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Roger Allen



At 83, Roger Allen feels like he's reached the perfect time in his life—as he's doing what he loves and what he's studied since college. Allen, the founder of Desert Readers, joins other volunteer seniors to do dramatic readings and sing for audiences at nursing homes and assisted-living complexes. Allen said the peer-to-peer interaction allows Desert Readers volunteers to serve the community as well as fellow seniors. For more information, call 867-6030, or email

What did you do before you founded Desert Readers?

I've lived in Tucson a long time, but my wife and I went up to the Columbia River on the Washington side. She found a job near Portland, Ore. I joined AmeriCorps up there and was a master gardener. I started Columbia River Readers Theater. I tried to connect with libraries and others, but I wasn't very successful, largely because it was so hard to reach an audience. When we returned to Tucson, I started the Desert Readers. I don't know why I selected that name, but I liked it. In March or May of 2005, I had auditions, and people showed up.

Why start Desert Readers?

First of all, reading aloud has been a passion of mine. I taught reading aloud in 1965 at the UA and other colleges. It's been something I grew up with. I have a solid background in this field, so I decided to try again. I knew I'd be more successful in Tucson, because we have a larger community.

Why seniors?

First, we're available in the daytime hours. I am 83 years old, and I am at my best during the mornings and afternoons. I guess, to answer your question, this is a good fit, not only for the seniors, although they have other activities they participate in, but for us, too. It is also connection we have. They know we're seniors. We develop almost a friendship with them. They enjoy us and enjoy what we do. I realize that a lot of these places have young folks come out, but they especially appreciate what we are doing.

What do the volunteers get out of it?

They get a lot out of it. I have one lady who has been with me almost from the beginning. Other people come and go, sometimes because of jobs. They get out of it what I get out of it—a certain kind of intimacy we have with our peers. And we enjoy it and have fun reading.

How many places do you read at in Tucson?

We've been to more than 25 places here in Tucson. We've gone to Devon Gables up to 70 times. Cascades—they just love us there. Typically, we get a group of 20 to 25 people in this very small room. We have a pianist there, and then three readers, including myself, and seniors just like what we do. We used to go all the way up to the northwest to Oro Valley and even down to Green Valley, but we found that sometimes, the turnout isn't as good. It depends a lot on the activity directors. If they support us, people are there.

What are you most proud of about the group?

It's like a dream. I've been in public service pretty much all my life. So at age 75 or 76, I decided to move into this passion that I was trained for in college. I taught it and studied it, and now I have finally put it into action. What I am proud about is that I've taken something I learned in school as a graduate and undergraduate, and finally, it's blossomed in my senior life. A lot of people say, "What am I gonna do when I retire?" To me, this is about the idea "to keep on serving." That's what we are here for—to serve.

Anything else you want to mention about Desert Readers?

I forgot to mention the importance of David Prouty, a professional pianist and singer who joins us frequently for medleys and sing-alongs. In fact, he has made about 10 CDs for our sing-alongs, which we use when he is not participating in-person. He's a valuable member of our group. There are five women who are readers: Marlena Allen, Lois Lederman, Trina Mickells, Clare Parsons and Frances Schwing. Sometimes, my wife, Marlena, sings a solo or two, and I sing solos as well.

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