Diary of a Retiree Robert A. Lytle: Christmas Came Early This Year

Diary of a Retiree – Saturday, December 5, 2020 – Christmas Comes Early This Year

Bob sits in a chair with bookselves behind him
Bob Lytle in his home library

Up at 7:30, I made our usual eggs and toast, and sat down with the iPad.

The Detroit News front page has a Neal Rubin article about the Straits of Mackinac’s Round Island Lighthouse and its small but dedicated group of preservationists. With the Great Lakes having record high water levels and the likelihood of unusually damaging ice and high winds, this could easily be the last year Mackinac Island visitors might appreciate the iconic 125-year-old structure.

I read the article and passed it across the breakfast table to Candy. While she read, I turned to the daily Sudoku. A minute later I glanced up to see her bawling her eyes out. I guessed she had skipped the lighthouse article and read an obituary of an old friend. I asked, “What’s wrong?”

“This lighthouse story,” she said. “It’s so touching.”

I was relieved no one had died and admitted I had had the same emotional reaction.        

Each of our interests in Round Island comes from a lifelong love for the Straits area and Mackinac Island in particular. Candy visited with her parents every year since she was a child. I spent my early summers at our family cabin in the nearby Les Cheneaux Islands. Following that, I worked four college summers on the Mackinac Island yacht dock where Candy and I met.

After marriage, we continued our summer trips with our sons, and I began writing young adult books with the Straits area being the location for six of them. Now we make the annual pilgrimage with the boys, their wives and our grandchildren.

The News article continued to reveal a most heartwarming story, which included Matt McMullen’s name. Matt is a high school teacher in Clio. As a Boy Scout in 1996, he and his troop came to Round Island to volunteer at the lighthouse, sweeping and doing whatever they could to spiff up the old building. This was over two decades ago, and during the following winters, he and his friends watched the lighthouse deteriorate.

By the early 2000s, Matt organized his old Scout pals and formed the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society. With no major funding, their efforts were primarily cosmetic. This year, with the potentially drastic winter approaching, there was practically no hope for an 11th hour remedy. They needed a prayer answered. Out of the blue – an angel – an anonymous benefactor, donated $250,000 to Matt’s underfunded but enthusiastic society. It was a godsend for sure; but had the money come too late?

Matt asked the advice of a nautical engineering firm. It advised that, even with the donor’s enormous contribution, the project could not be completed in time without securing a suitable tugboat, huge barge and an experienced crew capable of collecting, hauling and accurately depositing 1,500 tons of refrigerator-sized limestone block around the tiny island lighthouse – and do it pronto.

 A second miracle came. A suitable company, the North Shore Marine Terminal in Escanaba, whose owner, Nick Kobasic, was also a Mackinac Island lover, stepped in and took the risky job. By November 17, only three weeks ago, facing the dreaded Winds Of November that are famous for shipwrecks throughout Great Lakes history, his loaded barge was chugging its way to the to the Straits. On November 20, 4 days later, the impossible mission became Mission Accomplished – and just in the nick of time. Without Matt and his old Boy Scout buddies, along with one major donor, several other contributors and a host of preservation enthusiasts, Michigan’s iconic lighthouse might have been reduced to an embarrassing eyesore, an unsightly pile of rubble by May, 2021. Christmas – for all of us – has come early this year.

After re-reading the article, I brought up the Round Island Lighthouse Preservation Society website. I watched an earlier video of Matt as he described the reclamation needed to reclaim the severely eroded island and its precious building.  

I emailed Matt, telling him of my willingness to contribute several of my 2004 book, Mystery At Round Island Light, to the Society’s website store. The books, I told him, are leftover from its publisher going out of business. I bought the remaining copies rather than have the publisher sell them to a recycling company for pulp. As it is, they are not doing anyone any good, stored as they are, in my garage. I told him that I wrote the stories to be read, not to be turned into refuse. If the lighthouse society can sell them, it would be my contribution to their cause. Matt called me less than an hour later, eager to meet.

Now, let’s all celebrate the Straits Area’s most extraordinary gift. Merry Christmas, Mackinac Island visitors and lighthouse lovers! Thank you Matt and all those who made it possible.

Visit Robert A. Lytle’s Website


  1. Thank you Bob for your personal invite, I can’t imagine a better storyteller to share this good news with the rest of Michigan! As a not so young adult, I have enjoyed each of your books, and passed them along to the real young adults to be able to touch local history through your gifted telling. May this next chapter of your life continue to be shared so well, and so effectively.

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