Ebendorf lighted way for Coleman collectors

When word spread that Wichitan Herb William Ebendorf had died Wednesday morning, members of the Coleman Collectors Forum began lighting lanterns around the world.

Long the Coleman Co. historian, Mr. Ebendorf was to many a revered and beloved friend. Fans of 99-year-old say the lanterns will continue to be lit until his funeral on Monday.

"Collectors just loved him. There has been such an outpouring with his death, that I've been at my computer constantly getting e-mails and condolences," said Wichitan Jim Nichols, president of the International Coleman Collectors Club.

The funeral will be 10 a.m. Monday at the Plymouth Congregational Church, 202 N. Clifton.

Mr. Ebendorf was born Dec. 13, 1910, in Waukon, Iowa. He and his family lived in Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas while he was growing up. He received his bachelor's degree in journalism in 1932 from Washburn University.

In 1934, Mr. Ebendorf moved to Wichita where he began work at the Farm Credit Administration as a file clerk earning $75 a month. He later became a senior clerk with the Emergency Crop and Feed Loan office of the administration. He and his wife, Virginia Abney, married in 1937.

By World War II, Mr. Ebendorf had become an employee on the public relations staff at Boeing Airplane Co. and editor of the Boeing newspaper. The Wichita-built Boeing line of trainers and the B-29 Superfortress pushed the Wichita factory into the national forefront of military activity during the war.

While at Boeing, he was sometimes delegated to ring the huge Victory Bell, rung every time a B-29 came off the assembly line.

By 1945, Mr. Ebendorf had become known as a rising star in public relations circles. He was recruited by Sheldon Coleman Sr., then president of the Coleman Co., to be the company's publications manager.

For the next six decades, Mr. Ebendorf was a vital part of the Coleman Company, first creating the promotional and advertising materials that helped sell Coleman products, then for nearly three decades as a volunteer historian, where he oversaw the historical records and answered questions from the public about the company.

In 1981, Mr. Ebendorf started "Coleman Lite," a newsletter geared toward collectors. He also produced, along with Carl Tucker, the "Coleman Collector's Guide," affectionately known as the "green book" by its fans.

He also was instrumental in getting the company to create a museum of Coleman products at the company's outlet store at 235 N. St. Francis.

From the beginning and often on his own time, Mr. Ebendorf began collecting information and old products, such as lamps and lanterns.

Lamps are what sparked the Coleman Co., which started at the turn of the 20th century.

When Mr. Ebendorf had been at the Coleman Co. for less than a week, the company's founder, W.C. Coleman, stopped and asked Mr. Ebendorf's opinion on some of the company's publications.

"From that time on, we talked," Mr. Ebendorf told The Wichita Eagle in 2007. "I always felt like I worked with him, not for him. I guess that's the proudest thing: I got to work with the man."

And that knowledge and the fact that he had lived through such a historic time made Mr. Ebendorf a sought-out person by collectors of the company's products.

"He would spend hours with our members taking any kind of questions they'd have," Nichols said. "He'd sign their books and sometimes there would be lines 15 to 20 people deep waiting to talk with him."

Mr. Ebendorf is survived by two children, Thomas of Louisville, Ky., and Ann Ball of Wichita, and four grandchildren.