Elbert “Ebb” Benjamin Allen, age 85, passed away at home on September 4, 2021. He was born on January 17, 1936 in Rockcastle County, Kentucky to Virgil Hayes Allen and Katie May Allen. He married his loving wife of 56 years, Willa Ella Robinson Allen, on September 12, 1964.
As much as Ebb adored history, he too lived a prolific life. He was born in a two-room log house and was the oldest of 13 children. He grew up working in the coal mines with his father in Leslie County, Kentucky. He worked there until the day he turned seventeen. During the Korean War, he made his way to Louisville on his birthday and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
After serving his country in Japan, he traveled the United States from Utah to Florida before finding himself in Chicago, Illinois. There, he worked for International Harvester as a machinist by day and sang in a band by night. By chance, a young woman who called Eastern Kentucky her home waltzed into the club where he was playing. That young woman became his wife, Mrs. Willa Allen, and the mother of his two daughters, Shelia and Elizabeth.
The Allen family returned to their roots—the mountains—in 1970. Meanwhile, Ebb returned to the mines working for Benham Coal Company. He was a proud member of the United Mine Workers of America and an advocate for his fellow coal miners. He was known as the man who would stand up to authority and give a voice to the voiceless. Ebb demanded better workplace safety measures for the men in the Benham mine, a fight that he took all the way to Washington D.C. before an Administrative Law Judge. Also, Ebb was active in the “Brookside Strike” in 1973, where he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with coal miners striking against Duke Power Company. The strike, and Ebb’s involvement, is documented in the Academy Award-winning documentary, Harlan County USA (1976).
After the mine at Benham closed in 1985, Ebb retired and leaned into his role as a newly minted grandfather, Freemason, and community historian. For over 20 years, he was a respected Kentucky historian who contributed to countless articles, books, and anthologies documenting the history of Kentucky’s oldest families. He is known far and wide for his humor, his talent for storytelling, and for his encyclopedic knowledge of Kentucky genealogy.
To Ebb, no person was ever a stranger. In a cacophony of people, Ebb would make every person feel seen. When Ebb entered a room, he came prepared with a stunning wide smile and a clever story or anecdote. The stories he told tied together humor, the culture of the Hills, and the history of legendary people who might otherwise be reduced to names in a history book. He could wax poetic about Herodotus and spoke about Thomas Jefferson like a brother. If you knew him, you knew had a special talent for breathing life into history that had been long dead.
In 1995, Ebb and Willa made their way north to Henry County where they decided to retire. He grew beautiful gardens every summer and nourished his new community through his philanthropic activity in the Simpson Masonic Lodge in Newcastle, Kentucky. One of his greatest joys in life was the fraternal bonds he shared with his lodge brothers, who became life-long friends.
Ebb’s true legacy is his children, grandchildren, and countless great-grandchildren. He did everything in his power to ensure that each had access to an education, as he believed that knowledge was the way one could enrich their life. He spoke with an intimate knowledge of humble beginnings, of being born in a Depression, and of growing up with a deep thirst for knowledge. Although his absence shall linger in the decades to come, the memory of him will ensure that the circle will be unbroken.
Survivors are: his wife; Mrs. Willa Ella Robinson Allen of Smithfield to whom he married on September 12, 1964 in Chicago, Illinois. Two sons; Terry Lee Ray, and Jeffery Allen. Two daughters; Sheila Elaine Winterberg, and Elizabeth Ann Estrada. Three brothers; Charles Hayes Allen, Denver Dennis Allen, and Jack Allen. 8 grandchildren; Stephanie Nicole Bullard, Timothy Allen Johnson-Thomas, Victoria Kaitlyn “Katie” Davidson, Austin James Winterberg, Samuel John Winterberg the 4th, Dennis Estrada, Stacey Deltoro, and Anna Cohen. 16 great grandchildren; Jacob Conner Beck, Jonathan Christopher Beck, Joshua Cole Beck, Addilyn Elain Beck, Mason Allen Thomas, Benjamin Gunner Thomas, Annabella Rose Thomas, Dominic Xavier Thomas, Samuel John Winterberg the 5th, Stella Rose Winterberg, Juliette Winterberg, Frances Deltoro, Caleb Deltoro, Lucas Linn, Micah Linn, and Ean Linn also survive. Besides his parents he was also preceded in death by: three brothers; Samuel Harrison Allen, Freddie Dean Allen, and Daniel Wayne Allen, and by six sisters; Catherine Irene Allen, Gladys Allen, Edna Lou Allen, Shirley Marie Allen, Dorothy Loretta Allen, and Virginia Rose Allen and many nieces and nephews also survive.
Funeral services for Mr. Elbert Benjamin “Ebb Ben” Allen will be conducted 2 PM Wednesday September 8, 2021 at the Cox Funeral Home with Bro. Dennis Wilder officiating. Burial will follow in the Red Hill Cemetery.
Arrangements are by the Cox Funeral Home where friends may visit from 1 PM until service time on Wednesday. In lieu of flowers memorial contributions are suggested to: Shriners Hospital for Children.
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