Less than a month after her 98th birthday Helen Allen passed away in Sebastopol where she lived for 40 years. Helen was born March 2, 1914 in Stevensville, MO. Much of her childhood was spent on the farm reading by lantern and riding a horse to school. In 1929 the family moved to North Hollywood. After high school, Helen entered college and was one of the few women to receive a degree from the California State College, Santa Barbara. Having played the cello for years, at 21, she joined the all girls band, Inginues, performing at the San Diego World Exposition, and travelling to Mexico City performing along the way. In 1941 Helen drove around the U.S. with cousins Doris and Bobbie Lee. She didn't worry for three women traveling alone; she kept her pistol under the front seat. Helen taught elementary school where she was introduced to the uncle of one of her students, Fred Allen. They married in 1942. They were active in politics, social justice issues, and the Unitarian Fellowship while raising four children. After 30 years of living in L.A., Helen and Fred literally traded for a 96 acre apple ranch in Sebastopol. While Helen had lived through two world wars and the Great Depression, her life was most profoundly affected by her early years in Montana. Helen could build or fix just about anything. She and Fred built their home, grew apples and vegetables, and developed a wonderful community. The Allen Ranch was a treasure enjoyed by a wide extended family especially for Thanksgiving feasts. True to their convictions, Helen and Fred stayed active in the Peace and Justice community, the U.U. Fellowship and progressive politics of Sonoma County. Helen was an avid reader and member of a book group for 25 years. She volunteered at the Food Pantry and the Library Arts Gallery. Helen took on all comers for a spirited game of cribbage. Win or lose, when the game was over, she always shook your hand and said "thanks for the great game." On her 80th birthday, Helen did a three day backpacking trip in the Sierras, and on her 97th birthday, she went horse back riding. She continued to take yoga classes to the very end. Her life was a special blend of being down-to-earth and yet refined. She was as comfortable in her garden, or building a chicken coop, as at the symphony. Above her bed she kept a note, "If I am not breathing, don't worry; because I'm not. I've had a great life." That says it all. The last few years, Helen was assisted by an amazing group of resourceful, creative, loving folks (including Annie Oakley and Kit Carson, the cats). We called them "Team Helen", and we will forever be grateful to you all. Helen is survived by her four children, Geri Hyatt of Boise, Fred Jr. (Linda) and James (Suzanne) of San Pedro, and Chris Boyd (Rick) of Sebastopol, seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. Donations in her memory may be sent to the Earl Baum Center in Santa Rosa or a homeless shelter of your choice. A celebration of her life will be held this summer.
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Published in the Press Democrat from April 10 to April 11, 2012