By Terry Kovarik
Joel Blahnik is marking 44-years as volunteer keeper of the Chambers Island Lighthouse Park and he says he’s not about to retire just yet. While he needs a wheelchair to get around, his wife, Mary Ann, and some friends help tend to the lighthouse, where the couple lives during the summer. Blahnik is linked to the island having also served as a boat captain for the former Holy Name Retreat House for 30-years. He came to the lighthouse’s rescue after an automated light was built and the lighthouse abandoned in 1961.
Blahnik went to the National Archives in Washington D.C. to get historical documents on rescues from the lighthouse between it’s opening in 1867 until the 1940’s when the Coast Guard took over operations. He convinced town officials to purchase the lighthouse and 40-acres for one-dollar. Blahnik says he wanted to make sure taxpayers and their families had access to a piece of Door County’s past.
Blahnik says the welcoming atmosphere at lighthouse park is in contrast to the days when it was under mostly private ownership. He says it wasn’t uncommon for property owners to meet boaters approaching the shore with shotguns and a warning to stay away.