny Morris (founder of Bass Pro Shops) and his wife Jeanie Morris, and Waylon Jennings and wife Jessi Colter. A caption says the photo was taken at an event where Jennings and Colter renewed their wedding vows.
Jennings and Cash have died. Nelson reportedly has dementia.
A spokesman for Kris Kristofferson could not confirm if Allison spent time with the Highwaymen or if Allison knew any of the musicians personally. Kristofferson is 85.
On a completely different front, it appears to be true that Allison was once a contestant on the TV game show “Hollywood Squares.”
Anderson, former chamber president, had never heard that before. But it’s certainly possible, he says.
“Nothing about Bobby Allison surprises me.”
In May of 1981, Allison placed a classified ad in the newspaper to sell a matched set of men’s and ladies’ golf clubs. It said: “Brand new. Never used! Won on Hollywood Squares game show. An absolute bargain at $1100.”
On Facebook, Allison’s profile photo is actually a photo of a young, bare-chested Brad Pitt. Allison has golfed with Bill Pitt, father of Brad, Doug and Julie.
Allison’s political leanings appear to be anti-Democratic Party. He once publicly posted a meme of the Three Stooges in golfing attire with President Barack Obama photoshopped in as the fourth golfer with the caption: “Who’d of thunk there’d be four of them.”
Allison has contributed financially to the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Congressman Billy Long of the Seventh Congressional District.
Allison has at least two nicknames.
Not only does he own “Bad Bob Airline” but he also has a company called “Bad Bob Investments LLC,” formed in 2010.
The other nickname is “Nick Danger.”
Allison gave a eulogy following the death in 2020 of his long-time friend Ed Pinegar, who owned Pinegar Chevrolet and, like Allison, financially supported Missouri State University.
In the eulogy, which was recorded, Allison recounted:
“One day Ed and I were hanging out at the lot reading the newspaper. I came across an ad for some people looking for a private detective.
“Ed says, ‘Give ’em a call. Let’s see what’s going on.'”
“I said, ‘Ed, what are we going to do?'”
“He always had a prank in mind. So I rang the number. The guy answered the phone.
“I said, ‘Is this the people looking for a private detective?'”
“He said, ‘Yes, it is.'”
“He says, ‘What’s your name?'”
“I said, ‘Nick Danger.'”
“With that, Ed just broke up. I could not stop him from laughing. The guy apparently smelled a rat and hung up.
“From then on, Ed referred to me as ‘Nick Danger.'”
Allison says he does not do interviews
Public records involving Allison are few and don’t reveal much. Allison was sued twice in the 1990s and had an IRS tax lien filed against him 1993. All three debts were paid.
He was sued for $3,733 by a credit card company in 1992; for $40,061 by a company in Minnesota that started out in 1967 making snowmobile parts; and the tax lien was for $11,900.
Court records for the Minnesota lawsuit no longer are retained as a public record.
Stack says that at one point Allison was trying to invent a personal watercraft.
“He got into Sea-Doo before there was a Sea-Doo,” Stack says. “They made one and it leaked. Everything went well — but it leaked.”
Perhaps that is the connection to the Minnesota company involved with snowmobiles.
Allison has revealed little about his life to the general public, although he faithfully mentions his mother in those few and narrowly focused interviews with reporters.
In 2014, he spoke to the Springfield Business Journal. The story states: “Allison only addressed questions regarding his mother, who died in 2002, and the area youth he supports.”
Allison is quoted as saying: “If it wasn’t for the thrill I get from seeing my name and hers together, my name wouldn’t be on anything.
“I don’t have any of my own kids to spoil, so I spend money on everybody else’s.”
In that story, Allison did not detail how he acquired the wealth that enables him to give millions to the many Springfield nonprofits he supports.
He said: “I’ve been involved in a little real estate, a little stock, this and that.”
Regarding his mother, he told the Springfield News-Leader in 2013:
“All the time when I was growing up all she did was work, never more than minimum wage, two and three jobs at a time. She never drank, she never dated, nothing. I just can’t say enough about her.”
Over the course of three months, The Springfield Daily Citizen twice called Allison at Custom Protein. He did not come to the phone but conveyed that he did not want to be interviewed. The Citizen, in turn, relayed that a story would still be written.
On May 26 Allison was reached directly on his cell phone. His response was short:
“I do not do interviews. I have told you that — and I have told everybody that you have chased down that.”