TWIN HARBORS, Minn. (WCCO) — It’s the end of an era at Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior. After nearly 37 years, its keeper has called it a career.
Lee Radzak was responsible for improving and interpreting the historic site since 1982.
It’s a sight Radzak never tires of – the resident keeper of Split Rock Lighthouse has seen Superior in all kinds of weather.
“The lake controls everything around here. Every morning you get up and look out the window to see what the lake is doing,” Radzak said.
He and his wife Jane moved to the lighthouse in 1982, living in one of three homes built for the original keepers.
“At first we said we’ll give it a try and see how it goes,” Radzak said.
But years turned to decades.
From 1910 to 1969, the bright beacon lit the way for ships, but only if someone kept the lamp fueled and massive movement wound.
Re-enacting the role is what Lee’s most enjoyed, dressing the part and meeting the people – 160,000 visitors each year. His staff calls him the perfect host.
“Handled that with grace and a lot of dignity. It’s just been a pleasure to be an employee and watch how he’s taken care of the lighthouse,” said Jeni Torgerson, an employee at the lighthouse.
Modern navigation doused the lamp for good in 1969. Six years later, disaster struck.
“Nov. 10, 1975, was the day the Edmund Fitzgerald went down, it went past the lighthouse the night before and out into the lake, all 29 crew members went down with the ship,” Radzak said.
So beginning in 1985, on that fateful November night, Lee started a tradition. He’d climb the stairs and turn that crank to illuminate Split Rock in a solemn tribute.
“It’s the one night of the year we do it, it really connects people and the lake to see this big beacon on the lake and see it sweeping the horizon,” Radzak said.
Later this summer, the Minnesota Historical Society will begin the search for a new head keeper. His advice?
“Be flexible, be patient and enjoy it. We’re ready for the next keeper,” Radzak said.
Someone who, like the home they will inhabit, is immersed in history.
“I’ll miss it. Yeah, I’ll miss it. It’s been a good place to live and work, and I really enjoyed it,” Radzak said.