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1922 Isabel 2022

Isabel Allen (Kalajian)

May 7, 1922 — December 15, 2022

Isabel Allen,100, was born in Detroit, Michigan in May of 1922, the eldest child of Hachig & Surmig Kalajian. She had two brothers, Zohrab and Zaven Kalajian who both preceded her in death. Isabel married Robert Allen (deceased 1984) in 1952 and moved to Livonia in 1953. She is survived by their three children, Robert Allen; Joan (husband Michael Baibak) and their children Jennifer (husband Stephen Svirbly) & Matthew; Jack Allen (wife Wendy) and their daughter Sarah (husband Mark Bennett). She was also the proud & loving great-grandmother of Jackson, Vivienne & Elijah Svirbly, who never failed to light up her face with smiles when they visited her. The last year or so of her life was spent at Manoogian Manor Assisted Living in Livonia - her "home" - where she truly enjoyed her days. In lieu of flowers the family prefers donations be made in Isabel's honor to Manoogian Manor, a non-profit facility. A private committal ceremony was held on December 19th at her final resting place.

Born to Hachig and Surmig Kalajian on May 7th, 1922, just a few hundred feet from the Detroit River at the Solvay Industrial Hospital in Delray. Her parents fled the Turkish genocide of Armenians, not long before she was born. She was fluent in the Armenian language, written and spoken, speaking it as a native until her last moments on Earth. Her name at birth was Zabel, but a schoolteacher arbitrarily changed it to Isabel.

Her first home was in the rear of an Armenian coffeehouse at 615 Solvay Street, in the oldest section of Delray. Her family moved to a four-flat at 7031 South Street. She often told of her life in Delray; the fruit peddler in a horse-drawn dray who shouted about his produce with a heavy Yiddish accent, the Scotsman on Harrington Street whose nightly bagpipes played her to sleep at 9 p.m., the Armenian center at Erie and Cottrell, her beloved fire station at Solvay and Jefferson, pedah bread from the Delray Bakery, Neisner's 5&10 and so many more stories.

Some of her recollections were not as happy and brought to life, for us kids, the realities of living through the entire Great Depression in a community of people who were barely getting by. Her father would walk to the Detroit Produce Terminal to buy discounted produce and he often milked cows who were about to be slaughtered, carrying the milk on foot through the perpetually ash-covered streets where they lived. She survived polio, crediting her father's application of raw beef to her legs to her complete recovery.

She never regretted growing up in Delray and its remarkable assortment of people. It was an entirely self-sufficient section of Detroit that offered anything needed within walking distance. Like so many second-generation Americans of days of old, her early life was often a collision of cultures, but she was always an American, firstly.

She attended Carey Elementary, McMillan Middle School, and Southwestern High School (Class of 1939). She did well in school and was a fairly reliable walking dictionary and encyclopedia. She went on to study art at the prestigious Society of Arts and Crafts (presently, CCS) and studied under master Guy Palazzola. She also studied and ably mastered the lost skill of comptometer operation which made her a very popular employee and Kelly Services 'temp' worker.

She was an avid movie fan and her ability to name actors, character actors, and recollect movie star gossip was beyond impressive. She spent many Saturdays at the Grande ('grand-day') Theater on Jefferson, at West End. As children of the 1950s and 60s, it was an honor to have a mom who saw Three Stooges shorts as first-rum films. She recounted that if there was a movie showing elsewhere in Detroit, she would slip on to the streetcar that went up Jefferson and toward downtown. She was still gushing about the beauty of the Hollywood Theater on Fort Street, decades after it was demolished.

She drove a parade car in the celebration of the UAW's first contract with the Ford Motor Company, where her father worked, honking the horn of her dad's 1937 Ford as it made its way down Miller Road.

When World War II broke out, she went to work as a 'repair riveter' (replaced rivets that failed inspection), working on the tail section of B-24 bombers. Being art-minded, she often recounted that the tail sections were 'beautiful'. The tail sections were shipped by rail to Willow Run, where her brother (Zaven) worked on the line that finished the B-24s. She also worked at Cadillac, in the office during wartime. When asked about the patriotic, living-legend of being a Rosie the Riveter, she sometimes quietly added "I was getting paid over $3 per hour".

After her family moved to South Martindale Street, near Northfield Street, she met her future husband, Robert Allen.
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