Couple relives history at Northwest lighthouse

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Couple relives history at Northwest lighthouse

In addition to serving as a docent, Dick Lepoidevinís job as a lighthouse keeper at the New Dungeness Light Station, pictured below, involved cleaning and polishing brass and other fixtures and keeping the grounds in good order.

Couple relives history at Northwest lighthouseBy Sharon RiceThe Friday Flyer When Dick and Cathy LePoidevin spent a week this summer working at the New Dungeness Lighthouse in Washington state, they not only indulged in a longtime hobby, but they also connected with the past, when Dick’s grandfather, Harry Mahler, was an assistant lighthouse keeper at New Dungeness more than a century earlier.
Dick grew up hearing about lighthouses from his mother, who grew up living in lighthouses. Her father’s career had begun at New Dungeness, but by the time she was born, he was the keeper at the Patos Island Lighthouse, and later worked at several other lighthouses in the Northwest. Dick’s mother and aunt were both married at Alki Point Lighthouse on Seattle’s south entrance to Elliott Bay.
By the time Dick grew up far inland from any lighthouse, the life of a lighthouse keeper was known to him only through his mother’s stories. In his heart, however, the love of lighthouses was carried on and, when he and Cathy married, it became their mutual interest. After working as an engineer at Sunstrand Aviation in Illinois for 30 years, he and Cathy became docents at a 200-year-old historic home in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. While living in New England, they visited many lighthouses along the Atlantic coastline, from Maine to Florida. They also collected lighthouse figurines and artwork.
The couple never quite fit into the exclusive New England society, so in early 1993, they decided to move to California to be within a one-hour drive of their daughter in Rancho Cucamonga–which brought them to Canyon Lake. At least Dick was back on the West Coast, if only a bit further south of his mother and grandfather’s fabled Northwest coastline.
While following the history of New Dungeness Lighthouse, they learned that the U.S. Coast Guard had withdrawn its last keeper from the automated Light Station in 1994 and an organization known as the New Dungeness Light Station Association was organized to protect and preserve the remote station. Dick and Cathy joined the organization, which eventually led to their opportunity to become temporary lighthouse keepers for a week this past August.
Dick’s two sisters and their spouses rounded out the required full compliment of six volunteers to care for the light station, which is manned each week by volunteers who pay a fee to stay there.
The lighthouse is located near the point of a five-mile sand spit on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and can be reached only by hiking or driving a four-wheel drive vehicle along the beach, or by arriving by boat or kayak. The LePoivedin group was driven to the lighthouse at 4 a.m. on August 7 during low tide.
“Besides being docents, each day we polished the brass and glass in the tower, swept the sand off the 74 tower steps and cleaned the public restroom after the last visitors left,” says Cathy. “Before visitors arrived (by beach or by boat), we watered the lawn and walked the beach to pick up litter. Once a week the lawn had to be mowed and trimmed.”
In the evening the group played games, watched a little TV, read and even had access to a pool table and ping-pong table in the basement. One of their members offered to be chef for a week, so Cathy got a vacation from cooking.
“The weather was gorgeous the first three days,” Cathy recalls. “The next three days we had fog in the morning and fog all one night. The fully automated foghorn blew twice a minute but didn’t bother our sleep. The tower light is also fully automated and sends out its beam of light every five seconds.”
She says they were entertained by seals, seagulls, bald eagles and other birds, as well as the sighting of many cargo ships, cruise liners, a nuclear sub, an aircraft carrier, cruisers, a tug boat pulling a load of logs and a Coast Guard ship–each a variation of what Dick’s grandfather saw when he stood watch in the same location over 100 years earlier.
“It was a real treat to get a taste of living at a light station,” says Cathy. “Most of our visitors were from Washington, but we did have some from Canada, Kenya and Swaziland, and all over the United States. We enjoyed our stay so much we just might do it again some time.”

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