A very young Robert Earl Ley Jr. and his father, Robert Sr. My grandpa would sometimes accompany his father as they worked their bird dogs in the Ohio prairie country.
Places of Rest & Remembrance #5 | Robert Earl Ley, Sr.
An interesting genealogical artifact available for most males in my family of my great-grandparents’ generation is the draft card each able-bodied man was required to submit to for each of the world wars.
Since most of my great-grandparents were alive for both World War I and World War II, the information entered by the draft board provides a snapshot of these ancestors at two different points in their lives, some 25 years apart.
Great-Grandpa Robert Earl Ley is the only one, though, with any official acknowledgment of service in the Great War.
Robert Earl Ley was born Aug. 17, 1893, in Port Washington, Ohio, the third son of parents Charles Henry Ley and Minnie Eillene (Hammersley) Ley. Robert’s father had followed his own father, Augustus Ley, into the dry goods business of a fashion — rather than anchoring himself to a store the way Augustus set up shop on the canal in old Port Washington, Charles traveled the country, first in the employ of the J.B. Haynes Co. of Pittsburgh, and later the Pittsburg Dry Goods Co.
But also like Augustus, and his immigrant grandparents Karl and Susanna Ley, Charles had a taste for political life. Not long after Robert was born, he moved the family to New Philadelphia, Ohio and won election as treasurer of Tuscarawas County, a role in which he served two terms.
His father’s successful career as merchant and civic leader afforded Robert Earl Ley the best education to be had in the early 20th century. He graduated from New Philadelphia High School, then studied at Western Reserve University, earning a dental degree in 1915.
Robert had just set up shop as dentist in neighboring Dover, Ohio, in 1916 when war broke out and he was called to serve.
Robert Earl Ley, Sr. – World War I Service
Great-Grandpa Ley’s obituary indicates he served in the war, and his grave in Evergreen Burial Park in New Philadelphia bears the star marker indicating service.
However, I have been unable to locate his name or his record of service in the Ohio soldiers index for World War I. So we cobble part of the story together through his draft record.
Robert Ley reported to the World War I draft board June 5, 1917. Like all the local draft records from that war, the writing is nearly illegible. But we can make out that he was single, with no dependents, employed as a doctor of dental surgery. There are none of the physical details noted that make later draft cards interesting to researchers. But there is a curious notation — barely legible:
* some remark referring to his career or training as a dentist, and that he would “make an efficient officer.”
We know not how or where Great-Grandpa Ley served during World War I. But we do know he returned home and soon made a life with New Philadelphia girl and local teacher Zula Lucrece Fisher, whom he married June 27, 1917. Son Robert Earl Jr. would follow in September 1918.
Zula was pregnant with the family’s second child, a daughter, when she and the baby tragically died of complications due to influenza and pneumonia in February 1920. Robert sent his son to live with Zula’s parents as he cobbled together a new life, marrying Florence Jones in the 1920s. She bore him a second son, Richard Earl, in 1927. Tragedy would again touch their lives, though, as Dickie suffered a strange ailment and died just weeks before his sixth birthday in 1933.
Robert, Florence and Robert Jr. pressed on, however. The younger Ley graduated from Dover High School in 1936 and through a long stretch of studies at Ohio Northern, then Baldwin Wallace and finally The Ohio State University earned his doctoral degree in dentistry, intending to follow his father into the practice. They were again interrupted by war.
In Robert Earl Ley Sr.’s 1942 draft record he is 48 years old, lives in Dover, works in Dover on the third floor of the Reeves Bank Building, and counts Florence Ley as a dependent. The card notes his height and weight — 5’11 and 185 pounds — his light complexion and dark brown hair. No mention of previous service is recorded, but the examiner does note the “scar over left eye.”
We know that Robert is not called to serve this time, and instead his son serves as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, working as a dentist aboard battleships.
After the war, the younger Ley would rejoin his father and they would practice dentistry side by side in a new office on the corner of Second and Walnut streets in Dover. Robert Sr. died in 1959 while at work; his widow, Florence, lived above the dental office her stepson kept until her own death in the summer of 1984.
The Robert Earl Ley plot in Evergreen Burial Park in New Philadelphia, Ohio, is a serene tableau, with dual planters and a bench beneath the pines. Buried there are Great-Grandfather Robert, wife Florence, son Dickie and sister Irma Haines Murphy.
The star indicating Robert Earl Ley Sr.’s service in World War I, 1917-1918.
Headstone for Dr. Robert Earl Ley Sr. in Evergreen Burial Park, New Philadelphia, Ohio.