Circle of Friends: Securing a Treasure
by Chantel Dunham
Ben Epps, Sr. in the cockpit.
Epps, Sr. and Evelyn Epps (age 9) assisted the American Legion Auxiliary in commemorating Memorial Day 1925 by dropping a poppy wreath from the air onto the graves of World War I soldiers who are buried in Oconee Cemetery
Eight years ago, one of our key Library ambassadors, Gary Doster, introduced me to Ben Epps, Jr. For those of you from the Athens area, the name Ben Epps is probably a familiar one although many don’t know the story behind the name. Few in this generation are aware of Ben Epps’ Sr.’s legacy and understand the significance of his accomplishments.
After dropping out of Georgia Tech in 1904, Epps Sr. returned to Athens. Barely old enough to vote and with little-to-no higher education, Epps opened his own electrical contracting business on Washington Street in downtown Athens and began experimenting with engines and propellers. Although his early attempts at flight were not successful, he was not deterred. Despite his youth, Epps’ trial and error process and his early successes and defeats place him among other nationally known aviation pioneers.
Epps’ love of flying was passed on to his children as well. Of his ten children, all but two of them went on to become pilots themselves. Ben Jr. took his first flight at the age of ten and flew solo for the first time at thirteen. In recognition of his achievements in aviation at such a young age, Ben Jr. was invited to Washington, D.C. to meet President Hoover.
Ben Epps, pictured with one of his first airplanes, in front of his shop which was located on East Washington street. A historical marker will be placed on East at the location of the shop during the Centennial Celebration.
Gary and I arrived at Ben’s hangar at Epps Aviation in Atlanta and the journey began. Ben shared with us a scrapbook belonging to his father, Ben Epps, Sr. As Gary and I sat and listened, Ben told us the story of the scrapbook that his father had meticulously put together to document the journey of his life and his love of aviation. As we looked through this wonderful scrapbook, which included letters, news articles, and incredible photographs, the story of his amazing career revealed itself. We realized that more needed to be done to document the life of this pioneer and the Libraries engaged the Georgia Center and the creative talents of Bill Evelyn from University Communications to help us. Bill had a personal connection to the Epps family and did a tremendous job creating a documentary celebrating Georgia’s first family of aviation.
Thanks to the generous support of the Epps family, we are currently in the process of digitizing the scrapbook collection. October 2007 marks the centennial of Epps’ first flight and we hope to have CDs of the scrapbook available in time for the community-wide celebration that has been planned in October to commemorate Epps’ life and his contributions to Georgia’s aviation history.
If you’d like to have more information regarding this event, or if you would like to purchase a copy of the DVD Ben Epps: The Legacy of Georgia’s First Aviator, please contact me at (706) 542-0628 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.