The name of preservationist and author Cheryl Shelton-Roberts is synonymous with the lighthouses of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. As a girl, she spent two weeks each summer visiting the beach with her family. “Mom tells me that I saw the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse for the first time when I was only a few months old,” she says. The tall sentinels of the Outer Banks still provide a thrill for her. “Whose heart cannot quicken when passing over the Bonner Bridge between Hatteras and Bodie Islands and seeing the lambent light of the first order Fresnel lens pulse in the distance?” she asks, adding, “As I pass it each time, I think that I’ve got some work to do.”
Cheryl attended the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, leading to 20 years spent working in special education. She has seen first-hand the value of educating kids about lighthouses. “Children have a natural affinity for these gentle giants,” Cheryl explains. “These are our future preservationists.”
Bruce Roberts, Cheryl’s husband, is a photographer whose work has been seen in a string of highly successful regional lighthouse volumes. Bruce and Cheryl’s love for lighthouses grew into dedication to their preservation in the early 1990s, when the Outer Banks Lighthouse Society (OBLHS) was born. Currently, Cheryl is president of OBLHS and Bruce is treasurer. “While we give as much time as possible,” says Cheryl, “we have a sincere, hard-working group of members and friends who continue to help us save the maritime history of North Carolina.”
Playing a major advocacy role in the successful move of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is one of the chief accomplishments of the OBLHS. Cheryl asks, “Do you know how good it feels after you’ve pushed a huge boulder up a steep mountain? That’s pretty much the same feeling we had after the foundation was complete!” And in May 2001 the OBLHS and the National Park Service sponsored a highly successful “homecoming” for the descendants of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse’s keepers.
Cheryl’s view of the future of lighthouse preservation is tempered by the realization that funds will be hard to come by. “I absolutely believe that diversity of lighthouse ownership including state, federal, and nonprofit groups is the only way we can keep these enduring landmarks among us. Individual volunteer effort is key.”
Through all the years and hard work, the Outer Banks have not lost the charm they had for Cheryl back in the days when she was a young girl on vacation. “When I go back now,” she says, “I have that same feeling of exploring the frontier when I see a lighthouse, a beach, and sea oats, and feel the brisk brush of salt air on my face.”
And her dedication to lighthouses certainly hasn’t dimmed. “Each time we lose an American lighthouse, we are all diminished,” she says. “Keep up the good work, all you lighthouse volunteers! And if you haven’t gotten started yet, just ask any local entity that may be involved in your nearest lighthouse how you can help.”
Cheryl’s book Lighthouse Families is available from Lighthouse Depot (item #31682). Call 1-800-758-1444 or order online at www.LighthouseDepot.com.
This story appeared in the
April 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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