Marv Theut retired about 13 years ago, he planned on spending the winter
months in warm Florida and his summers on a 300-acre
island located in Lake
Huron about two miles offshore, halfway between Thunder Bay Island and
Presque Isle Michigan. He planned to restore the abandoned Middle Island
Photo courtesy Marv Theut
The 300-acre island in Lake Huron,
where Middle Island Light is located.
Station that he
purchased at auction in 1998. However, he soon realized that even with the
help of his family, the restoration was way beyond the scope of one man’s
then that he decided that for a man to realize his dream that it had to be
shared with the world. What he didn’t realize then that his date with
destiny would lead him to become involved with not only saving and restoring
the Middle Island Lighthouse, but helping lighthouses all over the Great
Marv and his group of volunteers, some of whom had been “volunteered” by
Marv with a little arm twisting through his amazing way
Photo Courtesy Lighthouse Digest
Middle Island Light Station, Michigan.
This photo was taken in the days before
the tower had a colored band
painted in the middle.
people into getting involved to restore the heavily vandalized and
deteriorated light station, one of its major components was missing, the
original lens in the tower. What happened to it was unknown. Over the
years as the difficult restoration slowly progressed, the lens was
always in the back of Marv’s mind.
Realizing there is strength in numbers, he formed the Middle Island
Lightkeepers Association to raise money to save the lighthouse for future
generations and share it with others. To make a long story short, one thing
led to another. Soon Marv found himself cofounder of the Great Lakes
Lighthouse Festival, a volunteer job that has almost become a full time job
in itself, and then co-founded a gift store that would benefit the
lighthouses of the area and eventually a museum to tie it all together.
through all of this, the thoughts of what happened to the lens remained in
the back of his mind. He knew that many lighthouse lenses across the
country had disappeared into the dusty pages of time. Years
ago many were
destroyed, some were taken by unknown people, some were destroyed when
they were removed from towers, some were shipped to warehouses to be
forgotten and others wound up in museums or on display at Coast Guard
Then, suddenly a man, who we will call John for the rest of this story,
showed up at the Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival with a lens panel from
the Middle Island Lighthouse and gave it to Marv. It wasn’t the entire
lens, but it was one large panel from it. It seems that at the age of
fifteen, John and some of his friends set off in a borrowed boat for
Middle Island to do what boys would do, explore and have some fun. The
year was 1975.
of the boys suggested that they climb the tower, like many of the locals
did who visited the island in
Photo courtesy of Marv Theut
Joy Theut with one of the
missing panels from the
Middle Island Lighthouse that has been
returned after being
lost for nearly 30 years. What happened
to the remaining panels is still a mystery.
those days. This
was quite easy to do at the abandoned station; for years the steel graded
window at the base of the tower only had one bolt holding it in place,
allowing for easy entry and exit from the tower. While up in the tower
admiring the view, one of
John’s friends asked him if he could remove one of the panels from the lens.
John replied, “Yeah, I can do that.” He took out his big buck knife and
removed the screws and out came the panel. He took the panel home and for
the next 27 years hid it, always with a great feeling of guilt. He says he
and his friends did not touch the rest of the panels, but left them in
years, John traveled extensively, working most of his life on or around the
water. In the early 80’s he worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska and
in the late 80’s he found himself working in Florida as a concrete mason and
carpenter and then seven years as a net mender for a commercial fish farm in
Maine. But, he always had this guilty feeling in the back of his mind for
taking that lens many years earlier. Today, he is a man with a big heart and
conscience to match.
John returned to Middle Island and spent the summer there, not vacationing
but doing backbreaking work restoring over three hundred
Photo by Jerry Biggs
Middle Island Light, Michigan
from a 1997 photo.
sidewalk. This was true hard labor, as all the sand, stone, and cement
had to be transported by five gallon buckets to the island and then 3/4
of a mile through the woods to the site. He felt he owed it to the
island. Since then he has done other things to help these old beacons.
John’s dream is now the same as Marv’s, to hopefully have the lens panel
reunited with the rest of the missing lens. But what happened to the
other panels remains a mystery. Maybe someone reading this story has the
answer, maybe the answer is in some old faded Coast Guard records,
panels are in
someone’s house, being hidden like John hid part of the lens for nearly 30
years. Hopefully, someone will come forward to reunite the lens with the
tower of Michigan’s Middle Island Light Station.