Wiley Edwin Koepka “My Grandchildren’s Memories of My Life”

Charles J. Koepka and Rosabella A. Hammond (Koepka) were direct descendants of the pilgrim that were on the Mayflower and landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Rosabella gave birth to Wiley Edwin Koepka on the 26th day of June 1886 according to his grand-daughter Janet Pfohl Gibson. According to the grandchildren Wiley E. Koepka was the middle child of five. He had two older siblings (Harry and Anna) and two young siblings (Betty and Irene). Below we have almost everyone listed by the year they were born and the year they passed:

Koepka Family:
1.      Rosabella A. Hammond wife of Charles J. Koepka (1860-1920)
2.      Harry D. Koepka (1880 to1954)
3.      Amy Anna M. Koepka (Lancaster) (1889 to 1945)
4.      Wylie Edwin Koepka (1886 to 1947)
5.      Betty P. Koepka (1924 to 1925)
6.      Irene Pearl Koepka (1904 to 1922)

Janet Pfohl Gibson’s memories of her grandfather (Wiley E. Koepka) are limited. Janet believes her grandfather enjoyed entertaining friends over a banquet style meal. She believes her grandfather (Wiley E. Koepka) was encouraged to join the United States Lighthouse Service by his father-in-law Richard Dissett.  

Author’s Note:

“A little background on Richard Dissett is Janet Pfohl Gibson’s and Robert Pfohl great grandfather.”

Wiley E. Koepka married his first wife Elizabeth Alice Jackson in 1908. Together they had five children:

1.      Edwin Koepka (Died  age 9)
2.      Myrtle Koepka
3.      Grace Koepka (Janet Pfohl Gibson and Robert Pfohl Mother)
4.      Laurel Koepka
5.      Wallace Koepka (Died in Italy during World War II)

Richard Dissett and Bessie Jackson were married at Round Island Lighthouse. Janet stated in 1918 Richard and Bessie were the first couple ever married at the lighthouse located near Mackinaw Island. Janet believes there may have been a newspaper article that commemorated the couples special moment in 1918.
Ashtabula Lighthouse was Wiley E. Koepka very first service appointment. He reported to Frank L. Sellman, Keeper-in-Charge of Ashtabula lighthouse. Wiley was Sellman’s 3rd Assistant at Ashtabula Lighthouse that jutted out into Lake Erie. Wiley’s first appointment came on the 16th day of September 1920. Wiley was promotion to 2nd Assistant on the 19th day of February 1927. Wiley Koepka remained at Ashtabula Lighthouse until the 23rd day of May 1933.  On that day he was promoted to the position of Keeper-in-Charge and was promptly transferred by the United States Lighthouse Service to Galloo Island Lighthouse along the shores of Lake Ontario. His promotion and prompt transfer to Galloo Island Lighthouse took place right in the middle of the “Great Depression”. The United States Lighthouse Service supplied the following staples to all lighthouse personnel:

1.      Flour
2.      Sugar
3.      Canned Milk

The farming community on Galloo Island provided lighthouse personnel with much of their other needs, according to Elsie Coit. Mrs. Elsie Coit was a school teacher on Gallo Island, and she was their when my grandfather was Keeper-in-Charge at Galloo Island Lighthouse.

Author’s Note:

Here is a little background on Elsie Coit and her husband Alfred E. Newton. We accompanied by his father and mother to Galloo Island after our joint agreement was finalized between father and son. Each of them agreed to operate and manage a family owned 400 acre ranch on Galloo Island. All of us arrived on Galloo Island in May 1932. The school I taught at was located about halfway between the 400 acre ranch and the Galloo Island Lighthouse.”

During those cold winter months my grandfather would walk across the frozen lake ice of Lake Ontario. Wiley was known to walk back and forth across between Galloo Island Lighthouse, Henderson Harbor or Sacketts Harbor, New York. Elizabeth Alice Jackson (Koepka) divorced Keeper-in-Charge, Wiley E. Koepka and moved to Angola, New York near the town of Derby, New York where the remainder of her family lived.

Author’s Note:

“The other discussion family members had; was Elizabeth may have already returned to where her great-grandmother lived in Cheboygan, Michigan in 1918.”

 Elsie Coit stated Wiley E. Koepka’s second wife Ruth was a “Mail Order” wife. The Pfohl family isn’t quite sure why this statement was made by Ms. Elsie Coit or if her statement is actually true. Ms. Elsie Coit also stated she was unable to formally meet Ruth, because she arrived on island about the same time Elsie Coit was about to leave Galloo Island.
In 1942 Wiley E. Koepka was transferred to Henderson Harbor, New York, where he would take charge of the Stoney Point Lighthouse on Lake Ontario. Janet Pfohl Gibson remembers visiting Stoney Point Lighthouse many times.

Janet’s Thoughts about Stoney Island Lighthouse:

I was really impressed with the long winding staircase that ran from the bottom of the tower all the way up to lantern room. I also enjoyed seeing the large 4th Order Fresnel Lens that stood inside the lantern room and its bright beacon that always shined across Lake Ontario. The real draw for me was the herd of goats her grandma Ruth was raising. Janet’s half brother Robert Pfohl recalls one summer going to Stoney Point Lighthouse to pick up his brothers John (Junior) and Clayton Ovak. Robert and the other members of Pfohl family went up there to bring both of boys home. Both brothers (John and Clayton) spent the summer at Stoney Point Lighthouse. Robert believes they were both there either to visit or working with Grandpa (Wiley) on the farm.

Author’s Note:

            “Stoney Point Lighthouse was a government owned structure including the grounds that surrounded the lighthouse. The lighthouse was also something of a farm according to Robert Wiley Pfohl”.

Robert’s Thoughts about Stoney Island Lighthouse:

I remember Grandpa Wiley had the following animals on the farm:
2.      Turkeys
3.      Goats

I also remember the trips between Derby, New York and Stoney Point Lighthouse were long ones. As I look back that ride for five of us in a car seemed to take forever. We stayed a few days and I believe my sister Marjorie was there with us. I recall all of the kids walking across the grounds between the shores of Lake Ontario and the lighthouse. We brought home some medium size yew trees that grew wild in the stony ground that surrounding the lighthouse. When we arrived home our father planted all of those trees around our home in Derby, New York. What struck me was how a family of five managed to fit all those medium size trees and all of us in that 1939 or 1940 Oldsmobile.

Author’s Note:

            “Stoney Point got its name according to the Pfohl family because of the fields of stones and rocks that were along the Lake Ontario shoreline. Robert Wiley Pfohl believes these rocks are eccentric and left by the glaciers during the ice age”

During one of our other visits to the lighthouse we were walking around the grounds, Junior motioned for all of us to stop. Junior (John) said there was a rattle snake just in front of us. I strained my eye to see what Junior was talking about. I didn’t see anything from where I was standing. It wasn’t until Junior returned from the house with his gun and shot the rattle snake. We all knew there were many types of snakes that were known to inhabit the grounds along Stoney Lake. Some of the snakes were said to be poisonous and others were totally harmless.

One morning I was asked by Grandpa Wiley to go out to the barn and collect some fresh eggs from under the hen turkeys. One of the hen turkeys was what Grandpa called “Broody” and he wasn’t about to raise a broody hen. As a young boy I was pretty frightened by the turkeys, but did as I was asked. What really surprised me was how good those eggs were after they were scrambled and they were served to us for breakfast!

Author’s Note:

            “Robert stated it’s really too bad that John (Junior) and Clayton are both deceased, they would have been able to add so much more to this story.”

After our grandfather (Wiley E. Koepka) retired from government service he came to live with us in Derby, New York. Janet remembers the shopping trip with her mother Grace and her older brother Robert Wiley Pfohl. All three of them arrived home in Derby, New York and went inside the house. Seven year old Janet, her mother and her older brother Robert walked towards the kitchen. As they enter the kitchen area they saw their Grandpa Wiley Edwin Koepka lying motionless on the kitchen floor. Robert was told by Ruth to run to the other end of the road and cross Route 5 to fetch our friend Mrs. Halton, who was Diane’s mother. This was the first time in my life I was allowed to cross Route 5.

Author’s Note:

            “Derby, New York is a populated city located in Erie County. (Latitude: 42. 681 & Longitude -78.975) Route 5 is also called Erie Road and runs parallel to Lake Ontario”

I ran all the way to Mrs. Halton’s. Diane mother was a nurse and based on what she saw when she arrived at the house, she believed Grandpa had suffered a stroke. Mrs. Halton also believes that was what caused him to collapse on the kitchen floor. As a young child seeing one of your grandparent’s lying on the floor motionless was a traumatic event in my life. Wiley E. Koepka was taken from the family home in Derby and transported to Soldiers and Sailors Hospital in Buffalo, New York. According to the family and the doctor taking care of him s a stroke was the main cause of my Grandpa’s passing. Both grandchildren stated Grandpa Koepka passed away in Soldiers and Sailors Hospital on the 13th day of December 1947 at the age of 61. Our Grandpa Wiley Edwin Koepka was laid to rest at Brant Lake Cemetery in Brant, New York.
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