R.E. Allen made just 97 cents in his first year as a salesman and his wife wouldn’t let him quit.
A few businesses later, his perseverance paid off when he created Imperial Cup (now International Paper) in Kenton, which became the world’s largest producer of vending cups. When he sold the business in 1989 to Federal Paper Board for $100 million, he shared some of that with his employees, most of whom received $25,000 payments.
He then donated $1 million to create the R.E. and Joan Allen Scholarship Foundation to benefit Kenton High School graduates and those of his former cup company employees.
For all of his accomplishments, Allen was named the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance. The award was presented at an annual reception for Allen on Monday night at Kenton High School, during which he met with past scholarship recipients.
Jon Cross, president and CEO of the Alliance, said the award saluted Allen’s “entrepreneurial spirit” and the “generational impact” Imperial Cup had on the growth and success of the Kenton community. The award also recognized Allen’s financial commitment to students through his scholarship fund. “I don’t think we can thank you enough for all you’ve done,” Cross said.
He noted the award now will be named the Richard E. Allen Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance.
Allen also received proclamations from Kenton Mayor Randy Manns and the Hardin County commissioners, as well as a key to the city from Manns.
Allen expressed appreciation for the awards, but also joked about his longevity: “Just go to work every day and 95 years later you wind up being 95.” His success in the wholesale candy business – which started by selling candy from the removed back seat of a 10-year-old Buick – led him into the vending machine business. Problems with cups used in the vending business motivated Allen to get his own cup-making machine. He sold the excess cups to other vendors, which led to more machines and the creation of Imperial Cup. “It just turned into a real business,” he said. Allen said his cups were a hit because “we handled them like eggs.”
The Allen scholarship foundation has been just as successful. Awards being presented this year to graduates, as well as renewals, will total $64,000. That means the foundation will have awarded more than $2.3 million in scholarships, said Edison Klingler, a member of the foundation’s board.