BERLIN – Bill and Brenda Simmons traded the gentle shoreline of Worcester County for the rockier shores of Maine this summer in their tenure as volunteer lighthouse keepers on Seguin Island.
“We were interested in doing something different. We have a motto of ‘live life.’ We want to go out and do different things,” said Bill, who works part-time as a deputy sheriff for Worcester County.
Having found the job in an online caretakers magazine in 2007, Bill applied for himself and Brenda to become summer caretakers for the historic lighthouse on a rocky island off the coast of Maine.
“I didn’t know about it when my husband signed up for it,” said Brenda, laughing.
The couple took a motorcycle trip to Maine that year and visited the island where Brenda was surprised to be interviewed with Bill for the caretaker posts.
“I thought, well, my husband is getting us into something new,” Brenda said.
The application process was competitive with dozens of people applying. The Simmons were successful, however, and were assigned the summer 2009 caretaking slot, beginning Memorial Day weekend and ending Labor Day weekend.
Bill says one reason he and his wife were chosen was their skills with machinery and home repair.
“When you’re out there, you’re on your own,” said Bill.
Caretakers have electricity, Internet access and a composting toilet, but have to bring drinking water and all other supplies over from the mainland.
The island is reachable only by water, with visitors sailing or boating in on their own or on tours offered a handful of times during the summer. With no dock, visitors must swim or take a dinghy in to shore.
The Simmons were able to get off the island just once a week to do laundry, visit the post office, buy groceries and run errands.
New supplies must be transferred from boat to dinghy and from there to a working tramway which carries the goods up the steep shore-side hill.
“It was quite an adventure,” Bill said.
The Simmons gave tours of the lighthouse and associated museum, showcasing the still working 1857 Fresnel lens which is on 24 hours a day.
That lens, Brenda says, is so valuable it has been insured for $8.8 million and the windows surrounding it are made of bulletproof glass.
“The lens is a work of art that can’t be reproduced,” said Bill.
“The light itself is gorgeous. At night time, it looks like diamonds,” said Brenda.
The caretaking work involved a lot of less than glamorous jobs.
“You do everything from mowing the grass to fixing the tramway to doing stuff in the museum,” said Bill. “My wife painted the whole house.”
Typically, Bill looked after the outside maintenance while Brenda took care of the lighthouse tours, museum, shop and house.
Bill even fixed the historic light once, with the Coast Guard talking him through the work. Another time, he repaired a lawnmower with the spring from a ballpoint pen.
Bill also kept a daily blog about the couple’s experiences on Seguin Island.
“The island was absolutely beautiful. The people up there were very unique,” said Brenda.
Both Brenda and Bill remember the people best from their time as Seguin Island Lighthouse keepers.
“What made it special was the people, not only the Friends of Seguin, but also the people that visited, the people that came and told their stories,” Bill said.
“I think about the people we met. They were just unbelievable,” said Brenda.
One 92-year-old man who visited had been stationed at the lighthouse in 1936 as a Coast Guardsman.
Other visitors came from around the world as far away as Asia.
Supernatural visitors also made their appearance, Brenda said. One morning, Brenda found a cart, which had been on a shelf, in the middle of the museum floor.
Another time, Brenda recalls, she had left a pair of earrings on the bureau, but could only find one. After looking high and low, she found the second earring back on the bureau. She attributes this ghostly mischief to a little girl who died on the island and is buried there.
Bill said he hopes his and Brenda’s example inspire people to get out of the box and not be afraid to do something different.
“Take a chance. Love this life and enjoy it,” Bill said.
Bill and Brenda do not plan to stop their adventures. Next stop? Bill is talking about Singapore, Brenda says.