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Hal Prentice takes on new role as lighthouse keeper

Point Iroquois lighthouse in Brimley, MI.
Photo: Hal Prentice
Point Iroquois lighthouse in Brimley, MI.

By Gretchen Millich, WKAR News


Point Iroquois, MI – Can you imagine what it's like being a lighthouse keeper? Living by water, tending the light, rescuing wind-tossed ships from the fury of a storm? Those jobs are still available, but they've changed a lot. There's no pay, no tending the light and no rescuing sailors. Hal Prentice, former program director at WKAR, and his wife, are volunteer lighthouse keepers at Iroquois Point on Lake Superior near Sault St. Marie. Prentice tells WKAR's Gretchen Millich that indeed the job isn't what it used to be.

HAL PRENTICE: Actually, the lighthouse is completely decommissioned. There is no light here at Point Iroquois. It was active until the early 1960's. In the early 1960's, the Canadians built a lighthouse out on Gros Cap Reef in the channel here, and that lighthouse replaced this one. So, there is no light here. It's purely an empty tower, which people can go up and look around. The conception is that there is a light here, but there hasn't been for quite a number of years.

GRETCHEN MILLICH: So, you don't have to maintain a light. What are your duties there as a lighthouse keeper?

PRENTICE: Well, lighthouse keeper sounds a bit glorious. We're more caretakers, but the local historical society calls us lighthouse keepers. What we do is maintain the property, we also work in the gift shop museum here in the lighthouse. We also act as docents and give people little tours and explanations and try to answer their questions about the history of the lighthouse.

MILLICH: Why is the area called Point Iroquois?

PRENTICE: Well, back in the 17th century, I think around 1767 thereabouts, an Iroquois warrior party out of western New York basically encroached on this area, which was claimed by the Ojibwes, and the Ojibwes slaughtered them on this site. Apparently, their bones were left to rot. They weren't buried. Since that time, this place has been called Iroquois Point, or occasionally "the place of bones."

MILLICH: Describe for me what you see out your window.

PRENTICE: I am looking out on the south end of Whitefish Bay. Five miles across the bay is Canada. The view is extraordinary. The lake is a bit choppy. It's a nice steely blue. It's a bright, sunny day, some whitecaps on the lake, trees with colored leaves fluttering in the foreground. I can also see the boardwalk that runs along the lake shore of Lake Superior. It's a wonderful sight every morning, actually every day.

MILLICH: Are there a lot of shipwrecks off Point Iroquois?

PRENTICE: There have been over the last 150 years, I think, several shipwrecks. Whitefish Bay is notorious for loses of life and ships. Right off Point Iroquois there have been at least two or three ships that have gone down. Of course, at the mouth of Whitefish Bay, to the Northwest, is where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank back in 1975. So it's a very treacherous stretch of water, which is why the lighthouse is here.

MILLICH: So many people dream about being a lighthouse keeper, and it seems so romantic to live in an area like that. You've just started your stint up there, but do you think it's going to live up to that romantic ideal for you?

PRENTICE: I don't know, and I don't think I really entered into this, you know, having a romantic ideal. I more wanted to do something on an historic site. You know, sort of give something back. It's a very different existence than the working life I had before I retired. I was more interested in just experiencing the Upper Peninsula year round, to see the change of seasons and see what it's like, experience that part of it, something I've never done before. And, of course, living in a lighthouse is something that certainly is a once in a lifetime experience and that few people ever have the opportunity of doing. As a romantic desire, that really didn't enter into it, although it is a lovely place to be.

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