Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - September 23, 2011

Remembering Derek

Memorial funds going toward display case for visual arts at high school

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Derek Allen, 22, was going out for sushi on a bicycle in San Francisco a year ago when he was struck and killed by a muni bus. The irony, noted his mother, Karen Haley Allen, was the restaurant's name: Good Luck Dim Sum.

Haley Allen wrote a haiku for a poetry reading at Pleasanton's Century House last year:

Good Luck Dim Sum led

My son to crash with muni.

BOOM! Good night, Derek

"It was standing room only at his memorial last Oct. 16, held at St. Clare's Episcopal Church," recalled Haley Allen.

An opera singer performed "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and a Scottish bagpiper played "Amazing Grace." Friends put on a slide show and made three photo collages.

"It was very blended and in the spirit of him being a renaissance man," his mother said. "That evening friends brought over a skateboard. They'd all signed it, about 30 of them, and we had it cremated with my son."

Family and friends started a Memorial Fund to benefit the visual arts program at Amador Valley High School, where Derek graduated in 2006; the ceramics program especially meant a lot to him.

Now, almost a year after the Oct. 7 accident, $3,180 has been donated, and at 1 p.m., Friday, Sept. 30, a display case is being unveiled in the main school office building to show the students' creations.

"Almost 500 students a year take ceramics ... yet these students haven't had a dedicated space to display their artwork in the office," said Michael Doyle, head of the school's fine arts department. "This is a chance for the community to see these students' incredible artwork."

Haley Allen said a big thank you to all who contributed, adding, "Now I'm going to set a goal at $6,000 to purchase a much-needed new kiln for Amador Valley."

The kiln will be a welcome addition, said ceramics teacher Neil Bello, explaining that his students have doubled since he taught Derek, whom he remembered for his positive, happy-go-lucky attitude.

"His spirit was infectious. He was a kindhearted, free-spirited journeyman," Bello said.

Derek was attending Diablo Valley College and living in Pleasanton when he visited friends in San Francisco and borrowed a bike to go pick up dinner. He was struck on Sixth Avenue between Geary Boulevard and Clement Street around 5 p.m.

A few weeks later a "ghost bike," an old bicycle painted white, was erected at the site in his honor. (Five have been placed in the city by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition since 2005.)

Haley Allen visited Derek's ghost bike but wanted to do something in memory of his passion for the arts.

"I wanted to honor what he sparked in others," she said.

Derek had three themes in his life, she noted: the outdoors, the arts and sports.

"His first word was 'outside,'" she recalled. He joined Scouts, went to Costa Rica with a Harvest Park Middle School group, and climbed Half Dome while still in middle school. His photos of Yosemite will be in the display case next week.

Derek also showed an early interest in the arts, taking to drawing and painting. At Amador Valley, his interest in the arts blossomed, Haley Allen said, as he took classes in drawing, painting, videography and ceramics.

"The arts were not only a passion for Derek but an outlet for him," Haley Allen said.

In sports, she said, Derek wasn't the star but he played them all: football, soccer, baseball, golf, skiing, ice skating, snowboarding, tennis, surfing in Hawaii.

"It was amazing," she said. "We had a golf holiday one year and he just picked it up."

She treasures 22 years of memories but two come to the forefront.

When he was 3 or 4 they were in a park, and he was in the sandbox playing with his Tonka truck as she watched with the mother of another toddler.

"The little girl started to cry. He drops his toy, walks over and hugs the little girl," Haley Allen recalled. "The mother looks at me, she's like, 'Wow.'"

Another time, when Derek was 5 years old, Haley Allen took him to McDonald's so he could buy a treat with his small weekly allowance.

"I'm holding the door, and he sees a homeless guy outside and he gives his allowance to the homeless guy," she remembered. "He said, 'Mom, he was hungry.'"

She heard many such stories of kindness and compassion at his funeral and, to this day, friends and acquaintances share more, she said. Ceramics teacher Bello remembered Derek as being kindhearted and compassionate -- as well as philosophical.

"He liked to engage in deeper conversations," he said. "He was a deep thinker."

"Derek was one of the perceptive students," agreed Doyle. "He always saw the irony and contradictions of school life. His keen observations and humor showed in all of his artwork."

Haley Allen said she's found during the last year that grief is transformative and she must take the experience and use it for the greater good.

"I'm hoping to appeal to people who want to give back, who want to help the schools," she said.

Donations may be made to AVHS, Attention Derek Allen's Memorial Fund or online at http://DerekAAllenMemorialFund.blogspot.com.

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