From families to founders: The story of the North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse’s restoration, and how you can help

From left to right: Dan Oginsky and his wife, Anna Oginsky; Jake Kaberle; Dave McWilliam; and Todd Buckley hope to restore the North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse.
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The North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse — aka, The Crib.

Brighton residents Daniel Oginsky and Dave McWilliam fill the car with chatter, en route for the long ride home from a Boy Scout trip on North Manitou Island. McWilliam mentions always wanting a lighthouse as they pass Lake Michigan’s waters. Little did he know, the North Manitou Shoal Lighthouse was waiting for him, just one mile off the island they had departed.

The following night, Oginsky finds an email in his inbox from his friend and Traverse City resident Jake Kaberle saying the North Manitou Lighthouse — or as locals call it, “The Crib” — was up for auction. Oginsky contacted McWilliam just as their friend Todd Buckley of Brighton was emailing them the same article.

“We formed a nonprofit called North Manitou Light Keepers (NMLK) and that is the entity that bid on the lighthouse in the auction and we won,” Oginsky said. “Ever since then, we have been making our plans and getting started on the restoration and working on bringing the lighthouse back to life.”

Soon enough, the rusted, forgotten lighthouse had turned Oginsky from a senior executive to a president, McWilliam from a pilot to a construction coordinator, Kaberle from a restaurant owner to a grant writer, and Buckley from a residential real estate owner to a treasurer.

“(I had always wanted) a project, (a) goal, a purpose outside of raising a family, owning a business, and having those really important things in my life,” Kaberle said. “Especially with this project; there had been three other active groups in the last 15 years that went out, had it evaluated, tried to buy it, had the means to buy it and decided not to because it was too big of a project and abandoned it. For us to be the ones (who) actually stepped up to the plate and crossed the line was a big deal.”

Yet, the past two years of getting the lighthouse to match the beauty of its surroundings has not been smooth sailing. With Mother Nature’s blessing, there is only a short window of May to October to work on the lighthouse.

As the end date of July 4, 2021, approaches, NMLK wants to make the best use of its time as possible. Weather is also a determining factor if work can be done by Mihm Enterprise, a Michigan-based, full-service general contractor specializing in historic restorations and renovations. The wind’s strength and direction, which determines the wave action around the lighthouse, decides the safety of the work site.

McWilliam’s responsibilities also sent him to Washington, D.C., and College Park, Maryland to uncover the lighthouse’s original construction documents and architectural drawings from 1932.

“It’s challenging to get those documents because they’re all there (but) they’re not well catalogued,” McWilliam said. “There’s actually a process of referencing, cross referencing, pulling files, and a lot of it is actually trial and error. The documents are all there, (but) the bigger challenge is to find them and then to get them out because they don’t release any of the documents. You have to photograph them (and) copy them. Especially with large architectural drawings, it’s tough to get those out of the archives. I (made) some copies, some scans, and a lot of them I just photographed with my iPad.”

With the goal of holding public tours and events at the lighthouse’s completion, this summer’s to-do list is packed. The NMLK plan on completing the exterior painting and replacing the lantern glass. If funding allows, they hope to restore the exterior windows and doors, and seal and restore all the deck surfaces. If they meet the goal of having the exterior complete and waterproof by the end of 2018, the interior’s restoration and renovation process can begin.

With administrative costs covered by the founding families, every penny donated by new members of the community is put to restoring the lighthouse. Members have the option of choosing the Lake Level membership of $50, Crib Level membership of $100, and Lightkeeper membership of $250. Each contribution is accompanied with various benefits, including NMLK spirit wear and newsletter updates, along with the satisfaction of having partial ownership in and contributing to the restoration of the lighthouse. Contributions over $1,000 secures an annual membership and donor recognition on the website, while a $5,000 contribution will receive prominent donor recognition on the lighthouse. Members also have the ability donate smaller or larger than these amounts.

For more information or to donate to the NMLK, visit its website, or like its Facebook page.