Bard McAllister, member of Visalia Friends Meeting, died October 29, 2001, of natural causes at the age of 83. He was born on June 2, 1918, in Berea, Kentucky, to Cloyd North McAllister and Mary S. McAllister. After graduating from Berea College, Bard obtained a Masters in Community Recreation at New York University, a degree that included work in community development. He then became program Director at House of Industry, a settlement house in Philadelphia. On a nature hike to Hawk Mountain, he met Olga Zalokoski, whom he later married, a union that flourished almost 60 years.
A World War II conscientious objector, Bard did wartime Civilian Public Service work with the Forest Service and Public Health Service. In 1946 he joined the staff of the American Friends Service Committee, establishing and monitoring work camps in the eastern United States. He later served with the Presbyterian Mission Board as an economic developer and the Carroll Service Council of Carrolton, Georgia.
In 1955, once again working with the American Friends Service Committee, Bard, with Olga and their four sons, came to Visalia. Bard's assignment was to assess the needs of farm workers. He did this by taking a job as a farm laborer and asking his co-workers what they'd most like to have. Almost to a person they stated their lives would be better if only they had a house. The Service Committee, drawing upon a similar housing project in 1930 in Pennsylvania, obtained a grant from the Rosenberg Foundation to build three self-help houses in Goshen, followed by 17 more in nearby rural communities. Families worked as a group, under the direction of skilled craftsmen, to complete their homes. The effort was such a success that the federal War on Poverty agreed to fund the startup of Self-Help Enterprises. Self-Help Enterprises continues today. Over the years it has helped families build nearly 5000 houses in central California, rehabilitate an equal number, and has spawned over 100 similar organizations nationwide.
Meanwhile, Bard, with the AFSC Farm Labor Committee, worked in other ways to improve his community. They helped to bring water to Teviston, a tiny, poor, rural African-American community in Tulare County. Bard transported farm workers to congressional hearings so they could testify against the bracero program and for legislation to require drinking water and toilet facilities in the fields. They helped establish SCICON, an environmental science outdoor education school, still attended yearly by most Tulare County fifth and sixth graders.
Off to Zambia, Africa, in 1966, accompanied by Olga and the family, Bard did more community development work for the American Friends Service Committee. There he started adult education programs, cooperatives and more self-help housing. When the family returned to Visalia in 1972, Bard became director of the Family Planning Program in Tulare County. By 1973 he had returned to Self-Help Enterprises as Community Development Director, concentrating on rural community water and sewer projects throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
Retirement in 1983 freed Bard to volunteer more than full time for all the organizations he admired. Donning his signature red beret, he guided us on Audubon bird counts, led the Audubon effort to establish the first toxic waste pickup in the county, walked vigorously in the annual CROP walk (after gathering more pledges than anyone else) to help overcome hunger, and served on the board of Foodlink, the food bank of the county, all the while raising quantities of home-grown produce in his garden and orchard to eat, preserve and give away.
Bard's Memorial Meeting of November 10, 2001, was the largest gathering ever experienced at the Visalia Meeting. The Meeting House was filled with his family and "best friends;" the French doors were opened, and we spilled out onto the lawn with 100 rental chairs...200 or so in all. The tributes were many, tender and mighty. They were in Spanish and English, given by family, young folk and octogenarians, and included tales of inspiration and funny stories that ended in bursts of laughter.
Bard's love for life was a major impetus for his life-long pacifism. He devoted himself to empowering the powerless, challenging the comfortable and inspiring future environmentalists. He lives on in the lives and works of those he inspired. As Stephen Thierman wrote for all of us, "Thank you, Bard. We loved you, admired you and were inspired by you, and we carry you in our hearts."
*The item in Bard's mouth is the bark of a twig, soon to be a whistle, not a cigar!