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Woman who shared her spark at St. Petersburg group home dies at 74

Rosemary Allen lived in PARC housing for nearly 40 years and died of complications from COVID-19.
Rosemary Allen lived for nearly 40 years at PARC in St. Petersburg. "She taught me how to really love, cause she was such a loving person," said cousin Diane Huie. "And how to be patient with other people when they might not be able to do everything that you think they should do. Sometimes, you just don’t realize their limitations."
Rosemary Allen lived for nearly 40 years at PARC in St. Petersburg. "She taught me how to really love, cause she was such a loving person," said cousin Diane Huie. "And how to be patient with other people when they might not be able to do everything that you think they should do. Sometimes, you just don’t realize their limitations." [ Courtesy Diane Huie ]
Published Aug. 16, 2021
Updated Aug. 16, 2021

When it stormed after someone she knew died, Rosemary Allen always said the same thing. That person was now “up there making it rain.”

They joined her father, brother, mother, aunt and the friends Ms. Allen made and lost after living for nearly 40 years in housing from PARC, a St. Petersburg nonprofit that works with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Ms. Allen, whom family called Rosie, died Aug. 1. She had congestive heart failure and was diagnosed with COVID-19 shortly before her death. She was 74.

These are some of the things she loved.

Rosemary Allen, in yellow, with her family at her annual birthday, Rosie Bash, in 2003.
Rosemary Allen, in yellow, with her family at her annual birthday, Rosie Bash, in 2003. [ Courtesy Diane Huie ]

Family

When she was 6 months old, Ms. Allen became sick with spinal meningitis. A high fever caused brain damage, said cousin Diane Huie.

At 5, her family moved from Jacksonville to St. Petersburg, and Ms. Allen started attending a preschool for children with developmental disabilities. Her mother, who taught criminal justice at the University of South Florida, soon became a charter member of that program, which grew into PARC.

Ms. Allen and her mother went swimming and hiking and loved to walk together at the beach.

In 1983, after her mother was diagnosed with cancer, Ms. Allen moved into an apartment complex at PARC.

She spent each Thanksgiving with cousin David Neal and his family in Marietta, Georgia, watching the Macy’s parade, sharing wish lists from toy commercials and bowling. She spent Christmas in Nashville, Tennessee, with cousin Julie Jones and family. One Christmas, they gave Ms. Allen a puppet named Jack. After that, Ms. Allen took Jack everywhere.

And every June, Ms. Allen joined her whole family for a week at Lake Allatoona in Georgia, where they celebrated her birthday in what became known as Rosie Bash.

The last time they all got together for Rosie Bash was in 2019.

Ms. Allen loved getting gifts, Huie said, especially cookies and toys. She was not so impressed with clothes.

Rosemary Allen loved presents and got a lot each year on her birthday. She's pictured here with family in 2007.
Rosemary Allen loved presents and got a lot each year on her birthday. She's pictured here with family in 2007. [ Courtesy Diane Huie ]

Conversation

PARC was founded in 1964, and Bert Muller served as its first executive director. In 1969, it created housing for adults. A decade later, Muller’s daughters met Ms. Allen. Leslie became a resident, and Michelle Detweiler visited and later started to work there.

“She was a character,” said Detweiler, now PARC’s interim chief executive officer.

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“Oh, she was a character,” cousin Huie agreed. “And she loved to talk, and she got that honest. Everybody in our family loved to talk.”

When program care coordinator Amber Powell took Ms. Allen for medical checkups, she knew the doctors would have to slow their hectic days down.

“She would always capture them,” Powell said. “How are you? Do you have any pets? What’s your husband’s name? Where do you live?”

She’d take 15 or 20 minutes with each person, Powell said.

“They would always leave having a better day.”

And, Huie said, “she could remember things that none of us could remember. Names, people, she’d come visit in summer and we’d get together with the neighbors and she always asked about them, no matter where we were, she’d wanna know how they were doing.”

Rosemary Allen, center front, with her family the last time they were all together for her birthday in 2019.
Rosemary Allen, center front, with her family the last time they were all together for her birthday in 2019. [ Courtesy Diane Huie ]

Adventures

Any time Huie started planning a trip with Ms. Allen, an important decision had to get settled.

Were they going to eat at Red Lobster?

“We always did,” Huie said.

And Ms. Allen always got fried shrimp and diet Coke.

For years, she had a companion through a support group that took residents out, and Ms. Allen’s friend took her to get coffee at Dunkineach week, then to swim at the YMCA, then out to lunch.

Ms. Allen knew everyone at each stop.

She loved getting her nails done and, for years, going to church on Sunday.

She loved bowling.

“She’d always tell you she just kept getting in the gutter,” Huie said. “I don’t think she did.”

Ms. Allen went to monthly dances at PARC with her boyfriend, Justin, Huie said.

“She and Justin would just dance up a storm.”

Rosemary Allen celebrated Rosie Bash at PARC in June of 2021. She turned 74.
Rosemary Allen celebrated Rosie Bash at PARC in June of 2021. She turned 74. [ Courtesy PARC ]

Traditions

In October of 2019, Huie and her daughter came to St. Petersburg for a visit and took Ms. Allen Halloween shopping.

“She wanted to be a pumpkin.”

After things shutdown in 2020 because of the coronavirus, Ms. Allen spoke with her family through regular Zooms.

In June, PARC threw Rosie Bash with presents, ice cream and cake.

Ms. Allen, who had congestive heart failure, was vaccinated but tested positive after a coronavirus outbreak at Burkett Villa, where she lived.

It’s quieter there now, Powell said.

But during a recent storm, one of the residents carried on Ms. Allen’s tradition.

“Oh, that’s Rosemary up there,” they said. “She’s making it rain.”

Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

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