note: Hatteras Island writer and historian, Susan West remembers
Ephraim “Eph” O'Neal who died on February 17, 2017.)
Ephraim “Eph” O’Neal was a true Hatterasman –a
scholar of the sea, humble about his accomplishments, and fiercely
proud of his family and his hometown.
“I’ve never been one to place much stock in
medals or awards or citations,” Eph said in 2005 after he received a
package in the mail that contained his Bronze Star, earned in
recognition of his heroic deeds as an infantryman at Anzio Beach in
Italy during World War II.
“I knew that it said on my discharge papers that
I was to receive the medal, but I never thought too much about it. I
guess I was in too much of a hurry to get back to Hatteras and go
fishing again,” he explained.
His young wife, Daisy Stowe O’Neal, was also
anxious to return to the village where she had been born. The couple
had married in 1944, and Daisy had joined Eph in Biloxi, Mississippi
when he returned to the states.
Born in Hatteras village in 1920, Eph was just
nine years old when he started gill-netting in the mornings before
school. He also worked at one of the fish houses in the village,
unloading fish from fishing boats and packing the catch for transport
to Elizabeth City, North Carolina on one of the freight boats running
out of the village.
Before long, he captained his own boat, a 17 feet
long sailboat, fishing for mullet, trout and drum. His formal education
came to an end when he was in the ninth grade at the village school and
decided he could learn most of what he needed to know plying the waters
of Pamlico Sound.
“There’s never been a better place to live and we
fared pretty well. We had fish, clams, oysters, and sea turtles that we
ate. We had three meals a day and clothes to keep us warm, but we
didn’t have money,” Eph said, reflecting on life on the island during
the Great Depression.
In addition to gill-netting, Eph pound-netted,
haul-seined, oystered, crab-potted and ran charter-fishing trips during
his career as a fisherman.
In the early 1970s, sensing that Hatteras
Island’s growing popularity with tourists offered a way to bolster his
reliance on fishing with other ventures, he opened two marinas, a
campground and a motel, either alone or in partnerships. It was around
that time that he also became a Dare County magistrate, a position he
held for thirty years.
“I had had two years of bad fishing and that’s
when I decided to build Village Marina,” Eph said. “But I still fished
a little then and I packed fish there in the winter after the tourist
season ended each year.”
O’Neal then placed more chips on his faith in the
future of the island’s commercial fishing industry and built a fish
house on the harbor in the village. Cape Hatteras Seafood flourished
with more than twenty boats unloading there. Most were drop-netting
boats fishing for croakers, trout and bluefish in the winter but some
Core Sound trawlers also used the facility.
When new state and federal fishing regulations
began to rapidly multiply, swamping the business with a flood of
paperwork, aggravation and reduced profits, Eph closed the fish
But he continued to fish and crab and oyster, and
continued to advocate for the village’s commercial fishing industry.
For many years, he showed visitors how to build a fishing net at the
Day at the Docks celebration and participated in the annual Blessing of
“My grandfather taught us the importance of
seeing what you can make of life, of not stopping when you’ve
accomplished a goal but of using that experience as a stepping stone in
finding your purpose,” said Natasha Farrow, Eph’s granddaughter.
HATTERAS -- Ephraim Norwood O’Neal, 97, a native of Hatteras, died
Friday, February 17, 2017 at his daughter’s home in Florida. He was the
son of the late Norwood and Alethia Austin O’Neal and the widower of
Daisy Stowe O’Neal.
He was a member and deacon of the Hatteras Assembly of God, a
commercial fisherman, and a retired magistrate. Ephraim served on the
Waterway commission and many other committees and was a veteran having
served his country honorably during World War II in the U.S. Army.
Ephraim is survived by his three children: Wayne O’Neal and Judy, of
Piedmont, AL; Peggy Braddock and Samuel, of Bonifay, FL; and Alethia
Joy Willis and Durwood, of Hatteras, NC. He is also survived by six
grandchildren: Wayne O’Neal, Jr. and Kelly, Lori O’Neal, Kenny McArthur
and Lisa, Brian McArthur and Olga, Woody Willis and Karla, and Natasha
Farrow and Lester. He was also a very proud Granddaddy to seven and a
half great-grandchildren: Cameron O’Neal, Cody McArthur, Aleah
McArthur, Ezekiel Willis, Adalyn Willis, Lester Farrow V (Quin), Aleck
Farrow, and Reagan Farrow (on the way).
A funeral service with military honors will be held at 2:00 pm on
Thursday, February 23, 2017 at Hatteras United Methodist Church. Burial
will be in the family cemetery. The family will receive friends and
relatives at the church on Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. and following the
funeral at the home, 57993 Highway 12, Hatteras, NC.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Hatteras
Assembly of God for repairs from Hurricane Matthew, P. O. Box 245,
Hatteras, NC 27943.
Twiford Funeral Home, Hatteras is assisting the family with arrangements. Condolences may be expressed at www.twifordfh.com.