A Platinum Educator: Singing the Praises of Nancy Allen

Wednesday, April 26, 2023
Nancy Allen farewell concert
The 25th Platinum Edition spring concert ended with a tribute to Nancy Allen, , who is retiring from Viterbo in May. See more photos from the weekend's activities in our Flickr photo gallery. More than $8,000 has been contributed to the Nancy Allen '84 Angel Fund in her honor, including more than $3,000 on the online giving site.

“I’d like to speak with you after class,” Sr. Annarose Glum said to Viterbo music student Nancy Allen ’84.

It was the spring of 1984, and Allen had just finished “teaching” as part of her music methods class. Like the other students who snickered at the pronouncement, Allen thought she might be in trouble. Sr. Glum had an often-gruff demeanor and a no-nonsense approach to education. She was well known for locking the door at the very punctual start of each class, leaving any latecomers to at best try to listen from the hallway.

Nancy Allen and Sr. Annarose Glum
Nancy Allen credits the influence of Sr. Annarose Glum, FSPA '51, with steering her toward a career as an educator.

As it turned out, there was nothing about which to be apprehensive during that post-class conversation—quite the opposite in fact.

“God has given you a gift Nancy,” Sr. Glum told her. “You were born  to be a teacher.”

Those life-altering words marked the unofficial beginning of Allen’s 40 years in education, 25 of which have been spent as a music department faculty member at Viterbo. Allen will retire from the university at the end of the academic year in May.

There was a little problem at the time, however—Allen didn’t want to be a teacher. It was only a year before that she had walked into Sr. Glum’s office (her academic advisor) and stated she was going to major in piano music performance with the goal of becoming a Broadway music director.

Allen’s time as a student at Viterbo was her “second chance” in higher education. A native of Grinnell, Iowa, she had enrolled at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse as an 18-year-old in 1976. Things hadn’t gone well. Too much fun and too little attention to academics resulted in her failing out of college.

A few years later, Viterbo music professor Dan Johnson-Wilmot was looking to hire a pianist for the choir. He called a faculty member at UW- La Crosse to ask about suitable candidates. This professor remembered and recommended Allen, who happened to be working at a local gas station at the time.

Nancy Allen graduation
Nancy Allen, who graduated from Viterbo in 1984, is pictured (second from left) on graduation day. At far right is Daniel Johnson-Wilmot, already a veteran Viterbo faculty member by then.

Allen accepted the offer, and eventually Johnson-Wilmot and the choir members convinced her to enroll at Viterbo to complete her college education. Allen met with Assistant Academic Vice President Wayne Wojciechowski, who approved her application but placed her on academic probation with these words of warning: “Maintain a C average or you’re done.”

“I give Wayne a hug every time I see him because he saved my life,” said Allen, who flourished at Viterbo.

“Viterbo gave me the intense individual attention I didn’t know I needed,” she said. “When you missed class, there was always someone knocking on your door seeing what was going on. I felt cared about and valued. As a teacher, I’ve always tried to take the same personal interest in my students that was taken in me by Sr. Annarose and others.”

Like many students, Allen would continue to learn that Sr. Glum’s sometimes intimidating presence was accompanied by a very kind heart. Sr. Glum insisted Allen take a second major in music education in case her Broadway dreams didn’t come true. She would also go out of her way for Allen on another important occasion.

“My application to student teach was denied because a Sister in the education department thought I was a little too wild to represent Viterbo,” Allen laughed. “I was a little challenging in class because when you’re young you think you know everything. This faculty member also knew I could often be found at the Wunderbar.”

Nancy Allen and students
At a luncheon reception in her honor the day of the April 22 show choir concert, Nancy Allen demonstrated her affection for and connection with students, projecting more than 130 photos on a screen and recalling the names of students in every photo. This photo shows Allen in her early days as a Viterbo faculty member with students in their Platinum Edition garb.

When Allen showed Sr. Glum her rejection slip, the Sister told her to “wait right here.”

“She took the piece of paper and walked very quickly down the hall,” Allen said. “In a few minutes she was back, and my application had been approved.”

It was during student teaching that Allen fell in love with the profession. After graduation, she received two offers in the same week, one to be a pianist for a Broadway production and the other to become a music teacher in the small town of New Hartford, Iowa.

“I chose teaching, and I haven’t regretted it for one minute,” Allen said.

Allen taught for three years in New Hartford and then 10 years in Hudson, Iowa. There, she would build the programs “Nancy was passionate and determined. I had been bullied, and I told her the first day that I wasn’t singing. She wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. I thank God she didn’t, because I never would have gone after my dreams if she had. She was even my accompanist when I auditioned at the American Musical and Dramatics Academy in New York.”

Now as a Viterbo faculty member, Rhoades’ office is just down the hall from Allen’s. He finds himself knocking on her door several times a day.

Nancy and Shane.JPG
During her 10 years as teaching in Hudson, Iowa, Nancy Allen got a reluctant Shane Rhoades to sing in the choir, launching him on a career path first as a performer/choreographer and for the past 10 years a fellow faculty member at Viterbo.

“Nancy is very, very passionate about the students—they come first,” Rhoades said. “I like to think the way she goes above and beyond for our students has been passed on to me. She is an inspiration.”

Allen earned a Master of Fine Arts in Music degree from the University of Northern Iowa and was hired as a faculty member at Viterbo in 1998. In a sentimental coincidence, she had been offered the retiring Sr. Glum’s position three years earlier, but she wasn’t ready to give up her post in Hudson at the time.

“When the new faculty were introduced at Viterbo, I heard some gasps and saw some of my old teachers’ heads snap around to see if it was me,” she laughed.

Show choirs were quickly growing in popularity at the time, and Allen was asked by the administration to create one at Viterbo. Her famed Platinum Edition went on to include 36–48 members performing at least two shows every year since 1999.

Allen also created the Coulee Kids Choir for area youth and the Viterbo Diamond Edition show choir to accommodate student demand.

Olivia Krautkramer and Nancy Allen
Olivia Krautkramer '18, now an elementary music teacher, is one of the countless students who strongly connected with Nancy Allen during her time at Viterbo and still keeps in touch.

Olivia Krautkramer ’18, today an elementary school music teacher in Fond du Lac, credits Allen with inspiring her to be the passionate educator she is today.

“Nancy was the one person at Viterbo that I can say, without a doubt, fully believed in me and who I would grow to be from the moment I stepped onto campus until the minute I left, and honestly, even still today,” Krautkramer said. “She is still one of my first calls when I am conflicted, need advice, or want to celebrate a success. I strive to radiate her positivity, joy, and love as a teacher. If I can make even a fraction of the impact on my students that Nancy made on each and every one of hers, I will consider it an immense success.”

Krautkramer was a member of Platinum Edition for four years and had several classes with Allen.

“Nancy pushed us to be our best, and we wanted to make her proud because we loved her so much,” Krautkramer said. “Teaching wasn’t only Nancy’s job—it was her calling. She brought so much life and joy to her classes. It was clear that she loved what she taught, but even more apparent that she loved her students. She truly knew and cared about each and every one of her students. She had an amazing way of recognizing, celebrating, and building on her student’s unique talents and strengths. Her classes were filled with energy, laughter, and inspiration.”

The final performance of Platinum Edition with Allen as director was held April 22, with about 150 show choir alumni on hand, most taking part in performing two songs at the concert. The Conservatory for the Performing Arts is exploring how show choir will evolve in Allen’s absence.

“It’s going to be very difficult to say goodbye to the current students,” Allen said. “They’ve always been the favorite part of my career, and what stands out to me most is all the students I encountered and what I learned from them.”

Allen is choosing to retire in part because she has elderly parents who need a good deal of care.

“When I started teaching, students used to say I reminded them of one of their aunts. Later it was their mother. Now that it’s their grandmother, I know it’s time to retire,” she laughed. “Being a part of the music department and able to give back to the university where I was a student has been an absolutely wonderful experience.”

Nancy Allen
Nancy Allen made some powerfully emotional comments at the conclusion of the April 22 show choir concert in a packed Fine Arts Center, with both current Platinum Edition and Diamond Edition show choirs and more than 100 show choir alumni standing behind her.