4th order Fresnel lens from lighthouse gets new home at St. James Twp. Hall

Just a year ago the U.S. Coast Guard removed the 4th order Fresnel lens from the light tower at Whiskey Point and replaced it with an LED beacon. All working light towers in the Great Lakes are having the LED beacons installed. The four foot tall Fresnel lens on the Island was partly dismantled by professional lampist Capt. Kurt Fosburg, carried down the winding lighthouse steps and then transported to the St. James Township Hall for storage.

Recently contractor Tony Connaghan built an indoor display case at the hall, with a bay window on the handicapped ramp, overlooking the harbor. Just yesterday, Capt. Fosburg return to Beaver Island to clean the lens, place it on a pedestal, and worked out lighting it from within by a replica lamp from the era (topped by a red glass retro Edison blub).

The beautiful lens is in wonderful condition. On a scale of 1 – 10 of similar lenses that Fosburg has worked on, he said, “It’s an 8 ½…maybe even a 9! It’s in great shape!”

The Fresnel lens weighs close to 200 pounds and was put in place by the help of a recruited Jim McDonough and a special hydraulic lift that Capt. Fosburg brought to the Island. Throughout the day of his work on the lens many community members stopped by for a look and exclaimed over the beauty of the beacon which had resided in the light tower since 1870. We are happy it looks so good in its new home at the Township Hall.

Stop over to the Township Hall soon and see this wonderful piece of the Island maritime history!

Fresnel lens

The 4th order Fresnel lens had resided in the Whisky Point Lighthouse since 1870.

U.S. Coast Guard brings Jayhawk rescue helicopter to Beaver Island

It seemed like the entire community was out at the Municipal Airport yesterday afternoon. Sue Oole, the Director of MAD (music-art-drama) Camp arranged for the Traverse City Coast Guard to bring their new Sikorsky MH-60T Jayhawk for a visit so the youngsters could tour the aircraft. It worked right into this year’s MAD Camp theme, “Things that Fly.”

Representatives from the Health Center, BIEMS, Fire Dept., Sheriff’s Dept. and the BI Chamber – along with all the campers – turned out at the Municipal Airport to greet the rescue helicopter.

Commander of the U.S.C.G. Air Station Traverse City, Nate Coulter, answered questions and his crew conducted tours. The craft is much larger than the older Dolphin unit, has more deicing capabilities, larger fuel tanks, and can reach speeds of 161 m.p.h. A typical crew consists of two pilots, a flight mechanic and a rescue swimmer. This crew also had aboard two cadets and a flight surgeon, Commander Glen McPherson.

The MAD Camp kids had a great time and got to sit inside the massive helicopter. Today, they continue their quest for “Thing that Fly.” They will be sending up small rockets!

MAD Camp is a fine arts day camp taught by fine arts professionals who volunteer their time to bring the love of the arts to youngsters. It runs for a week every July on Beaver Island.

USCG addresses campers

USCG Commander Nate Coulter answers questions from the youngsters.

A beautiful spring on Beaver Island!

June is indeed, bustin’ out all over!

I’d like to personally send out a “Thank you,” “God bless ya,” and a “Well done!” to good old Mother Nature.

This spring, although a tad late in warming up, has been one of the loveliest I’ve seen in nearly 20 years on Beaver Island.

Early May brought us a bumper crop of daffodils and trilliums nodding in the wind. Then came the forget-me-nots and Iris, finding their spots at the edges of the woods and ponds. The apple blossoms were next, in abundance this spring. This week, the lilacs reign.

The first year here on the Island, we dug up three tiny lilac sprouts near Barney’s Lake and transplanted them in back of our new home. They are HAPPY in our location and stand about 16 feet tall now. They fill my yard and deck with their sweet perfume and bouquets of them sit about the house. My youngest son once laughed at us, planting those tiny bushes and a stick-like apple tree. Perhaps he thought we were so old that we’d never see them in their maturity. Thankfully, he was wrong.

The deep woods are glorious too. And perhaps the very best part of this spring (and I will whisper this so the Fates don’t take notice) is the total lack of the dreaded mosquitoes. There is not a one in sight! Nobody can quite figure that out as we’ve had plenty of rain, which usually brings them out until the 4th of July. But this year, one can wander the trails and see the emerging forest thicken and change from gold to green each day.

Days like today are not to be wasted. And so, before I close up shop and head outdoors, I’ll leave you all with one very happy thought as you contemplate your Island vacation; if this spring foreshadows the summer ahead, we are all in for a extraordinary treat!

Springtime lilacs on Beaver Island.

The lilacs at Barney’s Lake
on Beaver Island.

The perfect gift (and dinner) for Father’s Day

The grilling season is here and it’s high time. I’m getting a little tried of the winter/spring menu items I put on the table each night like pot roast and pork chops. Suddenly there’s an entire host of tasty dinners that hubby can do on the grill, with minimum effort on my part! Is there any better reason to love summer?!

Several years back, hubby wanted a mountain bike. I admittedly was cruel and laughed at this request. You see, he’s not a very athletic person and I just knew that the bike would sit in our garage taking up space and sprouting cobwebs from its handlebars. So, instead of that gift, I purchased a deep fat fryer for him. My youngest son broke into laughter when he saw it. “That is the antithesis of mountain bike,” he said.

He was right and I felt kind of bad it all. But we did enjoy some special meals we dubbed “everything on our plates is brown” days. We had deep fat fried shrimp and chicken and stuffed jalapenos. Not healthy stuff but a lot of fun to dip and eat.
And the big guy bought his own mountain bike later that year. It has lived in our garage for about six years now. I believe it was ridden a handful of times and now is predictably taking up space and sprouting cobwebs from its handlebars.

But my guilt over that deep fat fryer continued and I recently made amends. You see, I saw this infomercial on TV. It was one of those 30 minute programs that runs early on weekend mornings that try to hook you into making a serious credit card purchase before you’ve even had your morning coffee. Not fair.
It was the “Air Fryer” and boy, did the food they cooked in it ever look good! One of my brothers told me they’d just bought one for themselves. “Check it out for me,” I said. “And let me know if it is as easy to clean as they say.”

Within a week I had a solid recommendation from them that the air fryer was everything the ad had shown and more!

We are now the proud owners of the machine. So far we’ve tried air fried fish filets, air fried chicken, air fried coconut shrimp, air fried turkey breast (and now I’m starting to sound like Forrest Gump’s best friend Buba describing shrimp recipes).

Our best meal to date is Cornish hen, with a crisp, delicate skin and juicy meat. It’s simple, too! Brush on olive oil and season to taste. Air fry at 350 degrees: 10 min. with breast up, 10 min. with breast down, and 10 min. with breast up again. You’ll love it!

So on sunny summer days, hubby can cook on the grill. On rainy or windy summer days, he can air fry to his heart’s delight. This a win-win situation for me. So, ladies—Father’s Day is right around the corner. Get the man a fryer— a gift everyone will love (especially mom)!

air fryer cornish hen

Crisp skin and a delicate, moist meat! Try it!

Tick-Tock, Out with this Clock!

Tick Tock

The cobalt blue light of this clock creates twilight, all night long.

They say opposites attract. If that’s the case, hubby and I are well matched. I swear by chocolate shakes, he’s a strawberry guy. He loves fish; I’m a red meat gal. I’m a night owl and he retires early with a book. And then there is the one deal breaker: He likes enough light to be able to maneuver at night. I require complete and absolute darkness.

It’s that last trait that got us into trouble last week. You see, both of us have been noting that our old alarm clock is just too small to read from across the room. Laying in bed and squinting at it, we can just barely make out the red digital numbers. That’s why I was so excited to have found a clock with a huge digital display. I should have known better.

As is his habit, hubby retired while I stayed up watching TV until late. Standing on the deck with the dogs for their ‘last time out,’ I noticed a strange glow emanating from our bedroom window. In spite of the darkening drapes on the slider door, the blue neon light was clearly visible. It looked like one of those scenes from a Sci-Fi that illustrates an alien presence in a house with an eerie illumination pouring under the cracks in the door and through the keyhole.

Fearfully, I opened the bedroom door. I fully expected to find a creature from another world, or at least Sigourney Weaver battling a monster dripping slime. What I saw chilled me to my very bones. Not only could I easily see the clock’s face without my glasses, but the cobalt colored phosphorescence revealed every detail of the room…it was virtually ablaze with light. Just like daytime, only blue.

I tried (for awhile) to sleep. I pulled the covers over my head. I strategically placed pillows to block the rays. Nothing worked. So, I pulled the plug from the wall and happily entered a darkened dreamland.

An hour later I was awakened by a beast-like roar. “Why did you disconnect my clock?” he bellowed. He turned on the bright overhead lamp to reconnect the beastly glow-monster, growling about my interference with his ‘favorite clock’ (good Lord, he’d only had the thing for one night).

“I cannot sleep with that thing,” I said.

“Too bad,” was his gentle and thoughtful reply.

At that I grabbed my pillows and made a dramatic exit to the living room sofa. I made quite a show of my sacrifice the next morning, whining about my crinkled spine, my cramped legs. Hubby finally relented and unplugged the glow-clock. “I liked it a lot,” he said, sadly.

“Too bad,” was my gentle and thoughtful reply.

I do have a use for this clock, however. Overnight visitors are sometimes quite taken aback by the absolute dark skies of the Island. Even with small nightlights in the guest room and bath, they are not used to the deepness of the midnight hours here. That won’t be a problem any more. For guests at our house will be treated to a brilliant iridescence in their room.

And as I fell asleep in my blackened cave the next night, I smiled as I thought back over the previous evening. Not bad, I thought. A problem for the guests solved and a marriage saved. Not bad for one sleepless nights work.

Fog and Ice created challenges this winter

First ferry run on April 10.

On April 10 the first ferry run of the season will take place.


It wasn’t the coldest winter ever seen on the Island. Nor was it particularly snowy. But the wind, fog and ice took its toll – especially since our only mode of transportation this time of year is via airplane.

With over 50 years of experience as a pilot, Paul Welke has seen his share of unpredictable weather conditions. But the Island Airways owner says he was amazed at the number of day this winter that impacting flying. “Since 1972, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

Island Airways President Angel Welke looked up the statistics. From January 1 to April 4 (a 94 day period), 34 days were impacted by the weather. “For 10 of those days we didn’t even open the hanger doors,” said Angel.

Emergency medical evacuations were impacted by the bad weather as well. There were several times Island Airways was just not able to fly. Even the Coast Guard – always the standby when the weather is dicey – had three separate occasions when they could not fly their helicopter to Beaver Island. The Health Center, BIEMS and the doctor at Central Dispatch, and others worked together in these instances to care for the patients awaiting transport to mainland hospitals.

Health Center Manager Donna Kubic said that three times this winter patients stayed at the Health Center overnight. In one case, four patients were there at the same time. At all times the patients had multiple attentive caregivers, including the Nurse Practitioners, Paramedics, Dr. John Martin and Kubic. Fire Department members also volunteered to help in any way they could during the patients’ stays at the Health Center.

In the upcoming May issue of NorthernIslander, we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at how air travel and emergency transports were impacted by the weather this year. We’ve also been talking to others on the ‘front lines,’ – the Post Office staff and McDonough’s Market. Don’t miss it! Be sure to send for a free copy if you’re not a subscriber.

Jim McDonough spoke about this winter’s weather and how delayed deliveries of groceries were dealt with. “It definitely had an effect this year,” he said. “But for the most part people know that whatever they want will be here tomorrow…or the next day…maybe.”

We’re grateful for our air carriers and all the services and supplies they bring to us. But we’ll also be very happy to see that first ferry boat run of the Emerald Isle on April 10th (that is, unless something odd happens with the weather)!

The ROCK Reopens!

The Hodgson family.

The Hodgson family working on the renovations at the Shamrock.

The Shamrock reopens today – just in time for Valentine’s Day fun! The iconic bar and restaurant has been closed this winter for renovations and Shamrock owners Eric and Dana Hodgson, and their son, Liam, took on most of the work themselves.

The couple have owned the Shamrock since 1996, now going on 21 years. Dana says they have worked on a number of other improvement projects over the years and feel pretty comfortable doing demo work and painting.

“We had to redo some of the floor with water damage and it was time for a facelift,” said Eric.

Changes you will notice:
The drop ceiling in the bar area was removed and repainted, leaving the space with a much more ‘open’ look. The bathrooms have been completely redone with new stalls, paint and decorative touches. The new flooring around the bar is a rustic look tile. The bar itself will have a new oak top and the length of the bar has been shortened – the new space at the end will accommodate two high top tables and chairs for those who like to sit by the window and enjoy the view. The booths added a few years back are still in place and new tables and chairs were introduced just a short time ago.

The family did fine one oddity during the remodeling. When removing the mirrors behind the bar they found a piece of Egyptian currency. They have no idea how long it has been there but find it find it fun to speculate on how it came to be tucked away.

Take your special Valentine in for a libation and see the new look of the Shamrock! Or stop in over the St. Paddy’s Day celebration – the Rock is now reopened!

And the wind doth blow

waves and wind

You can’t take a photo of wind but you sure can capture what it does to waves. Photo by Steve West

Will somebody please turn off the wind machine?!

Since early this fall we’ve had some of the biggest wind storms you can imagine. I believe we’ve been under gale warnings six or seven times recently. And that wind has been very busy indeed.

It has mind-melded with the dunes out on Donegal Bay, giving them a tan speckled look like a Monet painting. The wind has scoured the roads and the road crew is busy trying to put dirt
on the worst of the slippery spots. It has glazed yesterday’s rain and sleet mixture into an ice rink at the ferry dock. It’s generally miserable and even ice-grippers don’t assure one of their safety when out walking.

Crossing the street from church a fellow parishioner teased, “You look like an old lady picking your way across that road.”

“I am an old lady,” I replied. “And I intend to get even older and if that involves walking like a Neanderthal over ice, then so be it.”

Beaver Island’s been spared the big snows. The lake is still open so places like Charlevoix and Traverse get all that “lake effect” snow – and plenty of it. Charlevoix gets socked in with white-outs and we’re left looking at a gray sky with no planes flying overhead. But I’d take a little of that white stuff, especially if it meant I could walk outside without fear of bodily harm and actually enjoy the fresh, cold air.

So, Lord, if you’re listening: Please send in the flakes from Heaven. And would some kind angel maybe turn off that wind machine for awhile!

Oh, Christmas Tree!

A Christmas tree

An Island Christmas tree in all its glory!

Two friends called the other day with the exact same problem: they had their Christmas trees half decorated and just discovered that several strands of lights were not functional. It’s a typical but frustrating holiday dilemma.

“Do you have any extra strands of colored lights,” asked one gal.

I laughed. “Most people call to borrow a cup of sugar or an onion, “ I teased. “But no, you’re demanding. You want strands of Christmas tree lights and the Island stores are closed.”

She was in luck. After I tormented her for a few minutes, I admitted that indeed I was flush with Christmas lights and had two long strands that were still working and not already on my own tree. She rushed over to claim her prize and head back to complete her tree project.

And there is no mistaking that decorating a Christmas tree is a true project of epic work. My kids aren’t home anymore to assist. Hubby does participate in a small way by cutting down the chosen fur. But his chain saw is so old and sad that it couldn’t grind its way through a toothpick. This year I believe the tree in question succumbed to a mixture of his cursing and a heavy boot-kick to the half chewed trunk. He leaves the actual decorating to me, but calls out suggestions from his recliner every once and awhile.

Never-the-less, it was a beautiful natural Island Christmas tree. That is to say it had three ‘holes’ that had to be artistically camouflaged with ornaments and lights. And the ‘bad side’ was turned to the wall. By the time I had the lights, garland, ornaments and angel on the top, I was exhausted and more than ready for a celebratory beer and the lighting ceremony. And I do love our tree. Every night when it gets dark (about 4 p.m. these days) I love to plug it in and wallow in its soft glow.

Since hubby doesn’t really like to spend a great deal of time on wrapping gifts, there’s one ‘naked’ package already under the tree for me. It will make getting next year’s Christmas tree a much easier task. Can you guess?

Yes! I’m getting my very own chain saw! How about that – the gift that keeps on giving! I can’t wait to get my hands on it and I’m already counting the days until NEXT holiday season when I can personally cut one down myself! And just to make sure next year is perfect in every way, I’ll also hit the sales after Christmas and pick up a few extra strands of lights (call me if you get in a bind). Merry Christmas, folks! And a happy New Year!

First lady of our Lighthouse!

The light keepers house

This Coast Guard photo shows the keepers home which was once attached to the tower.

Say what you might about ‘King’ Jesse James Strang, but he sure accomplished one thing of value: He lobbied hard for both lighthouses built on Beaver Island. He strongly believed they would help bring the shipping trade which would assist with the economic development of the community.

As a youngster growing up among Strang’s Mormon colony on Beaver Island, Elizabeth Whitney had little reason to admire the man. She chronicled in her book (A Child of the Sea: and Life Among the Mormons) how she and her family were actually driven from their home in the middle of the night by a group of armed Strang followers. Yet one lighthouse from Strang’s reign was destined to become intertwined with Elizabeth’s life, her first love, and her place in history.

Her first husband, Clement Van Riper, became the keeper of what is now known as the St. James Harbor Light (sometimes called the Whiskey Point Light). As Van Riper was in poor health, Elizabeth assisted him in his work and took particular pride in caring for the “beautiful lens,” a new, fourth order Fresnel lens that had been added to the tower.

During a November storm in 1872 Clement Van Riper was drowned during an attempt to save the lives of sailors aboard a sinking schooner. Historians speculate it was because of his heroic death that Elizabeth was appointed to the position of lightkeeper, a rare post of responsibility for a woman to hold during that era.

She eventually married again (Daniel Williams) but continued her work in caring for the light for over a decade. She finally requested a transfer to a new lighthouse on the mainland, Little Traverse Point. There she served as lightkeeper for 29 additional years. Elizabeth died at the age of 71 after spending a total of 41 years as a devoted lighthouse keeper.

This “Island history” article appeared in the December issue of NorthernIslander. Send for your free copy today and keep up on Island news all year long!