by: LINDA HUNDHAMMER, Craig Allen of West Linn holds the title of America’s Greatest Thinker along with a $500 cash prize and a gold medal.

America's greatest thinker, sophist extraordinaire, sage exemplar, philosopher inordinate - a 59-year-old Home Depot employee from West Linn.

It is true: Craig Allen, a regular guy and lifetime resident of West Linn, is the gold-medal winner of the 2008 America's Greatest Thinker contest.

Allen recently received this honor at the Great American Think-off, a nationwide contest held annually in New York Mills, Minn. He competed against brainiacs from all over the country in an essay and speech debate contest answering the rhetorical question, 'Does immigration strengthen or threaten the United States?'

Allen won the votes of the audience with his deft argument that the U.S. system of immigration and immigration policy is broken, and that it poses a threat to Americans.

He might possibly be the most under-educated person to ever win the exalted title of Greatest American Thinker.

'But I am a lifelong learner, and I've basically home schooled myself,' said Allen, a West Linn High School graduate with a few years of college. 'I've never stopped learning, and I've never stopped paying attention. I think I am more perceptive than most, and I have a good view of the bigger picture.'

Allen was inspired to enter the contest when a co-worker at Home Depot, where Allen teaches home-improvement classes, recognized Allen's deep-thinking tendencies.

He entered the contest last year when the question was 'Which should you trust more - your head or your heart?' But he did not make the finals.

'My advantage this year was that I was very focused on the question,' he said. 'I wrote the answer from both sides. And then realized that it wasn't really about the immigrants' story, it was about how America was dealing with the issue. Our country is so polarized by the immigration issue - politicians are afraid to even debate on the topic - Americans can no longer even engage in civil conversation to find a means of fixing the system.'

For Allen, the highlight of the Great American Think-off contest was the parade. New York Mills is the quintessential American small town, and the parade through main street featured antique cars, courts of teen-age girls, 1,300 motorcyclists, livestock of all sorts and, of course, the finalists from the Great American Think-off.

'I had more fun in that parade,' Allen said. 'People from all over the state were lining the streets. It was fantastic.'

So what does the 'Greatest American Thinker' do now that he has returned to his ordinary life in West Linn?

'I am writing a book - it is a historical novel staged in Berlin,' he said. 'I started it two years ago, and I have spent a lot of hours doing research. I have more than 60,000 sites on my bookmark list and 17 feet of Berlin books in my bookshelf.'

It is his ongoing search for knowledge that makes Allen's new title as the 'Greatest American Thinker' seem suitable. However, we are reminded of his ordinary-guy status when he's asked what he reads for pleasure: 'Harry Potter. I am a big Harry Potter fan.'

For more information on the 16-year-old Great American Think-off visit . The contest is open to philosophic thinkers from across the country.

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