Mary Allyn is the type of confident person who takes action when she sees a need; she makes things happen and will guide a situation to a successful resolution. The depth and breadth of her wide-ranging knowledge and leadership skills is remarkable. Today she has been answering “thank you” notes. To someone who believes that civilization was practically built on the now quaint notion of the “thank you” note, the fact that the current president of the Plymouth Harbor Residents Association has been answering notes from college students is jaw-dropping in its significance: there’s hope!
Mary Allyn grew up in Brunswick, Maine, across the street from the campus of Bowdoin College, where her father, Dr. Samuel Edward Kamerling, became a chemistry professor in 1934. As it turns out, today Mary has been answering “thank you” notes written by grateful student recipients of two different scholarships endowed in honor of Mary’s father and her family.
After graduating from Brunswick High in 1959, Mary attended Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. It was obvious upon arrival that Mary had found her milieu, immersing herself happily in Mount Holyoke’s active theatre life, and it was there that Mary met Professor of Theatre Arts Oliver Allyn — the two were wed after her graduation. Mary then earned a Master of Arts degree and joined the college administration, ending her 26-year career there as Associate Dean of Students.
Mary and Oliver would stay in South Hadley and raise their children — daughter Emily and son Jeremy — until Oliver’s retirement from Mount Holyoke in 1989.
It was through their friendship with former Mount Holyoke president and Plymouth Harbor residents David Truman and his wife Ellie that the Allyns found Sarasota. “Sarasota’s arts scene attracted the Trumans,” says Mary, “and they urged us to visit and then move here.” She adds: “And I was ready for warm weather!”
Arriving in Sarasota, Mary lost no time becoming influential in arts-related activities, actively supporting Arts Day and editing the local Visual Artist newsletter. Mary and Oliver lived in two homes in Sarasota and then decided to move into Plymouth Harbor. A big factor in their decision, Mary says, was their vow that their children not worry about the couple’s safety and security in retirement. Plymouth Harbor had a great reputation, and Mary continued her volunteer work following their move, eventually working for more than 20 years for the Encore and More Consignment Shop of the Women’s Resource Center, whose estate liquidation services now benefit the YMCA’s programs for at-risk children.
Mary was presented with a huge challenge in 2000, when she was diagnosed with NTM disease, a non-communicable lung disease that affects between 50,000 and 90,000 Americans. Determined to organize efforts towards proper diagnoses and treatment, Mary was an early organizer of NTM Info & Research, Inc., an internationally recognized nonprofit that assists the approximately 18,000 people who become infected annually.
Among her many and notable contributions to the organization, Mary was instrumental in setting up and running the more than 30 patient support groups all over the country, which serve more than 2,000 people.
Mary’s roots in the heavy-lifting end of the arts world — the place where people actually get their hands dirty — is evidenced in the quirky and fun “Mermaid Fountain” on Pineapple Avenue in downtown Sarasota. Not only did Mary help Bradenton artist Nancy Matthews construct the fountain, she probably thought deep thoughts while doing so: Mary’s masters thesis, published in 1974, was titled The Uses and Effects of Negative Areas in Sculpture.
There is no doubt that Mary finds great joy living at Plymouth Harbor, and the decision to remain in the Plymouth Harbor community was an easy one following Oliver’s death. She especially loves observing the shorebirds from her upper-floor windows, watching as they depart to all points of the compass in the morning and return in the evening, just as the sunset turns the downtown buildings into tall blazes of gold. She finds peace as well as fitness when paddling one of her two kayaks; sometimes, though, things aren’t so peaceful, like the time Mary found herself smack dab in the middle of a mullet run near Big Pass, watching as hundreds, if not thousands, of mullet jumped and swam around her kayak.
Mary is enjoying her busy tenure as president of the Residents Association, especially because she is a big supporter of the proposed assisted living/memory support project at Plymouth Harbor, which she feels is necessary for the community.
Meanwhile, it is a sure thing that Mary will find herself closely tied to both Mount Holyoke and Bowdoin colleges in the future. Daughter Emily is the Associate Dean of Admissions at Mount Holyoke. Emily’s daughter Hannah Yee has followed in her grandmother’s footsteps: during her freshmen year at Mount Holyoke, Hannah lived next door to the dorm room where Mary lived nearly 50 years earlier. Mary herself was awarded the Alumnae Medal of Honor from Mount Holyoke as a testimony to her hard work on behalf of the college and its students. As far as Bowdoin goes, there are not one but two scholarships set up in the Kamerling family name.
With a creative, active future in front of her, with plans to travel the world and continue to learn new things, with her leadership position at Plymouth Harbor, Mary plainly loves to be in contact with young people and will listen with commendable patience to their thoughts and plans. Asked if she enjoyed watching modern young people follow the practice of handwritten “thank you” notes, she laughs. “Oh,” she says cheerfully, “all ‘thank yous’ nowadays are emailed!” With two sets of college-mandated “thank you” notes being sent each year, Mary will continue to receive words of appreciation from grateful students for a long, long time.
Granddaughter Hannah Yee, scheduled to graduate from Mount Holyoke in 2015, has said that she wants to be a teacher, so it may be that the educational genes of the Kamerlings and the Allyns will run true in the next generation. If that happens, there’s no doubt that someday soon Hannah will begin to answer “thank you” notes of her own.