An avid volunteer, businessman and former councillor, referred to by some as the King of Okotoks, has passed away.
Allen (Al) King died on April 24 at the age of 88, leaving behind many legacies in the town where he lived and worked for more than 60 years.
His drugstore, King’s Drugs, was a hub for many Okotokians over the years. That’s where friend Sandi Kennedy first met King.
“I was eight years old,” said Kennedy. “My mother was the Okotoks town auditor and while she worked at the Town office, I was given $10 to go to [King’s] store to shop and have a soda.
“In those years, I looked forward to our visits. Mr. King was so kind.”
Born in Drumheller, King was raised with four sisters on the family farm and played piano as his siblings sang and danced.
He left home to attend the University of Alberta in Edmonton, graduating in 1956, and after working for a year in central Alberta he accepted a three-month druggist position at Hugh Berry’s drug store in Okotoks.
He decided to put down roots in the town, and purchased the Berry Drug Store, which was located at the corner of Veteran’s Way and McRae Street, where S&J Management currently stands. He met his wife, Janette, who was working as a teller at the new Royal Bank across the street, and they had three sons – Norman, York and Bill, who all worked at King’s Drugs at one time.
Eventually the store relocated to Elizabeth Street, in the building that now houses Dit ‘n Dat and Balance Dance Centre.
Running the pharmacy allowed King to connect with the community.
“Al knew everybody in the country by name, their children and who was related to who,” said Kennedy. “He used to stand in his raised dispensary and sing as he worked.
“Often clients would hear a song like, ‘Beautiful Brown Eyes’ as they entered the store.”
From the dispensary, King was able to oversee the entire store, she said. He enjoyed talking to customers, and many would arrive early for their prescriptions or wait while they were filled, taking seats in the row of chairs and chatting with the pharmacist.
Kathy Coutts, museum specialist at Okotoks Museum and Archives, grew up in Okotoks and recalls King’s Drugs as a gathering place.
“You could go in there, get your prescription, have a friendly chat with Mr. King,” said Coutts. “And it was more than a pharmacy – you could buy your veterinary supplies there, you could buy your greeting cards there, gifts, snacks, everything you really needed you could buy at his pharmacy, as well as enjoy a good joke or two.”
The addition to his pharmacy, where the current dance studio resides, became Janette’s part of the store.
“That was more the gift shop side of the drug store that Mrs. King liked to stock,” said Coutts.
She recalls being in school at the same time as the King boys, and their father being instrumental to getting the town’s first school band up and running.
“One of the first memories I have of him is his involvement with the band parent association, with the school band at the Okotoks Junior-Senior High School,” said Coutts.
Years later, she looked forward to his visits at the museum, where he was a valued source of historical information.
“I could always count on Mr. King and his wealth of knowledge for making sure I have dates right and building locations correct,” said Coutts. “He was such a wealth of knowledge and I really enjoyed the conversations I had with him regarding history.
“He was just so delightful – his manner, his voice. Everything about him was just delightful.”
One of the greatest legacies he left the Town of Okotoks was the annual parade, she said.
King had spearheaded the first annual parade in 1969. Prior to that year, the Town had only held intermittent parades on special occasions like Okotoks’ 50th anniversary in 1954 and Canada’s centennial in 1967.
As a Town councillor from 1967 to 1974, the parade was one of his most notable achievements, said Coutts.
“It really is, I think, Mr. King’s greatest legacy to the town,” she said. “It’s something that brings the community together and we have Mr. King to thank for that tradition.”
He had his fingers on the pulse of the community and was always involved with engaging neighbours and business owners, she said.
In the late 1950s, he had launched the Okotoks Businessman Association, which evolved into the Okotoks and District Chamber of Commerce years later, said Kennedy, adding he acted as an ambassador of the business community.
“When I moved to town in the early 1970s, Al King and Don Gilbert were my first visitors to come and welcome me, as a business neighbour,” said Kennedy, who is a real estate agent and former Okotoks mayor.
King penned columns for the Okotoks Western Wheel covering a variety of often controversial topics, and always had a keen interest in politics, she said.
As a retiree he devoted his time to the Sheep River Health Trust board of directors, where he was once auctioned off for a night out with Okotoks’ most eligible bachelor.
“Eleven of us girls got together and each threw $200 in the pot, raising $2,200 at that event,” said Kennedy. “Later we all went out for dinner with him together.”
The devoted community man received recognition from the Okotoks Rotary Club, being made an Integrity Winner of Rotary for all of his work in town. He was also named an Honourary Member.
“That was a title he took seriously,” said Kennedy. “He attended our meetings; we were all blessed with his presence, and with his wit and fun.”
He also took on some duties to help the club, selling more than 100 tickets five years in a row to its Mac & Cheese Luncheon – a fundraiser in support of the Okotoks Food Bank.
King delivered dictionaries to Okotoks Grade 3 students for six years, about 850 books per year, personally handing out each one with a handshake and words of advice and wisdom, said Kennedy.
“He loved the project and children,” she said. “We are all blessed to have known this very special person, Allen King.”