This biography is dedicated to the Grandfather I never knew.
I am a student of Sociology and Psychology. I’ve spent most of my life learning about others, helping people, and helping their families. Unfortunately, as life was moving along for me, I never spent the time learning about my own family before many of my elderly family members began dying out. To say there was a lot of dysfunction and skeletons in the closet within our family is an understatement. Many older family members would not speak about their history because it would dredge up bad memories. The cousins simply drifted apart.
The internet has allowed me to reconnect with some of my known cousins and with some cousins that I never knew or met. Time has faded many of the bad memories to leave a new generation looking at the skeletons with fresh eyes yearning for our past taking the good with the bad. The net has also made it easier to find valid records online about my ancestors. This has helped me piece together Lyle Daniel Van Volkenburg’s short life and given me a sense of the man my grandfather was.
Lyle Daniel Vanvolkenburg died 19 years before I was born. I never really became interested in learning about him until around 1997. This was when my first child was conceived. I think the idea of having a child made me begin questioning where she and I fit within our family and the world in general. The genealogy bug bit me. The bug bit me even harder when I recently had my DNA tested. This test solidified my scientific biological relationship to Lyle Daniel Van Volkenburg and to the Van Volkenburg family in general.
No one in my immediate family ever spoke about Lyle in front of me. I believe it was a case of denial in order not to dredge up bad memories. For those, like me, who never met Lyle, it was simply out of sight out of mind. Family members moved on with their own lives and Lyle became a footnote.
As with any family, there are going to be skeletons in the closet. They come in two varieties. There are Documented Skeletons and the family lore skeletons that I like to call the Hearsay Skeletons. The documented skeletons are simply any written records to be found. The Hearsay Skeletons are usually a mix of photos, some documents, some family gossip, and family lore that has been passed down between family members. The Hearsay Skeletons typically lead me to the Documented Skeletons and I find the truth to be somewhere in between.
Even though I will try to keep the family hearsay to a minimum, I will, however, interject my own speculations in regard to certain things that make sense in a chain of events or things that I question. I have found that some of the facts uncovered have left me with more questions about Lyle’s life than the answers given. I am always open to re-interpretation and rewrites.
My mother Darleen Van Volkenburg and her sister Nancy Van Volkenburg were very young when their father, Lyle, died. They did not really know much about him other than what the family and the government had told them. The government held a mock funeral for Lyle 5 years after his death. His body was never recovered and the government placed a small gravestone with the other 3 missing airmen in Arlington Cemetery, Washington DC. What little my mother may have known never got passed down to me.
When I started asking questions and my mother did not know the answers, I went a generation further back and spoke to my great Aunt Thelma Van Volkenburg. She was the sister of Lyle Van Volkenburg. Aunt Thelma was a bit guarded because of all the family skeletons. Even though it may have dredged up many negative emotions for her, she was gracious enough to give me enough information to begin to piece Lyle’s life together. Unfortunately, I was busy with my own life and did not take enough time to speak enough with her. I had 2 conversations with her about her brother and the family. The third time I called her she never answered. I then learned Aunt Thelma passed away.
What I end up uncovering is that Lyle Daniel Van Volkenburg had an emotionally complicated life and was a War Hero. I do not think the family ever realized this or they would have spoken about him more. I know for a fact my mother, his daughter, did not realize this. She just knew him as her daddy who went off to the war and was killed.
Note: This page will be updated as I gather new facts or need to make corrections. I also realize there is a lot of information and can be quite boring. For me, I like to use the “read aloud” function that is in most modern internet browsers. This helps me actually make sure what I write makes sense.
Lyle Daniel “The Lip” Vanvolkenburg was born to John “Jack” Van Volkenburg and Mildred A. Baker on the 20th of June 1916 in Niagara Falls, New York. Lyle was their first-born and only son.
Lyle suffered a lot of setbacks and tragedies in his life, but he never gave up. He was a smart enterprising young man. He had the drive to succeed and become the best he could be. He ended up becoming a decorated Flight Officer in the Army Air Force and gave his life for his country.
John “Jack” Van Volkenburg
Lyle’s father Jack Van Volkenburg was an immigrant from Canada. Jack was born March 19th, 1889 in the Kennebec Township of Frontenac County, Ontario, Canada to an unwed Mary Hellen Van Volkenburg. John was listed as an illegitimate child on his birth registration.
Jack and his mother Mary Van Volkenburg lived on the family farm with his grandfather Sylvester Van Volkenburg. Jack had a rough childhood.
Jack’s mother Mary died on February 27, 1895, when Jack was 7 years old. Since Jack was an illegitimate child, he was left in the care of his 66-year-old grandfather Sylvester Van Volkenburg.
Sylvester died in 1901 when Jack was 12 years old. Thelma Van Volkenburg told this author that after Sylvester died her father Jack went to live with family in Roulette, Pennsylvania. This would have been where Jack met his future wife Mildred A. Baker.
Mildred A. Baker
Lyle’s mother, Mildred A. Baker, was born on November 4th, 1897 to Daniel Baker and Mary Dean(Dehn) of Potter County, Pennsylvania . Mildred’s father, Daniel E. Baker was a respected constable for many years in Potter County. He later became the Chief Deputy Sherriff in Roulette.
Mildred’s grandfather was the locally well-known Amandan Baker who was a Civil War Soldier and the first to be buried in the Fishing Creek Cemetery in Potter County, PA. Local folklore has it that Amandan Baker haunts the cemetery to this day. His ghost has been seen carrying his war boots over his shoulder.
Mildred’s mother, Mary Dean (Dehn) died on April 17, 1909, when Mildred was 12 years old. Mary’s biological parents were Mary Tauscher and Michael Dean(Dehn). Her father was from Germany.
Mary was adopted by the prominent Charles and Caroline Tauscher. She went by the name “Mate”. It is unknown what became of Mary’s biological parents.
The Buffalo and Niagara, NY Connection
A few years after Mildred’s mother passed away, her father Daniel E. Baker began dating Pluma Jones Turner. A widow that lived in Potter County with her adult daughter. Daniel resigned as Potter County Deputy Sheriff on August 28, 1913. Sometime after that, he moved to Niagara Falls, New York to become a constable there. Mildred would have been around 16-17 at the time.
We are not sure exactly what transpired in order for Daniel to uproot his family and move to Buffalo. It may have been the stress of his job in Potter County. He ran for sheriff and lost. He was appointed Deputy Sheriff of Potter County, resigned from that position, came back to that position, and then resigned again. It may have been the stress of losing his wife and not being able to move on after the loss. He could have just been burned out and needed a change of scenery. Small towns were notorious for gossip and his every move was published in the local paper.
In 1910 Jack Van Volkenburg was living and working in a factory in Victor, Ontario, New York. Jack kept in touch with Mildred and her father who moved to Niagara Falls, New York. At some point, Jack left his factory job in Ontario, New York, and moved to Niagara falls by 1914. In 1914 Jack was living at 922 Main Street in Niagara Falls. He was working at the Quick Service Auto Repair Shop. According to the 1915 New York Census, Jack was a lodger at a boarding house on 513 Walnut Avenue, in Niagara Falls. He was working as a chauffeur. This was the same year he married Mildred.
This was Jacks first driving job and would not be his last. It is obvious that Jack moved to Niagara Falls to find work and be closer to Mildred. He must have had a good relationship with her father Daniel. Jack Van Volkenburg and Mildred Baker married on November 3, 1915, in Niagara Falls, New York. She was 18 and he was 26. We are not sure if Jack lived with Mildred and her father temporarily after the marriage.Jack and Mildred ended up having a total of 5 children; Lyle, Thelma, Mabel and Margie (the twins), and Doris.
It is interesting to note that the Marriage registry for Jack and Mildred lists Sylvester Van Volkenburg as Jack’s father. This was probably for appearance’s sake. Sylvester was Jack’s grandfather. It would have been embarrassing for Jack to say he did not know who his father was and to explain that he was an illegitimate child. The slang term in those days was “bastard” child which carried a negative stigma, especially in the religious farming communities where he lived. People and churches, in those days, tended to look down on these children and their families. This kind of thing would have been part of the Town gossip.
A few years later Daniel married Pluma Jones Turner on May 15, 1918. She was living in Mt. Jewitt, Pennsylvania at the time of their marriage. They moved to Buffalo sometime after. We know that Daniel and Pluma were good folks. The family is shown in the 1920 census to have taken in boarders at their home in Buffalo. Pluma was steadfast in her Christianity. Daniel eventually retired from the Buffalo Dupont factory.
Jack and Mildred continued living in Niagara Falls, New York to raise their family. The census of 1920 shows the family living at 922 Main Street in Niagara Falls, New York. Jack was a mechanic at a local garage and Mildred stayed at home and took care of the children. Lyle was 3 years old, Thelma was 2, the twins were 1 year old, and Doris was just born in January of 1920.
Niagara Falls, New York has a rich history of population and commerce. Electricity had been in production since the 1880s. With the advance of the Second American Industrial Revolution, Niagara Falls grew tremendously between 1900 and 1920.
By 1900, Niagara Falls had 265 manufacturing plants of all types in the Mill District and 20,000 people living in the Village. It provided electricity for the residents of Niagara Village and the power plant became a tourist attraction. This converted Niagara Falls into a boom town. By 1920, the population of Niagara Falls had increased 160% from 20,000 to approximately 50,000 people.
Jack and Mildred were living in a modern world with modern conveniences for the era. Plenty of work was to be had. This would have been a great time and place for any young family. It must have been exciting for Jack, Mildred, and the children to live in the middle of the Village during this time.
Jack’s wife and the mother of his children, Mildred Baker Van Volkenburg, died on December 5th, 1923 in Lockport, New York. The family thinks that Mildred may have contracted tuberculosis and died at a sanatorium in Lockport, New York. We will need a copy of the death certificate to know for certain, but this is totally plausible.
Lyle was 7 years old at the time. It is unknown, at this time, how Midred died. Mildred is buried on her family plot, next to her mother, in Lyman Cemetery located in Roulette, Pennsylvania.
This tragedy left Jack to take care of Lyle and his 4 siblings. During this time Jack was traveling back and forth from Niagara to Roulette on the weekends. During the Week he continued working as a mechanic. He may have left the children with family members during the week so he could work. The local news shows the children visiting with various family members over the next couple of years.
Jack was a respected hard-working man. He was a provider for his family. He was most likely a proud man and did not want to have to depend on his in-laws and family members to care for his children. He probably did not want to move back to Roulette, PA since job opportunities were scarce.
At some point, Jack moved from Niagara Falls to Buffalo to work as a mechanic. In the 1925 Census, he was shown to be living with all his children at 728 Kensington Ave in Buffalo, NY. This was a garage with an upstairs apartment.
The family likely lived in the upstairs apartment of the garage while jack maintained the business downstairs. He had a lot of mouths to feed. The building still stands as seen in the photo.
This would have been the perfect setup for Jack and his children. Jack would get the children up and the children would have walked to the nearby school. Jack would just have to walk downstairs to begin his workday. Doris was the only child not in school at the time. She was 5 years old. Jack would have been able to handle watching her and working at the same time.
Jack and Olive
Jack and the kids would typically travel to Roulette, PA on weekends to visit family. The kids stayed overnight with various family members. This gave Jack the time and chance to strike up a romance with the divorced Olive Corsaw Yentzer. The pair were perfect for each other in regard to their circumstances.
A bit of Olive’s background. Olive was raised in Roulette, PA, and became pregnant by Charles Yentzer when she had just turned 12 years old. Charlie was a 33-year-old farmer at the time. In those days this was legal but still would have been frowned upon because he did not marry her, and their child was born out of wedlock. In this day and age, guys like Charlie are arrested for child abuse and statutory rape.
Olive became pregnant with their second child sometime in July 1904. Charlie and Olive got married 3 months later. This would have been a scandal at this time, in the religious community, that would not have been openly talked about. Charlie was 36 and Olive was 15 when they got married.
Olive and Charles had three children together. The first two children died. Those children were Eva Yentzer who died in 1914 and Berdina Yentzer who died in 1918. Both children happen to be 13 when they died. At some point, Olive and Charles divorced.
As you can see, both Jack and Olive were two emotionally damaged individuals when they met. Out of the union they would form, Jack got Olive out of Roulette and Olive could watch the children. Jack Van Volkenburg married on December 23, 1926, in Roulette, Pennsylvania. Jack was 37 years old and Olive was 38 when they married. Lyle would have been 10 years old at the time. Olive and Oleada moved in with Jack. Jack became the foster parent of Oleado.
Sometime between 1925 and 1930, the blended family decided to move to a house in the Village of Buffalo, New York. The 1930 census shows the family living at 342 Herman Street in Buffalo. Lyle would have been around 14 years old at the time. This photo is the house the family lived in and as it stands today in 2022.
Lots of positive changes were happening for the family during this time. Olive bought a commercial Truck for Jack that was listed in her name and therefore both ran a trucking business making deliveries. Jack would haul goods with his assistant and Olive stayed at home and took care of the children.
The house was in a wonderful commercial area. It was within walking distance of many businesses which Lyle would later form business relationships with.
Lyle Coming into his own
Employment as a young man
Lyle was a hard worker. As a young man, Lyle worked the years between 1930 and 1932 at the Baltimore Fish and Oyster Company located at 792 Genesee Street in Buffalo, New York. Lyle was around 14 or 15 years old at the time when he worked there.
The business was only a 5-minute walk from the Van Volkenburg household. Mr. Flinter stated that Lyle was “reliable and trustworthy. A good worker and steady in his habits”.
Mr. Flinter and the business are long gone, but amazingly the building and sign are still standing in 2022. This photo was taken from Google Street View.
Lyle and his father were very enterprising men. Work was hard to find. They were living in the Depression era. Many people were unemployed and trying to make ends meet. Lyle and his father Jack started an Ice Station Operator business in 1932. Lyle was 16 at the time.
There was a lot of competition in this business. There were no government handouts in those days. You either worked or starved. Lyle would literally have to canvas and knock on doors to strike up business.
Running an Ice Delivery business was very laborious work. It consisted of sales, accounting, and physical strength. You had to work 7 days a week from early morning until late in the evening making deliveries.
Being the strong young man he was, I’m sure Lyle took on a lot of the manual labor while his father drove the truck. This type of work would have gotten him ready for his future military enlistment.
Lyle’s and Jack’s day consisted of getting up around 4 am to line up and pick up and load the 20 -100 pounds blocks of ice from the Culliton Ice Company located at 72 Jewett Street, Buffalo, New York. This was about a 10-minute drive from the family house.
The photo of the building with the murals on it was the Culliton Ice warehouse where the ice was held. This is exactly where Lyle and his father would have picked up ice. This ice warehouse took up the whole block.
After leaving the warehouse Lyle and his father would have delivered to their accounts which would have included, families, local businesses, and farm outside of the city. The work would last well into the late evening. He and his father would have had to work 7 days a week to keep customers happy.
Dark Times for Lyle
I’m sure Lyle losing his mother, dealing with teenage hormones, and being thrown into a blended family had taken its toll on him emotionally. It is known that the children did not like Olive. Lyle and his siblings really never had time to process the death of their mother or grieve properly.
It had been reported by some family members that Olive favored her son Oleado over Jack’s children and that Olive would not feed the girls. They would end up scavaging food from the trash cans. When Jack and Lyle got home from work, the girls were already in bed. Olive would say she fed them. It was also reported that Olive would let her son have relations with the girls.
At some point, Lyle began to act out to the point he was sent off to a boy’s “refuge center” by the courts. I do not have access to his juvenile records, so we will never know what crimes Lyle committed as a Juvenile.
Lyle was sentenced to Randalls Island in 1933 for his bad behavior. This was an island used as a “refuge” that kept juvenile delinquents, and orphans, and there was an insane asylum on the grounds. It was known that the guards were drunk and abusive to the inmates.
Lyle Meets his future wife
How Lyle and LaVerna came to meet is speculation. There are a few possible scenarios of how Lyle and LaVerna could have met.
Both Lyle and LaVerna had families that lived in the Niagara Falls and Buffalo, NY areas. Their families possibly knew each other.
Laverna and her mother Jeanette Heintz Villone were living in Buffalo between 1930 and 1935. During this time, Lyle and LaVerna only lived 4 blocks away from each other. They may have gone to the same grade school and/or played together in the neighborhood. This is the most likely scenario.
Lyle could have met Laverna when he owned his Ice Station Operator business. Laverna, her mother Jeanette Heintz Wolf, and stepfather Henry Wolf owned and ran a 100-acre Dairy Farm at 527 4 Rod Rd, Alden New York. There was an ice house on the farm and they would have had to buy ice in order to keep the milk from spoiling. Lyle may have been their Iceman.
Whatever the scenario may have been, they met and fell in love.
Jeanette Wolf was my great-grandmother and this author remembers her telling how her daughter (my grandmother) Laverna would run off to Buffalo to meet boys. Apparently, Lyle, the Iceman was one of those boys.
Tragedy Strikes Again
On July 25th, 1934, Jack Van Volkenburg and his assistant were hauling a load of 100-pound bags of fertilizer. Jack lost control of his truck going down a deadly steep hill on NY Route 17 Known as Wurtsboro Hill. There was a sharp curve at the end of the hill and Jack could not get the vehicle stopped in time. The authority, at the scene, speculated that Jack ran the truck deliberately into the mountainside instead of endangering others. Upon hitting the embankment, the momentum of the 100-pound bags of fertilizer continued forward crushing the cab of the truck. The assistant was alive, but Jack most likely died instantly. Jack was only 45 years old. Lyle was 18 years old at the time his father died.
It was told to this author by my grandaunt, Thelma Van Volkenburg, that when her father Jack died, their stepmother Olive Corsaw Van Volkenburg abandoned the Van Volkenburg children. The girls were scattered among family and community members back in Roulette, Pennsylvania, and Port Allegany, Pennsylvania. Lyle remained in Buffalo with his grandparents Daniel and Pluma Baker.
Cousin Henry Palmeter clarified that his mother Marjorie went to work as a nanny for the Barron family in Port Allegany, Pennsylvania and her twin Mabel went to the Lawrence Gallup family in Port Allegany. this was done so the twins could finish high school together. They were close. Thelma went pregnant at the time and was sent to live at a sanitarium to have her son. We are unsure (at this time) where Doris ended up living.
Olive Corsaw Van Volkenburg later married Philip Kujaneck on March 29, 1936. They later divorced. Olive passed away in 1949 in Oswego, New York. She and Jack Van Volkenburg are buried in the same plot in Fishing Creek Cemetery (aka Durward Cemetery), Potter County, Pennsylvania. The family debates whether or not Olive really is buried there. The tombstone was never completed with her death date.
1934 would have been an extremely rough year for Lyle. He was legally a man at 18 years of age and his world has just been torn apart. He lost his father, his stepmother moved, and his siblings were sent to Roulette, PA to live with family. Many people would have easily been overcome with depression and acted out at that age. Lyle could have easily gone down the wrong path. Lyle persevered through it all and came out as a stronger person. Lyle was driven to make something of himself.
Since the family Commercial Truck was totaled and his stepmother Olive Corsaw Van Volkenburg left the area, Lyle had no means to keep the Ice Station Business going. Lyle moved in with his grandparents Daniel E. and Pluma Baker at 47 College Street, Buffalo, NY. He lived there for the next 3 years from 1934 to 1937. He worked, went to church, and visited his sisters in Roulette.
Lyle Van Volkenburg worked for Dupont as a Cellophane technician for the next few years. He worked at the Yerkes Plant in Tonawanda, NY. The cellophane business really ramped up when the threat of war was percolating prior to 1939. Dupont made cellophane to package and keep military rations fresh. Daniel Kept this job at Dupont for the next few years. He would need it.
While living with his grandparents, Lyle became an active member of the Churchill Tabernacle Church in Buffalo, NY from 1934 to 1937. Pluma his step-grandmother, most likely inspired Lyle to go to church. She was known to be a religious woman. Finding his faith would have been good for Lyle at the time since he was grieving the death of his father and the breakup of his family.
Churchill Tabernacle was a famous church in its day. A Franciscan Fiar started it in 1927 and broadcasted services over the radio airwaves. It was one of the first churches to broadcast religious services to a large immigrant Polish population. The broadcast reached Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Scranton, and Pittsburgh and farther out across much of the US to where the airwaves would reach.
Lyle was a faithful member of the church. He took part in the famous Churchill Tabernacle Choir. His voice would have been heard in the northern parts of the US at the time, as far as the radio waves would travel.
Life in the Fast Lane
Lyle on his own and another brush with the law
At some point, Lyle moved out of his grandparent’s home to live on his own. In 1939 he was found to be living at 245 Sherman Street in Buffalo New York. While living here he was arrested on March 31, 1939, for burglary and larceny of the Liberty Shoe store. Lyle was 22 at the time. It is not known what the outcome of those charges.
Here comes Baby
LaVerna Villone and her mother Jeanette Heintz Wolf Villone had a tempestuous relationship. Laverna was acting out from the long and legally drawn-out divorce her mother and father went through. Laverna also did not like farm life. LaVerna grew up in the city. LaVerna remained most of her life in Buffalo and died there.
According to Jeanette, Laverna would sneak off to Buffalo. Apparently, it was to meet Lyle. Laverna and Lyle consummated prior to marriage. Laverna became pregnant sometime around June of 1937. She was 15 years old and Lyle was 21.
This would not have sat well with Jeanette. Jeanette and her husband Henry were well-respected farmers in their small farming community of Alden, NY. They were also well respected in their church at Townline Lutheran Church. They knew people would gossip.
Laverna being pregnant out of wedlock would have been a taboo subject in their community. Jeanette would not have allowed this kind of news to make it out into the community. I’m sure there were words between her and Lyle.
Jeanette never swore nor was she a violent woman. She had gone through enough violence in her life with her first husband, to where she avoided it whenever she could. She appeared a pragmatic soft-spoken farm woman, but when her dander was up she could give a look that would make you tell on yourself when you did something wrong.
I’m sure Lyle told Jeanette everything. Lyle had values instilled in him from his own family in which he would have taken responsibility for his actions and done what he thought would be the right thing. The right thing would be marrying Laverna.
Jeanette never spoke ill of Lyle or Laverna. She tried to protect them. She and her husband Henry Wolf took Lyle into their home to help him and Laverna with the baby. Jeanette would have had it no other way.
LaVerna Villone and Lyle Van Volkenburg were married at the Townline Lutheran Church on August 21, 1937. It would have been a fairly small ceremony of close family and friends. Since Lyle’s mother and father were already deceased it would have been mostly Laverna’s family present at the Wedding.
Laverna and Lyle Van Volkenburg would have most likely lived on Jeanette and Henry Wolf’s farm while Laverna was pregnant and in order for Jeanette to help her care for the baby. Soon after, Nancy Carol Van Valkenburg was born March 7, 1938.
On Their Own
Since Laverna did not like farm life, she and Lyle moved back to Buffalo. Lyle and Laverna were found in the 1940 census living in a boarding house at 83 Wadsworth Avenue, Buffalo, NY. There is no mention of their child living with them. It assumed that Jeanette was taking care of the child at her Alden Farm. We do not know how long they lived in Buffalo, but Laverna became pregnant with their second child Darleen during this period. They soon moved back in with their parents, Jeanette and Henry Wolf. Darleen was born on January 9, 1942. Soon after Lyle signed up and started his career with the Army Air Force. Laverna would stay back on the farm with her two children. That did not last long as the city was calling Laverna. Laverna began to leave the children with her mother and then finally moved back to Buffalo becoming estranged with her children and mother. Jeanette ended up raising Nancy and Darleen and long story short, Laverna became an alcoholic and died living above a bar in Buffalo.
The War is Calling
ARMY AIR FORCE SERVICE OVERVIEW
|Name||Lyle Daniel Van Volkenburg|
|From||Erie County, New York|
|Born||June 20, 1916|
|Death||September 5, 1945|
|War||World War II|
|Branch||US Army Air Corps|
|Group||40th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron|
|Cause||DNB – Died Non-battle|
|Awarded||★ Air Medal|
Click this link to see his Flight School Record
Lyle the Lonely Spy
Leaving a Legacy
Sites Ripping off my research and monetizing it without giving me proper credit or donating to the upkeep of my site.
Lyle Daniel Van Volkenburg : Second Lieutenant from New York, World War II Casualty (honorstates.org)