Take This Job and Love It: Lighthouse Keeper

Aug 3, 2019

For more than one hundred and fifty years, the Point Iroquois Lighthouse has stood on the shore of Lake Superior. Now the lighthouse is one of the few in the state which still operates with the help of a lighthouse keeper.

“I just thought it was the perfect opportunity”

Adrienne Shipman is one of the lighthouse keepers at Point Iroquois Lighthouse in Hiawatha National Forest. She spends her days maintaining the historic landmark for visitors.

With advanced GPS and other navigational aids, ships don’t rely on lighthouses to  navigate Lake Superior. Point Iroquois Lighthouse now stands as a museum. Adrienne’s job focuses on retelling its history to visitors. 

“I greet people in the museum and answer any questions they may have that I can answer, but I am pretty much learning right along with them the history of the area.” She said. “But there is so much resource material here that pretty much anything can be answered if you know where to look.

Adrienne said her day starts at 10 AM when she opens the museum and ends when she locks up at 6 PM. She works Tuesday through Sunday. During the day she said she does maintenance work, groundskeeping, and gives tours to visitors. 

With all of the hard work, you would expect a good paycheck. But Adrienne does all of this as a volunteer. Adrienne said the position gave her and her husband, Lyle, a beautiful place to live.

“The volunteer nature of the position, it provides for us to have a beautiful place to live in exchange for maintaining the grounds and the area. And I just thought that would be perfect for us.”

Adrienne said she wanted to volunteer at the lighthouse because of her childhood. She grew up in Sault Ste Marie and developed a fascination for boats at an early age. 

“My dad used to work on the boats, he used to shovel coal into the furnace. And so I’ve always had this romantic notion of the boats.”

The volunteer position requires a one year commitment, but people can stay an extra year if they choose. Adrienne said she and her husband plan to stay the whole two years.

Living at the lighthouse, she said each morning she gets to enjoy the beauty. She said it’s helped her connect to her Native American heritage.

“For me and my husband, we are traditional Native Americans. The ability to go outside in the morning and witness the sunrise over the lake and to be able to give my morning thanks. To be able to do that surrounded by so much beauty is just terrific.

Adrienne said she has only been a lighthouse keeper for a few months, and she loves it. She said her old office job never gave her the same freedom she gets from working at the lighthouse. 

“But the freedom to just be able to choose if I want to take the leaf blower and walk the boardwalk and take my time to do that or if I want to go and say weed the garden.”

She said the work can be exhausting. But she takes it one step at a time. 

“I’m still getting used to climbing the tower. The first time I climbed it, I got half way up and then I came back down. I believe there are 77 steps up in the tower. I haven’t been to the top of it yet, but I am slowly getting there.”

Adrienne said working at the lighthouse gets a little easier each day. She is turning the lighthouse into a home. 

“It doesn’t feel like work. It just feels like I am taking care of my own place.”

Adrienne said one of the best parts of her job is talking to visitors and getting to know people from all over. If you drive by Point Iroquois Lighthouse, make sure to stop and say hi to Adrienne and you can learn first hand about why she loves her job.