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For some 30 years, Irene Theodozia Allen, née Bestilny, was the voice on the other end of the line when grieving families called the Star Tribune to list the paid obituary of a loved one.

With her undisguised authenticity and attention to detail, she served Minnesotans in some of their most stressful times, earning a reputation for compassion among local funeral directors, her friends at the newspaper and the community she served.

"You have to have a sense of humor to do obituaries," said Jane Blake, Allen's co-worker and one of her best friends. "She encompassed everybody into her world in such a way, with this gentleness and spark and humor. She was selfless, never expecting a thing in return. It was just ingrained in her, I think, from her sisters and her family and just being a star."

Allen was born in the U.S. in 1965, the youngest daughter of Ukrainian immigrants. She lived her whole life in Columbia Heights — her closest girlfriends included ones made in junior high — and died of cancer June 8 after being diagnosed at an advanced stage.

Allen had an unquenchable curiosity for life. She was a sketch artist, writer and photographer with a penchant for black and white. Like her father, she played the piano by ear and taught herself guitar. She loved the blues, big rescue dogs and her husband, David Allen, who preceded her in death.

Though petite in stature, Allen was a fearless, leather-jacketed motorcyclist who was often found working on her chopper in the garage. Her final ride was a vivid shot down Hwy. 61, along the Mississippi River.

"You could always count on Irene for her quick wit. She was very good with the fiery comebacks," said childhood friend Laurie Anderson. "And she was fiercely loyal to people. She was kindhearted; she cared, listened."

Allen was stepmother to David's daughters from a prior marriage and guardian to his twin nephews as well after their mother's death.

Despite her battle with cancer, Allen diligently settled her affairs so that as little as possible would fall to her sisters Helen and Olga Bestilny. In the end, she treated special moments like life goals met — witnessing the Vikings pull off the Minnesota Miracle, seeing the twins complete their final day of classes.

"She really tried to protect us from all her pain," Olga said. "We were constantly amazed at her tenacity."

"She's just made a lasting impression on everyone that knew her," Helen said. "If they don't tell you they loved her, they just tell you that they'll always remember her."

Allen's celebration of life is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday, July 31, at the Silverwood Park Great Hall, 2700 County Road E, St. Anthony. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the American Cancer Society, ASPCA or another charity.