Pilot story and photos by Andrea Barkan
Two marriages began May 1 on a rock solid foundation as couples from Crescent City and Brookings became the first ever known to wed at the St. George Reef Lighthouse.
Longtime Crescent City residents Leann Bolen and Bruce Thompson contacted Guy Towers, president of the St. George Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society, six months ago to inquire about getting married at the lighthouse.
"Guy was really excited about it," Bolen said.
Towers said weddings have been part of his vision for the lighthouse since he formed the nonprofit preservation society in 1986.
"This has been a plan of mine since I first got involved," he said, adding that weddings and lighthouses are a "perfect blend."
Of the two Saturday ceremonies, Towers said, "This was kind of the kickoff."
Debbie Rigel, of Brookings, and Frederick Spencer, of Crescent City, made their lighthouse wedding plans just four days before saying their vows in a sunny, stone corner of the tower's exterior.
As chance would have it, their pastor was already scheduled to marry Bolen and Thompson at the lighthouse on the day they were hoping for.
This was just one of many pieces that fell perfectly into place for the couple, who met a mere 40 days before their wedding, Spencer said.
"It was just meant to be," Rigel said.
The two met at Elk Valley Casino, where Rigel deals cards when not commercial fishing in Brookings.
St. George has been a familiar fixture for Rigel during her 14 years fishing on the Hecate, she said.
The symbolism of the lighthouse was important to Rigel and Spencer.
"It's really the coolest place and it signifies permanence," Spencer said.
"Part of the romance and allure of being married at the lighthouse is that it is a symbol of all the things you hope your love stands for," Rigel said.
"A light on a dark night able to weather any storm and stand the test of time," she said.
While Rigel and Spencer were solidifying their whirlwind romance, Bolen and Thompson were finally seizing the right moment to cement a long and elusive courtship.
"Our families have known each other forever," Bolen said. "We grew up playing together."
Bolen and Thompson were always fond of each other, but circumstances led them away from one another for years.
"Then one day it all clicked," Bolen said.
Love for lighthouses is a Bolen family trait.
Bolen said her uncle, Bob Bolen, donated $25,000 to help restore St. George, which the Coast Guard abandoned in 1975.
"Lighthouses were my uncle's passion," she said. "That's why we're doing this for my uncle Bob. This will mean a lot to him."
Bob was a consultant for both East and West Coast lighthouses, she said.
"For me, it's a connection to my uncle," Bolen said.
"And we love the ocean," she added. "Bruce is a water dog. I'm just lucky I'm not in a wet suit underwater."
Tim Harrison, pastor at Crescent City Foursquare Church, conducted Bolen and Thompson's ceremony in the lantern room atop the lighthouse.
Harrison said he's married people in the mountains, Trees of Mystery and even at other lighthouses, though none offshore.
"I've never had to take a helicopter to a (ceremony)," Harrison said. "This definitely is the most unique."
Towers said weddings are the next step to extending the public's involvement with the lighthouse.
The society already offers monthly tours between October and June, which raise money for restoration.
Weddings will bring in more revenue, Towers said.
The society's restoration efforts will get a dramatic boost soon, thanks to a $50,000 anonymous donation.
"It's a miracle," Towers said of the grant.
"It will quadruple the amount of work we can get done out here," he said.
Bolstered by the donation, the society will likely finish the restoration within a couple of years, Towers said.
Tours and weddings cannot be offered between June 1 and October 1 because of the stellar sea lion breeding season.
For information, call Towers at (707) 464-8299.