Sea Girt Lighthouse, built in 1896 and guiding mariners for more than a half-century, has long served as a beacon to the community and is today alive with activity. The landmark and the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, responsible for maintaining the building and its history, are “in good health,” according to SGLCC’s Jerry Hayward.
At the recent annual SGLCC membership meeting at the lighthouse, President Hayward gave the president’s traditional State of the Lighthouse report. He credited and thanked the committee’s many volunteers for their “talents, creativity and energy.”
The lighthouse is in use “about every other day,” noted Mr. Hayward, who reviewed the varied uses that attract people from down the block and neighboring communities and across American and around the world. SGLCC volunteers conduct Sunday tours spring through fall and group tours year-round, community groups meet regularly, occasional private parties are held there hosted by Sea Girt residents.
In recent months, two Girl Scout troops and their leaders had a sleepover at the lighthouse, involving a tour and other educational programs. In a new event that proved a success, some 50 members last summer accepted the lighthouse invitation to dine at local restaurants and then enjoy a show at the Algonquin Theater. And at last fall’s Lighthouse Challenge in which the challenge was for participants to visit 11 New Jersey lighthouses in just one October weekend, a thousand or so people came to Sea Girt Lighthouse from as far away as England, Sweden and Spain.
With such steady use, maintaining the lighthouse is a constant challenge. The lighthouse committee schedules regular maintenance and undertakes repairs as needed to keep the lighthouse in good condition. Mr. Hayward noted that new wooden steps to front porch were installed to replace the steps that were wearing out. The Holly Club, one of the first groups to meet at the lighthouse which it continues to do regularly, tends the plantings and recently added attractive shrubbery by the front entrance.
Helping several trustees to set up the chairs and tables for the annual meeting were the organization’s youngest docents, Julian Meehan, 8, and brother Harlan Meehan, 13, the sons of trustee Jude Meehan. The boys and their dad are frequently on duty for Sunday tours – Harlan on the second floor with the Fresnel lens exhibit, Dad in the lantern room at the top of the tower, and Julian below at the bottom of the spiral staircase, sending visitors up six at a time. Both boys, who are history buffs, also volunteer at the Lighthouse Challenge.
Julian was on hand for the annual meeting and was introduced by Mr. Hayward as the youngest docent. He and Harlan are inspiring examples of enthusiastic young volunteers. The lighthouse welcomes volunteers of all ages. For students, the experience can fulfill community service requirements and makes for an impressive activity on college applications.
Mr. Hayward announced with regret the retirement of two long-serving trustees: Don Ferry, who oversaw the building and grounds and served a term as president, and Christine Dunn, who was in charge of the calendar of events, handled use applications, and was the chair of 2004 summer party. Both have been active docents. Mr. Hayward thanked them for their many contributions.
Trustee Marie Muhler, chair of the nominating committee, presented a proposed slate of trustees and officers, who were elected by unanimous vote of the members present.
Elected to the board of trustees for three-year terms were Mark Clemmensen, former mayor of Sea Girt, Pat Horan and Laurie Pace, and returning trustees Colette Casey, Jerry Hayward, Walter Jensen, Beverly O’Grady and Conrad Yauch. Trustees Virginia Zientek and Bill Mountford were elected to two-year terms as president and vice president.
After the swearing in, Mr. Hayward presented the gavel to Mrs. Zientek, who continued the meeting. She thanked everyone for attending and their continuing support through their membership and volunteer efforts.
She encouraged all to tell family and friends about the fun, fellowship and satisfaction to be had in preserving the lighthouse, which she described as a “symbol of our community” that can “bind us together.”
Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee currently has some 340 members. A campaign was announced at the meeting to recruit new members and volunteers.
A letter from the president has been written to Sea Girt residents who are not currently members, inviting them to join. The mailer summarizes the rich history of the lighthouse, explains SGLCC’s vital role in maintaining the building and preserving its history, and notes the personal satisfaction to be had in joining neighbors in this collaborative effort. The letter, handsomely illustrated with two dramatic photos of the lighthouse, is also available to lighthouse visitors at the keeper’s desk. (Click here to view).
“It’s incumbent upon us to continue the work of our predecessors, the founders of the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, to preserve the lighthouse for the use and pleasure of the residents and visitors of Sea Girt,” noted Mrs. Zientek. “Our hope of recruiting new members for involvement with the lighthouse preservation will ensure its use for generations to come.”
There are numerous volunteer opportunities including researching lighthouse history, helping at special events, organizing group visits, giving tours and giving talks. Volunteers can pick their own assignment. Everyone is welcome and needed.
In closing, President Zientek unveiled an example of volunteer creativity – the 2012 limited edition Sea Girt Lighthouse poster, created by trustee Robert Varcoe. This is the 4th in his annual series of collectible art prints that capture the landmark in dramatic photos. (This year’s print as well as posters from previous years can be purchased at the lighthouse for $15 each. They can also be ordered by mail by sending a check for $21 for purchase, handling and postage to the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee, P.O. Box 83, Sea Girt, NJ 08750).
With business concluded, the evening’s featured speaker, New Jersey lighthouse historian Bob Gleason, was introduced. His longstanding interest in and appreciation for lighthouses go back to his time in the U.S. Navy, aboard a guided missile destroyer when lighthouse beacons helped him navigate. Back on land and out of the Navy he began visiting the very lighthouse he previously saw through binoculars miles at sea.
Over the years, he has become a leading expert and popular speaker on New Jersey’s light stations. He is also a docent at Sandy Hook Lighthouse, a former director of the New Jersey Lighthouse Society and currently director of its speaker’s bureau.
He presented more than 50 images of lights – both lost and surviving – offering insightful commentary on their features, distinctions and contributions. Featured in Mr. Gleason’s presentation were: America’s oldest surviving lighthouse (Sandy Hook, built in 1764), the first in the U.S. equipped with a Fresnel lens (Navesink Twin Lights, 1841), the nation’s first off-shore screw-pile lighthouse (Brandywine Shoal, built 1850 on a rock foundation west of Cape May in Delaware Bay), and the first U.S. land-based station equipped with a radio fog beacon system (Sea Girt, 1921).
Each lighthouse has a compelling story populated by dedicated people whose service made sea travel safer and thus contributed to the economic and population growth of the state as well as the nation.
So important was Sandy Hook to guiding cargo and passenger ships into New York Harbor, the British seized the lighthouse during the American Revolution. Luckily for posterity, the lighthouse survived bombardment by the Continental Army. General George Washington understood the strategic and economic importance of lighthouses. As president he federalized lighthouse construction and operation in 1789, under the ninth act of Congress, creating the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment. More than two centuries later, Sandy Hook is the only surviving lighthouse from the colonial period and it remains an active aid to navigation, noted Mr. Gleason.
Absecon, Barnegat and Cape May Lighthouses (“the Three Sisters”) were designed in the mid-1850s by George Meade, a little known civil engineer in the Army Corps of Engineers who gained fame as the Union general who defeated Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg in 1863.
Pioneering women also distinguished themselves as keepers of New Jersey lights. Katie Walker was keeper of Robbins Reef Lighthouse at the confluence of Newark Bay and Upper New York Bay from 1894-1927. She was credited with some 50 rescues, according to Mr. Gleason.
Because of their placement on or near the water, light stations were battered by hurricanes and Nor’easters. Some didn’t survive. The first Barnegat Lighthouse, a 40-foot tall masonry tower built in 1834, had its foundation undermined by storm surges and finally collapsed in 1856. The third and present Barnegat Light, built in 1857-58, is a cylindrical tower enveloped by a thick brick tower rising 167-feet and protected by jetties from the pounding surf. Barnegat is one of only 20 surviving New Jersey lights, which include the State of Liberty.
Mr. Gleason’s well-received presentation prompted numerous questions and favorable comments that continued during the social that followed. In appreciation of his informative talk, lighthouse trustees presented him a scale model of Sea Girt Lighthouse.
After thanking Mr. Gleason, President Zientek thanked members for attending the annual meeting, encouraged all to stay for the reception to follow and then adjourned the meeting. Most everyone repaired to the first floor for refreshments, conversation and fellowship.
The annual meeting – more social than business – is but one of numerous benefits of membership in the Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee.