The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

August 2, 2013

Secret of 'Lighthouse Island' revealed


Brees served on the Ottumwa City Council from 2004-08, running in the election just months after they installed the lighthouse.

"We never told anybody that we put it there, and I never wanted anybody to know," he said. "I heard a lot of talk around town over the years: 'Where in the world did that thing come from?'"

"It's always fun to create a mystery," Kay added.

Actually, he wanted to put a replica of the Statue of Liberty on the island. But that would have cost around $1,500 and he would have had to hire a crane company to set it.

Asher Stevens, now 8, wasn't born yet when the family installed the lighthouse. He began asking his mother, Shellie, where it came from, so Brees began telling the story.

"They call it 'Lighthouse Island,'" Kay said.

Only the family members and friends at the park that night have ever known where the lighthouse came from. Brees never even told his brothers, sisters or extended family.

"Most people just assumed the city put it there," Kay said.

He never wanted to be recognized, he said. Knowing that people enjoyed it was enough.

"I drive by there, and it gives you kind of a good feeling inside," he said, rubbing his chest.

Though Brees has lung cancer, his spunk hasn't faded. His eyes light up during his stories, most ending with, "Can you believe it?"

"We've been a couple of oddballs, haven't we?" he said to Kay. "Our life has been different."

Gerald and Kay, who celebrated 49 years of marriage in March, looked back on the experiences they've had, experiences they say make them who they are today. They've housed two Russian families who didn't speak English. They've volunteered at Sunnyslope Care Center (a tuberculosis center which has since been torn down) and Amethyst House (a rehabilitation center for addicted mothers and their children). They've helped a mother and her children who had set up camp in Ottumwa Park one fall when it was bitterly cold out.

"Life has been good to us," he said. "How many times does that happen that you can make somebody else feel good, you know?"

— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to


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