This past October, after 20 years, cofounders Marv and Joy Theut stepped down as organizers of the annual Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival.
It was a sad time as I served as Master of Ceremonies for, what was most likely, the last ever Saturday Night Keepers Dinner for the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival. Many tears were shed as my PowerPoint presentation showed images of the festival over the past 20 years, especially when seeing images of so many attendees who have passed on. Although there are some people who want to step up to continue the annual event, it is unlikely that it will continue, especially as it was in its glory years.
The reasons are many, and they are diverse and tangled amongst each other. For one, Marv and Joy, are getting older, and Marv has suffered from medical problems for a number of years. And organizing a festival of this size and magnitude takes many hours of dedication and hard work, not to mention Marv and Joy Theut’s personal financial donations to keep the festival running.
However, in my humble opinion, after being closely involved with the festival for the past 20 years, there are also other underlying reasons for the annual event coming to a close after 20 years. At one time the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival drew thousands and thousands of people and had well over 100 vendors and lighthouse groups from across the Great Lakes. The local schools and scout groups were also heavily involved. This year’s festival saw fewer than 20 vendors and lighthouse groups, and fewer than a thousand people attended.
While it is true that some lighthouse groups have always been supportive of the festival, many others have not, and, for whatever reason, wouldn’t help promote the festival that benefited them all. Over the years there were many statements made about how the festival should be run, and many disagreements were voiced, not only between some lighthouse groups, but also amongst the volunteers themselves. It seems that many people lost perspective of what the long term goal of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival was: to draw nationwide public awareness to lighthouse history and preservation and to get the next generation involved. Bickering and apathy among many lighthouse groups is the major cause of the end to the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival.
But, as I told those at the 20th Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival, all is not lost. Marv and Joy Theut, and the loyal lighthouse groups who supported the festival for the past 20 years, have sown the seeds. It may take a while for those seeds to grow, but there are still a few of us older folks and many more of the younger generations who attended the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival over the years to nurture what has been accomplished during the past 20 years and to make a difference into the future.
In spite of all that has been accomplished in the last 20 years, the lighthouse community is still fragmented and needs to band together for the common good of preserving and teaching the next generations about all of our nation’s lighthouse history and not just the lighthouse a particular group is associated with. In its heyday, the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival did exactly that. And, even in this last year, it was still working toward that goal. It is now up to every lighthouse group to band together under one banner for the benefit of all.
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This story appeared in the
Nov/Dec 2015 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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