SIDNEY – The interactions with his students, approximately 7,000 of them over the past 43 years, is what Larry Allen will miss most about teaching drivers education now that he’s retired and closed Allen’s Driving School.
Allen opened his school in 1976 and estimated he taught 6,500 teens and 500 adults to drive. He hosted his final drivers ed course in December.
“I have enjoyed being with the students in a one-on-one type atmosphere and hearing their goals in life and talking with them,” Allen said. “It’s been really fun doing it that way.”
The Sidney High School alumnus studied at The Ohio State University and earned his drivers education certificate there. He began his career as a science teacher at South-Western City School District at Grove City and spent four years teaching drivers ed during his time in the Columbus suburb.
In 1974 he returned to Shelby County to become a sixth-grade science teacher at Anna Local Schools. At the suggestion of then-Anna Superintendent Arlen McRill, Allen opened his own driving school in his home in 1976.
After more than four decades of owning his school, Allen decided to close the business because of the time commitment required to run it.
“I just want more time to kind of travel,” he said. “I like to camp so I’d like to camp more and travel and do other activities. I like to bike so I wasn’t able to do much biking.”
He’s already scheduled several camping trips this year.
“I’m looking forward to that, to have at least one camping trip each month out of the summer,” Allen, who retired from Anna Local Schools in 2002, said.
When he operated Allen’s Driving School, Allen would host 10 courses throughout the year. Each course would include eight three-hour classes during a two-week period for a total of 24 hours in the classroom.
Ohio Department of Transportation rules also require students to complete at least eight hours of driving time with a licensed instructor and 50 hours of driving time with a guardian.
The 50 hours of driving with a parent, which wasn’t required when Allen started teaching drivers ed, has been a major change in the industry and made his job easier.
“The (students’) control of the car has been better because now they’re required to have 50 hours with their parents so now they’re coming to me with some experience behind the wheel,” he said.
Today’s teens have more experience behind the wheel but they face more distractions. Along with radios and other music players, Allen said, drivers now have DVD players, GPS systems and, most distracting of all, cellphones in their vehicles.
Allen said he always taught his students to stay off their cellphones while driving and to pull off to the side of the road if they needed to respond right away to a call or text.
“That’s been my goal all along – to turn out good, safe drivers,” Allen said.
While technology has created more distractions, Allen said, it’s also helped drivers. Back-up cameras have been beneficial for students in the maneuverability portion of their driving and skills test, he said.
Allen had help throughout the years in preparing students for the road. His wife, Ann Allen, worked as the secretary of Allen’s Driving School, and his brother, Dan Allen, was an instructor. Allen also hired other instructors including Marvin Baker, Paula Coder, Ernie Jones and Mike McRill.
Not only was Mike McRill an instructor for Allen’s Driving School, he also was a former student. Allen taught him to drive and trained him to be a driving instructor.
Allen also taught Mike McRill’s daughter, Heidi McRill, to drive, making the McRills one of many families who sent multiple generations of students to Allen’s Driving School.
Now that he’s no longer teaching, Allen has moved his mower, wood splitter and four wheeler into the former drivers ed space at his home. That’s opening up room in the garage for his work bench and wood working projects.
Allen enjoyed his years in drivers education, but now he’s ready to devote more time to his other interests.
“I’ve enjoyed doing it for 43 years or I wouldn’t have kept doing it that long,” he said.
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