Volunteers do light housekeeping while lighthouse keeping


By Krystle Wagner

The waves crashing on the rocks sprayed the catwalk atop of the Lake Michigan lighthouse where Susan Griffin stood watching.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse and keepers quarters. Photo: Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association

The Niles, Mich. resident always wanted to stay at a lighthouse. Volunteering as a lighthouse keeper with the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association helped her dream come true.

“It’s primitive, but it’s not. We have indoor plumbing, (and) we have heat,” Griffin said. “You’re just out the modern conveniences we’re so use to … cell phones don’t work unless you’re at the top of tower.”

While lighthouse keepers experience poor cell phone reception, there is a television with “sporadic channels,” Griffin said.

Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association maintains three lighthouses: Big Sable Point and the Ludington North Breakwater Light in Ludington, Mich.; and Little Sable Point, in Shelby, Mich.

A lighthouse keeper has certain duties and responsibilities. Whether it’s washing windows, cleaning bathrooms or other chores, Griffin says the keepers chip in and do their part. Even when they are scheduled different times to volunteer and aren’t together, Griffin said some volunteers travel to the lighthouse to visit friends who are on duty.

Little Sable Points Lighthouse. Photo: Sable Point Lighthouse Keepers Association

“We’re just one big happy family,” Griffin said.

To keep the lighthouses in shape and run the gift shops, George Nowsch, operations manager for the association, said they need about 287 volunteers for the resident keeper program and about 60 day keepers.

Resident keepers stay in the upstairs of Big Sable Point. Day keepers typically cover the duties of other keepers and help at the Little Sable Point and Ludington North Breakwater Light while staying at an off-site home. Volunteers must join the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association and be at least 21 years old.  Association members pay an annual $50 fee individually or $75 for couples, Nowsch said.

Information on volunteering can be found at www.splka.org or by calling (231) 845-7417

Cindy Beth Davis-Dykema, executive director for the lighthouse group said they look for volunteers who are “dedicated, responsible, fun-loving and lighthouse-loving.

“These volunteers are the spokespeople for (Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association), so we always appreciate when they bring good energy to the table and have a strong passion to share the fascinating history of Michigan’s lighthouse past with visitors from across the world. …” Davis-Dykema said.

In addition to maintaining the grounds, volunteers assist visitors on tours and help preserve the lighthouse by keeping it open, Nowsch said. Volunteers usually work from 9:30 a.m. until about 6 p.m. Keepers at Big Sable Point work two-week shifts while Little Sable Point and Ludington North Breakwater Light keepers work one-week shifts.

North Breakwater Light. Photo: Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association.

“The main responsibility of keeper is to educate the public and promote lighthouses, answer questions about the history — and ideally make the light come alive,” he said.

Although this will be Griffin’s fifth year as a lighthouse keeper, she said there’s always something new to experience.

“I really would love for everyone to have an opportunity … to experience the fun (and) the joy,” Griffin said.

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