By ENOLA G. MOSLEY, Ed.D.
English Dept., Statesboro High School
As always, the best things in life seem to stay around the longest and their value always increases. It's also true that wisdom comes with age. Have you talked with a octogenarian lately? If you can’t find one, take a trip to Portal, and ask for Hazel Lee Allen.
She will delight you with her antics and her stories of the past. Her warm smile and Southern ease will captivate you for hours. Mother, philanthropist, church member, retired teacher, club member, grandmother, community leader, excellent cook — the list goes on.
Born in 1937, she is one of the most respected 85-year-olds in her community. Everyone knows Mrs. Allen. Her parents Solomon and Bonnie Mae Donaldson Lee raised her in the Willow Hill community. Her parents were very instrumental in helping to start the first all-Black school named Willow Hill, which was begun in 1874.
Over time, this old school has been renovated into the present-day Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center (founded 2005). It is known for its propensity for preserving and displaying African-American culture not only from the Portal area, but from all aspects of local and surrounding Black culture.
When the old Willow Hill School was purchased back from the Bulloch County Board of Education by the Willow Hill group, composed of the descendants of the Riggs, Parrish and Donaldson families on Oct. 11, 2005, guess whose name was listed on the deed? Truly, her roots run deep in the Portal area as she upholds the purpose of the Willow Hill group: “to protect and preserve the history of the Willow Hill School by promoting a thorough understanding of the school’s historical, social and educational impact on the community, county, state of Georgia and the nation.”
As the center evolved into a monumental museum, Allen was at its helm, leading and directing, helping it to evolve into the excellent community landmark that it is today,
Since her historical roots run deep in this area, it is not unexpected that her own education would begin in the rich soil of her Portal community. Her early education was at the Willow Hill Elementary and Junior High School, which she attended from 1943-53. She graduated from William James High School in Statesboro in 1955.
Choosing teaching as her vocation, she attended Savannah State College and graduated in 1960 with her B.S. in Elementary Education. She pursued additional studies at Georgia Southern University. Her educational roots run deep; four generations of her family are in education.
Her teaching career started in the Catoosa County Public School system in Lyerly, Georgia, in 1960. In 1962, she returned to Bulloch County. Coming back to her first alma mater, she taught at Willow Hill Elementary School for seven years from 1962-69. Not many students have the pleasure of teaching in the same school where they were first educated, but this is one of the rewards of living a long fulfilled life. For one year from 1969-70, she taught at Julia P. Bryant, another historically Black elementary school located in Statesboro.
However, her heart was forever tied to her community, and she returned to teach at Portal Elementary and High School from 1970-91, a span totaling 21 years. It is from this school that she retired in 1991. From the first day that Allen stood behind a podium until the last day when she handed in her classroom keys, she has stood for excellence in the field of education. She has given much to the profession that she loves. I proudly state that she was my own third grade teacher — teaching every subject, including Spanish.
Consequently, as an outstanding educator, Allen has received several accolades and honors, all attesting to her excellence in the field of education. First, in 1966-67, she was recognized as Bulloch County Teacher of the Year. Next, in 1987-88, she became Portal Primary and High School Teacher of the Year. At the end of her teaching career in 1991, she received formal recognition by the Georgia Association of Educators for her extensive teaching career. In 2007, she was recognized as Portal High School Oldest Female Alumna and in 2009 as their Most Distinguished Female Alumna. In 2019, she received her Lifetime Achievement Award from Portal High as well.
Allen’s achievements also extend to her community and family. In 1990, a year before her retirement, she received the Parents and Teachers Organization Service Award. Every parent in Portal was aware of her commitment to the civic needs of all local school students and their families. In 1993, she received the Donaldson Family Reunion Award for family service.
Even though she was bee-busy, Allen also found time for social commitments. She is a member of several professional organizations, including the Rain or Shine Club, the Black Business and Professional Women’s Club, and the Retired Bulloch County Teacher’s Association. She is also a charter member of the Socialite Club.
As a woman of God, Allen believes in the importance of ecclesiastical service. She is a member of the Statesboro Seventh Day Adventist Church where she has served on the Deaconess Board and as a primary and kindergarten class teacher.
Her past recreation activities included gardening, sewing and baking, a culinary skill that comes from a family tradition of cake bakers. If you never had one of her pound cakes, you truly missed a treat!
Still in good health today, she “stands as a wonderful role model,” comments daughter Lummie Allen Baker, an educator in Dekalb County.
“She was my first teacher and a wonderful mother, and I appreciate both her roles,” adds Valencia Allen Love, the oldest sibling of four.
Their younger brother Carlos Diego Allen is now his mom’s caretaker at her Portal home. Her oldest son, Dr. Alvin Jackson, an award-winning physician, awe-inspiring historian and the main curator of the Willow Hill Renaissance Center, says this about his mom: “She represents the best in the traditions of the family from teaching to cake baking to visiting the sick in her beloved Willow Hill community.” She is awesome!
Allen has always delighted in teaching and interacting with young children; therefore, seeing her six grandchildren and her three great-grandchildren delights her spirit during each visit.
Eighty-five with an upcoming birthday on June 23, Allen has no regrets, doing exactly what she had always wanted to do: teach little children.
These are her words of wisdom: “Trust God and love people.” Do it, and your chances of living to be an octogenarian, like Allen, will surely increase. She is our living testimony!