Bobby Allison sits at the dedication of the new Betty and Bobby Allison gymnasium at the Greenwood Laboratory School in November 13, 2020. (Photos by Bill Sioholm / Missouri State Visual Media)

Bobby Allison, one of Springfield’s most generous and most mysterious benefactors, died Thursday morning, Sept. 8, at the age of 74.

Allison died at Mercy Hospital, where he had been for a week or two battling kidney failure, said close friend Jeffrey Hutchens, president and CEO of Hutchens Industries, which has its headquarters in Springfield.

Hutchens said he visited Allison in the hospital on Wednesday, Sept. 7. He said Allison has had kidney problems for about two years.

Just months ago, the Springfield Daily Citizen wrote an in-depth profile of Allison.

‘He was just a unique person’

“He was a great guy and it is a great loss for the city,” said Thomas Carter, long-time president of Custom Protein, where Allison had worked since about 1976.

“He was a little eccentric,” Carter said. “He was just a unique person, and everyone is going to miss him a lot.”

Allison, of Springfield, was renowned not only for his philanthropy but also for his unorthodox wardrobe. Even when attending black-tie soirees, his ensemble typically included his train engineer’s overalls and red sneakers.

Bobby Allison in his signature look: overalls. (Photo: courtesy of Missouri State University)

Allison was 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.

Allison declined to be interviewed for the Citizen profile and encouraged those who knew him best not to talk to the Citizen.

Jimmy Buffett lyric: ‘I had a great life all the way’

Jack Stack, a friend and neighbor of Allison’s, said that when he heard the news he thought of these lines from the 1973 Jimmy Buffet song “He Went to Paris.”

“Some of it’s magic,

“And some of it’s tragic,

“But I had a great life all the way.”

Stack said, “The community will miss him. He would listen to a person’s problems and unknown to them he would figure out a way to help them.”

Yes, Stack said, he knew Allison had kidney problems. But Allison revealed the bare minimum.

“He was as mysterious in his sickness as he was when he was feeling good,” he said. “He was always so private.”

He showed ‘immense generosity’ to MSU

Allison contributed more than $5 million to the Missouri State University Foundation. 

“Bobby Allison helped transform Missouri State University,” said MSU President Clif Smart. “Our students’ daily lives have been improved by his immense generosity.” 

Brent Dunn, executive director of the foundation, knew Allison through his giving.

“You can’t imagine a more humble or private person than Bobby Allison,” Dunn said. “He wanted to enrich all students’ lives — from toddlers through college. He cared about the student experience, which motivated him to give to athletics, recreation and other areas of the university.”  

The university awarded Allison with the Bronze Bear in 2016.  

STORY CONTINUES BELOW


Betty Allison was his mother, not his wife

Many mistakenly assumed Betty Allison was his wife. She was Bobby’s mother. She died in August 2002 at 79.

Their names are writ large on the latest and biggest version — a new sign along West Chestnut Expressway, near the airport: the Betty and Bobby Allison Sports Town complex.

Robert Mark Allison, Jr., never married and had no children.

He kept the public at arm’s length, offering himself in two dimensions to those outside his inner circle.

Source of wealth a ‘closely held mystery’

Even some of those who knew him best said they did not know how he made his fortune, but suspected it involved a patent or patents involving his line of work.

The Citizen profile was unable to determine his main sources of income.

On Thursday, Hutchens said that he has known Allison since junior high, and he does not know how Allison made his fortune.

“It is a closely held mystery,” Hutchens said. “I have no idea, and I don’t think anybody else does either.”

When asked to describe his friend, Hutchens declined.

“As crazy as it sounds with all the signs he put up, he was kind of a private guy,” Hutchens said. “He had such a fit when you (the Citizen reporter) tried to interview him. I don’t want to do that.”

Bobby Allison’s background

Friend John Wyrsch said he met Allison in fifth grade at St. Agnes Elementary in Springfield.

“He was a character even then and the best dressed student in the class,” Wyrsch said.

Wyrsch attended Parkview High School with Allison, but Allison never graduated.

In fact, Wyrsch said, the fact Allison never completed high school made it difficult for Allison to enroll at what was then Southwest Missouri State, now Missouri State University. But Allison eventually took some classes at the school, Wyrsch said.

Wyrsch and Allison joined the Marines in around 1967.

As a young man Allison sold cars. Since approximately 1976 he worked 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.

Bobby Allison. (Photo: courtesy of Missouri State University)

Allison will be remembered as a man with a giving heart for children and premature infants.

He donated millions to our most noble causes — helping victims of domestic violence and funding much of the cost of the Miracle League Ball Field, where those with mental and physical challenges can play baseball.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin