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Old Fort Niagara to honor volunteer lighthouse keeper on National Lighthouse Day

by jmaloni

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Thu, Aug 6th 2015 12:25 pm
Terry Yonker at the entrance to the Old Fort Niagara lighthouse.
Terry Yonker at the entrance to the Old Fort Niagara lighthouse.

Old Fort Niagara will honor Terry Yonker, a devoted volunteer, lighthouse keeper and naturalist who passed away in April, with a reception and plaque dedication at 11 a.m. Friday at the Old Fort Niagara lighthouse. Friends and supporters are invited to attend the reception, where fort staff will recognize his contributions.

Aug. 7 is National Lighthouse Day.

Yonker started volunteering at Old Fort Niagara around 1995 and helped with various fundraising events. He served as the fort's development director in the early 2000s and helped raise funds needed to open the fort's visitor center and museum. He was very interested in the Old Fort Niagara lighthouse, which is adjacent to the fort's parking lot in Fort Niagara State Park, and he worked to get it open to the public in 2008.

From then through last summer, Yonker was a volunteer lighthouse keeper, where he greeted and educated visitors about the lighthouse.

"Terry was a dedicated volunteer who was instrumental in re-opening the lighthouse tower to the public in 2008," said Robert Emerson, executive director of Old Fort Niagara. "He was the type of guy who really believed in what he did and gave his time and enthusiasm as gifts. Terry excelled at helping people understand the importance of our lighthouse and why it deserves the resources needed to maintain it. We look forward to celebrating his life at the reception on Aug. 7."

Yonker was an Eagle Scout and active in Boy Scouts of America, Buffalo Ornithological Society and served as executive director of Michigan Audubon Society and Great Lakes United during his lifetime.

Gifts in Terry's memory can be made online at www.oldfortniagara.org/donation or mailed to: Old Fort Niagara, PO Box 169, Youngstown, NY, 14174.

Old Fort Niagara's lighthouse is open daily from noon to 3 p.m. until Oct. 12 and is free of charge. There are approximately 70 steps to the top of the tower, with a panoramic view of Old Fort Niagara, Niagara River, Lake Ontario, Youngstown and Niagara-on-the-Lake awaiting.

Historically, a lighthouse was important as a navigational aid for boats on Lake Ontario and, twice, lighthouses were built and operated on the roof of the fort's French Castle (1781-1803 and 1823-71). Then, in 1871, the existing stone octagonal tower was built, put in operation in 1872 and remained in use until 1993. In 1900, the lighthouse tower was heightened to raise the lamp 11 feet to make the light visible from 25 miles out on Lake Ontario. It used a fourth-order Fresnel lens from Paris, which is on display today in the fort's visitor center lobby.

In 1993, a high-powered light installed at the U.S. Coast Guard Station Niagara made the lighthouse obsolete, except as a point of interest.

More information is available in the lighthouse brochure, which is available at the lighthouse.

Admission to the fort is $12 per adult, $8 per child (ages 6-12) and free for children ages 5 and under. Members of Old Fort Niagara are admitted free. Group discounts are available. For more information, visit www.oldfortniagara.org.

Old Fort Niagara is located in Fort Niagara State Park in Youngstown. The fort is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily in July and August. Admissions end at 6:30 p.m.

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