By Shoshanna McCollum
The familiar black and white daymark bands are instantly recognizable, it’s lantern room has that elegant shape we all know so well, overlooking sparking blue waters, buttes can be seen faintly in the distance – what was that last one again?
It is Fire Island Lighthouse, but it stands on the shores of Lake Havasu in Arizona, and the story of the replica’s presence so far from home is almost as interesting as the man who brought it there, Robert Fraser, Sr. Bonnie Metcalf is the friendly face we see at the Fire Island School Library all summer long. Robert Fraser was her father.
“My dad was always an active man,” said Bonnie. “He loved taking his boat across the Great South Bay, and he was a member of Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, although I don’t think he ever once climbed to the top of it.”
Fraser lived the true Long Island experience: A Brooklyn native, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, and later the U.S. Air Force. He then became an airline mechanic with Lockheed. While raising his family of three – daughters Kim, Bonnie, and son Robert Jr. – in Babylon (Lighthouse Road actually), he joined the Suffolk County Police Department after earning a top-ranking test score on the exam. He stayed with Suffolk County as a traffic engineer before retiring in 1989.
“Dad always needed something to do,” added Bonnie.
That energetic drive was something that defined Fraser, and even as he was advised to relocate west for health reasons, he still kept busy. He left is beloved home of Long Island, moving to Lake Havasu City in 1992. Here he continued to thrive: maintaining memberships with the Masons and Shriners; and was a 24-year member of Elks Lodge 2399, the Eagles, Lake Havasu Yacht Club, Marine Corps League, and American Legion. One membership in particular became an obsession, the Lake Havasu City (LHC) Lighthouse Club.
The club has in interesting mission, as the first page of its website reads:
One of the greatest pleasures of boating on Lake Havasu is enjoying the warm desert evenings, under a canopy of stars or bathing in the moonlight.
It’s an inspiring experience but it can also be a frightening one. Too many people have lost their lives, suffered injury or damage to their vessels during night boating accidents on the Lake. Its curves and bends can be deceptive – they can be deadly.
Knowing this, a group of Lake Havasu City boaters formed the Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club to address the need for improved navigational lights on the lake.
Lake Havasu is actually a reservoir behind Parker Dam on the Colorado River. The dam was built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation between the years of 1934 and 1938. The dam generates hydroelectric power, and Lake Havasu can store up to 210 billion gallons of water. It also has become a popular spot for recreational boaters and fishermen. Surly Fraser recognized the potential this place had to become his new home.
The LHC Lighthouse Club erected its first light replica in 2002 – a facsimile of the iconic Cape Hatteras lighthouse. Twenty-five favorite lighthouse replicas would follow: the Sandy Hook copy was dedicated in 2007, Barnegat the following year, as was White Shoals whose original stands at Lake Michigan, and California’s Grays Harbor would be one of the most recent in 2013.
“East Coast lighthouses are built on the east side of the lake,” Bonnie explains. “All the replicas are fully functional lighthouses.”
Fraser’s quest to add Fire Island to the Lake Havasu family started in about 2010. He sponsored its financing, and built much of it with his own hands – this is what the enthusiasts of this club do – it’s a labor of love. While not as tall as the original, and lacks the keeper’s quarters, much like the Statue of Liberty that stands in Las Vegas, it is a pretty convincing tribute.
The dedication ceremony took place on Oct. 28, 2012. “One day before Sandy made landfall,” Bonnie quipped, recalling the frustration of such unfortunate timing. (Fun fact: The original FI Lighthouse first received electric power only the day before Hurricane of 1938 descended upon the barrier island.)
With Robert Fraser’s vision now brought to fruition, and in deteriorating health, he quietly passed away on Jan. 25, 2015 at the age of 85. Some of his ashes were deposited at his lighthouse, while the rest of them were scattered in the Great South Bay. A memorial bench at Bay Shore Marina also bears his name. The beacon for Fire Island Light guides water faring travelers on this reservoir lake in Arizona.
As the interview drew to a close Bonnie’s eyes became glassy.
“That lighthouse brought him home again,” she said.