“The world really lost a good soul & a bright light when Zach died”
By Elizabeth Allen Matthew
Today, August 24th, 2023, marks the 25th anniversary of the day my older brother, Zach Allen, died at work in Cuba. This year also would have been his 45th birthday. I imagine I would have been razzing him about being “middle aged”, writing “Halfway to 90!” on his cake or something.
As anyone who has lost a family member knows, every passing birthday, anniversary of their death, holiday, and other major life event illuminates the void left by their loss. I remember especially feeling that void of his absence on what would have been his 40th birthday. I’m not sure if it was because 40 is considered such a milestone birthday or because it also marked the 20th anniversary of his death. It stood as sort of a milepost in my life too, that my brother had now been gone longer that he was here. The circle of people in my life that actually had known Zach firsthand has just gotten smaller and smaller over the years. Anytime I met someone new, and they asked about my family, there would be the inevitable question, “Do you have any siblings?”. Answering a simple “no” always felt like a betrayal to his memory. However, the often tactless follow up questions about civil litigation after explaining I had a brother, but he died in an industrial accident came a lot more frequently than I was ever prepared for in my young adulthood.
I was the quintessential annoying little sister. To me, Zach was effortlessly cool. I wanted to hang out with him and his friends, I wanted to listen to the music he listened to. I stole his overpriced concert tees hoping he wouldn’t catch me. I, wanted to be effortlessly cool too.
Zach was also effortlessly genuine. A characteristic I now understand to have been exceedingly rare and rounded out a depth of character not often seen in a 20-year-old. Of course, He could deploy his pointed quick wit and expert roasting skills to cover just how caring and compassionate he was for those around him.
The world really lost a good soul & a bright light when Zach died. I can only imagine the sort of person he would have grown into been given the chance. At 15, I couldn’t grasp the enormity of what was taken from him and what we all lost. Now that I myself am 40 and have lived through all of my 20s and 30s, I better understand. With every new milestone and chapter, even the traumatic ones, there’s a tinge of sadness. Zach isn’t here.
To the best of our knowledge of what happened, Zach was electrocuted by machinery at what is now called Great Lakes Cheese. I will never forget overhearing an investigator describing to my dad, “a culture of noncompliance” as a contributing factor to what had happened. I hope with my whole heart that the same can no longer be said.
I know a lot of people were disappointed when the planned Great Lakes Cheese plant for The Allegany Crossroads failed. I was not one of them. On its face, the whole plan, taking farmland by eminent domain for a private entity, seemed like lunacy. Personally, I couldn’t imagine a corporation that had taken so much was going to be given so much; land, money, tax breaks. It was a hard pill to swallow. I only imagine if the Belvedere plan would have moved forward, my dad, Tom Allen would have staged some sort of wild sit in protest like that girl in California who lived in a tree for years to keep it from being cut down.
Growing up in Allegany County, it’s easy to see the limited access to employment compared to other parts of the state and country. Despite this, we cannot sell ourselves short by offering up a smorgasbord of incentives for merely wanting to do business within our boarders. We need businesses who aren’t just brought here by tax breaks and grant money but also have a commitment to investment & growth in our community. We need innovative businesses who provide meaningful employment. Most of all, we need businesses who hold the health, wellbeing, and safety of its employees in the highest regard. Zach is owed that much, and every worker deserves that much.
*Editors note: If you knew Zach, share your rememberances on our Facebook page and please include any photos that you may have of Zach!!