A number of years ago I remember being told from a number of sources that the arrangement between the Village of Wind Point, Wisconsin and the Friends of Wind Point Lighthouse was one of the finest examples of a municipality and a nonprofit working together in harmony. But I guess that was primarily in the days when the late Mary Virginia Wackerhagen (1930-2011), who founded the Friends group in 1999, was in charge. Over the years, Mary frequently corresponded with Lighthouse Digest. I often heard from Mary Wackerhagen with how proud she was of all the work that the Friends of Wind Point Lighthouse were doing at the 1880 lighthouse that looks over Racine Harbor on Lake Michigan.
But that has now changed. The Village of Wind Point recently severed its previously friendly relationship with the Friends of Wind Point Lighthouse. And it all seems to come down to money and apparent financial accountability.
The Friends of Wind Point Lighthouse were charging $10 per person to climb the tower and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. For the 2016 year, the Friends of Wind Point Lighthouse agreed to share $2 of every tower climb with the village to help fund the approximately $70,000 per year that it costs to maintain the light station. But, probably in an effort to get more money from the tower climbs, the Village wanted to Friends group to open their books to them and the Friends group baulked at this request.
Since the Friends of Wind Point Lighthouse was founded in 1999, they have done an immense amount of good at the lighthouse. They have restored the dilapidated fuel house and the fog signal building, started a museum at the site, created a Memorial Brick Garden, facilitated the assistance of the gardeners to maintain the garden, and developed a retail shop and web site. The Friends of Wind Point Lighthouse also focused heavily on education as one of its primary missions and was active with school groups and other community projects and events.
The Wind Point Lighthouse, described by many as “A Great Lighthouse on a Great Lake,” has a rich history going back to its first keeper Alfred B. Finch, a Civil War veteran who, along with his son Ada, secured the position of 1st assistant keeper, maintained the light. Life was pretty good at this beautiful mainland lighthouse, so good in fact that people like Peter J. Peterson lived here as the keeper for 22 years from 1891 and 1913, and Henry R. Bevry kept his position as light keeper here for an amazing 32 years from 1913 to 1945.
For his first ten years at Wind Point Lighthouse, keeper Bevry served without electricity, which finally arrived on December 3, 1923 when a 300 watt lightbulb first lighted the Fresnel lens. During automation in 1964, the Coast Guard removed the historic Fresnel lens and replaced it with a DCB-24 aerobeacon. After serving faithfully for 35 years, the DCB-24 aerobeacon was removed from the tower and replaced by a VEGA VRB-25 beacon. Although no longer used, fortunately the Fresnel lens is still at the lighthouse, now on display for all to view.
Eventually the government leased the Wind Point Lighthouse to the Village of Wind Point and in 1997 ownership of the lighthouse was officially transferred to the Village of Wind Point. And a couple of years later the Friends of Wind Point Lighthouse was created to work with the village. For many years, the Coast Guard offered tours of the lighthouse, and people were allowed to climb the tower - until someone complained about the safety hazard of the climbs. That changed when the Friends of Wind Point secured the necessary insurance, and people were again allowed to climb the tower.
Most people might think that the fees from the tower climbs would generate bags of money. However, the tower is only open for public climbing on the first Sunday of each month, from June through October of each year, which would only average out to approximately 20 days of tower climbing per year. Considering all of the restoration projects done by the Friends of Wind Point Lighthouse, their various educational projects, and required insurance, they could not possibly have bags of money. The Village of Wind Point has stated that they will continue the regularly scheduled tower climbs, but they are apparently not doing tours or school groups, something that the Friends did on a regular basis.
A written statement from the Friends of Wind Point Lighthouse stated that they would continue their mission of lighthouse education and history through new programing with the Racine Heritage Museum in the adjoining community of Racine. Additionally, their collection of artifacts that had been on display at the lighthouse is being moved to the Racine Heritage Museum, or, if they were on loan, are being returned.
Anyone who has been reading Lighthouse Digest for the past 24 years will soon realize that in most cases when a local community government entity wants to totally manage a lighthouse or micromanage a nonprofit group associated with a lighthouse or museum, the results are never good. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, the day will come when the Friends of Wind Point Lighthouse and the Village of Wind Point can reach an amicable agreement to again work together.
In the meantime we hope that you enjoy this selection of photographs of the Wind Point Lighthouse that will take you in a journey through time at this historic lighthouse.
This story appeared in the
May/Jun 2016 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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