Digest>Archives> January 2003

Women of the Light

Kathleen Finnegan: Turning Passion into Dedication

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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Kathleen Finnegan in the lantern room of Maine’s ...
Photo by: Timothy Harrison

Have you ever wondered how this magazine and its associated gift store, Lighthouse Depot, came to be? “It all started with this crazy idea to see and touch EVERY lighthouse in Maine. How long could it take? A couple of weekends or so?” laughs Kathleen Finnegan, recalling her naiveté about Maine’s long coastline (and 68 lighthouses) back in the late 1980s. It was this quest that brought Finnegan to New England from her homes in the Midwest. With the help of lobstermen and other generous Mainers, the goal was accomplished in about 18 months. “ I finally saw them all and had photos,” Kathleen says. Soon she and partner Tim Harrison self-published a book (and sold 30,000 copies), Lighthouses of Maine and New Hampshire. Little did they know that they were starting something really, really big.

In the back of each book was an order form for a yet-to-be-published Lighthouse Digest. “Eventually, after a lot of encouragement from our hopeful 34 original subscribers,” recalls Kathleen, “we came out with our first issue in May of 1992. By August of 1992, we had just over 1,000 subscribers.” Today, the magazine has thousands of subscribers in all 50 states and abroad.

Kathleen Finnegan is the magazine’s assistant editor. “I do all the layout and most of the design and sometimes I even write a story or two,” she explains. She and Harrison are also part owners of Lighthouse Depot, the “World’s Largest Lighthouse Gift Store,” which they opened in 1993. The first Lighthouse Depot catalog was mailed in 1994 and it now goes to millions of people around the world. “All aspects of the business are wonderful, but my real love is the magazine,” Kathleen says. She appreciates the doors that are opened when people learn of her connection to the magazine. “If it weren’t for Lighthouse Digest I would have never gotten a helicopter ride with the Irish Lighthouse Service to Bull Rock Light!”

Back in 1994, Kathleen Finnegan, Tim Harrison and other concerned lighthouse lovers from around New England founded the nonprofit New England Lighthouse Foundation. To reflect its widening mission, the name of the organization was later changed to the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF). ALF is now working for the preservation of more than a dozen lighthouses and is involved in lighthouse issues nationwide. Kathleen is ALF’s treasurer, a job that encompasses many important things that don’t necessarily draw attention. “I’m mostly in the background,” she says, “paying the bills, sending out membership kits and purchases, organizing fundraisers, rounding up volunteers to do mailings, and so on.”

In the past year Kathleen got her first hands-on preservation experience at Little River Lighthouse in Cutler, Maine. The light station is now owned by ALF. Kathleen has put in long hours at the lighthouse along with other ALF volunteers, scraping paint and cleaning debris in the keeper’s house along with anything else that’s needed. The volunteers have brought the long-deserted station back to life, but there’s a long way to go for a full restoration.

She used to say that Round Island Light in Michigan was her favorite lighthouse, but after her time spent at Little River Light she says the two are “in a solid tie for first.” Kathleen is glad the Coast Guard has been willing to lease or transfer lighthouse properties to nonprofits like ALF. “Now the Coast Guard can concentrate on national security and law enforcement and so on rather than worrying about a structure that in many instances has lost its usefulness,” she says.

Kathleen also was instrumental in the planning of the recent International Lighthouse Conference in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She also worked long days at the conference, selling merchandise for ALF and helping wherever she was needed. The theme of the conference was “Kids on the Beam: Education for Lighthouse Preservation.” “The ILC was a great opportunity for lighthouse fans, teachers and students to come together to create a new program for teaching kids about our lighthouse history,” Kathleen explains. “The plans are to soon have a manual for everyone to be able to learn from.”

All in all, Kathleen Finnegan is optimistic about lighthouse preservation for one basic reason — “Everyone loves lighthouses.” And if anyone should know, it’s her.

This story appeared in the January 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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