Dansville's Wall of Pride honors local leadership

Jon Shay, Carl Allen, William Seymour, Allman Culbertson honored during ceremony

By Jasmine Willis
The Express
The 2021 Dansville Wall of Pride honorees included Carl Allen, Brigadier General Allman Culbertson and Jon Shay.

DANSVILLE — The main goal of the Dansville's prestigious Wall of Pride event was to focus on the leadership and success of those who came before us.

On Oct. 16 the Wall of Pride honored four outstanding leaders within the community: Jon Shay, Carl Allen, Dr. William Seymour and Brigadier General Allman Culbertson.

These men took what they learned from growing up in Dansville and went on to make a huge difference in the world around them. Dr. Paul Alioto, Dansville Central School superintendent, gave the opening remarks and welcomed inductees and families to the event.

“Tonight is about celebrating. It is about celebrating the accomplishments of our local heroes. It is about remembering the proud legacy that belongs to Dansville. It is about family and friends. It is about reminding our young people of the potential for greatness in them by showing them the tremendous role models who called Dansville their home,” he said. “The Wall of Pride was initiated and is maintained by The Foundation for Dansville Education. This foundation provides thousands of dollars in mini grants to teachers and students. Funded projects include a new Technology Club, new Dansville High School Pep Band, new Therapy Dog Program, free books for every child at Dansville Primary, sponsored the Archery Club and so much more. The foundation provides thousands of dollars in scholarships. They now sponsor Dansville High School Alumni Association.”

Alioto mentioned more projects coming forward. Student achievement is on the rise again after the pandemic.

“The community continues to reinvest in our schools. New Dansville Elementary Music Rooms were just completed. The Dansville High School Auditorium is completely renovated. The Business and Family Consumer Science Rooms are almost complete. Our new Physical Education Complex outside the high school will be the finest sports complex for any school in Livingston County. Our schools are bursting with creativity. Our community continues to fight for Main Street revitalization. The hospital keeps expanding and industry is thriving,” he said.

Carl Allen

The first inductee, Carl Allen, was introduced by his brother, Mike Allen, at the event.

Mike Allen talked about the hardships his brother had to overcome in order to get where he is today.

“I never saw Carl more excited than he was when he was told he was chosen for this honor. I think it’s important to talk about the background of the family and the circumstances that Carl rose above. I think it’s important to talk about the kind of man he is and why. Carl is the patriarch of the Allen family. It is the measure of the high regard his brothers and sisters have for him that every living member of the family is here to pay tribute to Carl. Carl came up from Atlanta, Ga. to get up here for this honor,” he said. “A family secret is our father, Fred Allen, was an abusive alcoholic. Our mother suffered for it until one day in 1953 when Fred took our only car and drove away. Based on talks with mom I am certain the reason he left when he did was because of Carl. Carl was a standout athlete in later years and had begun to step in and take the beatings that mother used to get. Fred realized the time was coming his butt was going to get kicked by his own son, so he left, and we never saw him again. This left mother, a waitress at the Physical Culture Hotel, and me with my seven brothers and sisters to fend for ourselves.”

Mike Allen said Carl became the alpha male of the family before he was a teenager.

“As I look back Carl filled that role better and more completely than our father ever could. Carl kept us together, proud and happy, and he led by example. That is the Carl Allen that I know. You can read about all of his accomplishments, but I hope you notice that over the years he has shared all of his hard-earned wealth with dozens of charities and thousands of people. Everyone in their adopted state of Georgia knows Carl and his wife Elizabeth. Once again, that is my brother standing up for people who can’t stand up for themselves.”

Carl Allen felt humbled to get the prestigious Wall of Pride award from his hometown.

“If my success means anything it’s that Dansville is a great place to grow up. It’s a hardworking community. All of my friends worked, my siblings worked, my mother worked, and we all got a good education. Mr. Burke was more than just a coach to me. He was someone to go to and talk to about anything. He was very instrumental in bringing a lot of young men into a bright future. He was my father figure because I didn’t have one. I still love you today,” he said. “I hung onto those three virtues: discipline, schooling, and work ethic. If you have ambition for that you can be successful in any field you want. You tell these young kids that even if you are from a small town if you have these virtues you can be anything you want. You can be successful in your chosen career. I am so proud to be on the same wall as Jon Shay. He was my good friend growing up. We did everything together. I am going to cherish this award for the rest of my life.”

The Culbertson family at the Wall of Pride induction ceremony in Dansville.

Allman Culbertson

Jeff Miller, Dansville Historical Society president, introduced the second inductee, Brigadier General Allman Culbertson for his many accomplishments.

“Retired Brigadier General Allman Culbertson was one of the three highest-ranking armed servicemen Dansville ever produced. His dedication to lifelong education and service to the community and country is a shining example for others to follow. He graduated Dansville High School in 1928 as valedictorian of his class. He had a love for flying that started in Dansville. He attended the Parks Air College at East St. Louis, IL from 1930 to 31. He gained both private and commercial pilot licenses at Air City Flying School. He helped build the Dansville Airport in the early 1930s with Lynn Pickard,” Miller said.

“In 1935, Cubby enlisted in the Army Air Corps, and by 1937 he earned his ‘wings’ as a commissioned officer, specializing in attack aviation. In 1942, he departed for England to help establish the Eighth Bomber Command and promoted to Colonel in 1944. While serving in WWII, Cubby participated in 11 heavy bomber attacks over Europe, including the first attack on Berlin and a night raid with the Royal Air Force. By 1964 he was Commander of the Rome Air Development Center. He retired in 1967 having logged over 6,000 hours as a pilot in over 100 different types of aircraft from gliders to heavy bombers and jets. Cubby continued his service in Texas as president of Lakeway Civic Corporation and was given the ‘Outstanding Citizen’ Award in 1985.”

Robert Culbertson, son of Brigadier General Allman Culbertson, felt honored to accept the award on behalf of his hero.

“Dad was my hero and I would’ve hated to miss this event. It is nice to see all the family here for this, because the last time we were all together was about 30 years ago. Dad grew up on a farm on Route 63 and he left in 1935. I don’t think many alive today know him. Farming was not in his blood, and he didn’t want to stay on the family farm. He always wanted to fly. He went off to learn how to be a mechanic and came back during the Great Depression to help on the farm. In 1935 he left for good and boy did he fly. He truly loved to fly,” he said.

“He continued to give back to society. He wanted to make sure every civilian knew what the military was about and he was part of just about every single club. He crammed and crammed to get his education so he could be accepted in the military and off he went to WWII. My dad was my hero. He taught me honor, ethics, how to shoot for the stars, and to never give up. I see this Wall of Pride as my dad’s lifetime achievement award. It takes him all the way back to where he was raised, and this place will always be his home.”

The Seymour family at the Dansville Wall of Pride induction ceremony.

William Seymour

Jane Behnk introduced her brother, Dr. William Seymour, as the one to carry on the family legacy.

“We were fortunate to be here when our father was inducted into the Wall of Pride. Now I get to introduce my brother. I went back to the historical society to find a 1975 yearbook to find out who my brother was in his high school days. My brother was very involved in his high school career, and he carried that throughout his life. He went on to attend SUNY Oswego where he got a bachelor’s in psychology. He continued his education at University of Missouri getting a master’s degree in Counseling and Personnel Services. He went on to get a Ph.D in Higher and Adult Education and started a career in higher education. In 2003, Bill capped his formal education as a graduate of the Institute for Educational Management at Harvard University,” she said.

“He made his way along a chain of schools and gave powerful insight into education. He spent 42 years at multiple state universities, private colleges, and community colleges and since 2014 has been president and CEO at Cleveland State Community College. In 2019 Cleveland State was selected as College of the Year by College System of Tennessee. Bill was honored with the highest honor given to a community college president in 2021 by the Phi Theta Kappa for the Shirley B. Gordon Award of Excellence.”

Dr. William Seymour was very humbled to get the same award his father was honored with a couple years prior.

“It is really impressive to be honored alongside these men. Three of us moved away from our hometown and when I first heard about this accomplishment, I thought why give me this award after I moved away. It is a great thing they still think to give awards to those of us who moved away. It reminds me of that saying, ‘You can take the boy out of Dansville, but you can’t take Dansville out of the boy.’ I think about how what I learned here made a huge impact on my life,” he said.

“We came from a family of educators. My father was a educator and we all followed in his footsteps. I think about my time in band learning from Barry Haywood. Whenever I come to visit my hometown, I think about playing that Trombone in third grade with Barry Haywood. I have sung in choir and played instruments all my life, but it all started here with that Trombone. I learned the level of dedication and leadership skills from my time here. Whenever you take time to reflect on those things that made you, you go back to the town you felt safe to ride your bike in and the whole community was family. I have never seen anything like my hometown since. I have instilled these values in our twin daughters and tell them stories about growing up in Dansville.”

Seymour added that he makes a point of always coming back home. When he does he reflects on what he learned and the people who touched his life.

“We always come back home. This is one of my favorite places. I have worked in colleges all of my life, and I have found out there is a right place for every single person. You just need to go with all of your heart and do the best you can. I believe that community colleges are the lifeblood of our country. They are providing the training we need so badly right now. I have loved influencing others and making a difference in people’s lives. I love to give back. I want to impact and serve the community,” he said.

Jon Shay

Peter Bacon introduced his cousin, Jon Shay, to the Wall of Pride.

“I am sad he is not here to accept this award himself. We started the nomination process a couple of years ago when Dr. Alioto came to me in my office. How do we talk about Jon Shay? Jon Shay was Dansville. He embodied the community pride. Jon always called Dansville the center of the universe. Jon was a lifelong resident of Dansville who graduated from Dansville High School in 1960. He stayed here to run the family business. That business really grew here in Dansville. Jon really got involved with charities and clubs. Dansville Rotary and Noyes Hospital were the biggest ones,” he said. “He was passionate about cleaning up roadside garbage, recycling bags of cans, and making sure everyone had a Turkey Diner on Thanksgiving. He truly lived the Rotary model, service before self. He was deeply proud of his family connection to Noyes Hospital. He wanted to keep making Dansville a better community to live, work and play. Recently the third floor of the hospital was named after Jon.”

Bacon added that Shay never enjoyed being in the spotlight and preferred to remain humble throughout his life.

“Jon never asked for anything for himself. He always put others first," said Bacon. "We humbly accept this honor for Jon and will work to keep his legacy of making Dansville a better place. He legacy lives on with his family and what he left behind. He will always be an inspiration to future leaders.”

Mimi Burdick, Jon Shay’s sister, accepted the award for in her brother’s honor. She congratulated all the other remarkable men for this award.

The DHS Chamber Singers performed for the first time live since Covid-19 at the Wall of Fame event.

“I believe Jon was always destined to be a leader. His leadership qualities were exemplified by our parents. We grew up knowing how to help others. He really loved to chat with people and hear their stories. I believe this love comes from our grandpa. He would take Jon on Friday nights down to Main Street. He would talk to the people and show the art of conversation. Jon was our rock and go to person to ask about anyone in the town,” she said.

“I think about my brother as the outline for integrity, intensity, compassion and commitment. He was committed to education and excellence. He was committed to his faith. He served in fundraisers and events. He had a passion for local sports. He was devoted to his daughters and grandchildren. He was committed to business and Noyes Hospital. Jon always wanted to make sure everyone was taken care of and on his last days he was very concerned about everyone getting a Thanksgiving meal. Jon resisted getting this award since he wanted everyone to be recognized and given a thanks for what they have done.”

The Dansville High School Chamber Singers held their first live performance since the pandemic at Wall of Pride. They led everyone with the National Anthem.