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The  Caretaker  Gazette
Sunday, July 22 2018

Caretaker Profiles

The Denkers Family - Exceptional Island Caretakers

Dates of Birth: Harry: 8/25/50, Lawrene: 5/14/61, Rachel: 5/12/84, Anna: 10/25/86
Interests: Carpentry/stonemasonry, books, music, history.
Quote:"They entrust her to caretakers who give the isle their best / for this is their summer of a lifetime;they are blessed / to be her Friends... "from the song "To the Friends of Seguin" by Lawrene

Rachel, Anna, Lawrene and Harry enjoying the sunshine!

Caretaking is a lifestyle for some; for the Denkers family it was a chance for a unique extended family vacation. They responded to an ad in The Caretaker Gazette for summer caretakers on an island off the coast of Maine. They were interviewed by the non-profit organization, Friends of Seguin Island, were accepted, and soon after moved in.

The Denkers are a family of four. Although not every family can just up and slip off to an island for three months, they had a few advantages. They are self-employed. Harry is a carpenter with an established clientele who, for the most part, were willing to put off their summer jobs until the fall. Lawrene works with Harry, writes for the local paper, and does some secretarial work for a teacher's union. Rachel and Anna had to arrange for missing a month of school, and they were given work by their accommodating Ontario teachers for island home-schooling.

The Denkers own a home on a farm near Florence, Ontario, and almost placed a caretaker-wanted ad in the Gazette for its upkeep, until a family member took that on. "We disentangled ourselves from church and community volunteer work for the summer and - this is important - combed secondhand book shops and pestered friends for good books to take with us. The books made up the bulk of our luggage." They loaded the summer's books, clothing, school supplies, violins, the family cat and themselves into their tiny Honda Civic and headed off toward Maine. The Friends of Seguin Island supplied the pots, pans, dishes, linen, towels and the beautiful 64-acre Seguin Island.

The island is three miles from shore at the mouth of the Kennebec River. It has a 201-year history of lighthouse keepers. Unmanned, as is the fate of most lighthouses, in 1985, its First Order Fresnel Lens, circa 1857, plus the house and outbuildings, were in danger of removal.

The Friends of Seguin, incorporated in 1986, now maintain and preserve the island and buildings in agreement with the Coastguard, whose responsibility is the navigational aids (the foghorn and the light).

In 1990, the first caretakers were hired. It's a Memorial Day to Labor Day job, paying a stipend to U.S. citizens. Being Canadians, the Denkers were required to waive the wages, but found the experience well worth it.

The Friends of Seguin Island's application had a description of the island including "dangerous currents," "many snakes," and "isolation" - words to strike fear into the hearts of the children's grandparents. Also, "strenuous climb" (it is 143 feet up from the landing to the house) and "continuous foghorn."

Well, there were dangerous currents around the island, but fortunately they had a knowledgeable charter captain to take them in for groceries, with the final decisions about arrival and departure left up to the captain. Getting back to the island was sometimes met with the feeling of isolation, but they always had each other.

And the foghorn. "There was fog, and yes, we got used to that foghorn. There were also, though, magnificent views of the Maine coast and the ocean, trails, a sand and a cobble beach, and wildlife. We saw whales from the 'front yard' and seals, ospreys, seagulls from hatchlings to adults, and much more. Our vacation was paid for with work, but our duties were, for the most part, on our own initiative and deadline-free!

We cut grass, greeted and gave tours to visitors, trimmed the trails, swept the tower, museum and quarters, made repairs, painted and shingled, but had plenty of time for those books we had brought along.

Rachel and Anna worked with us, practiced violin, explored, played, swam and read." The Denkers were the guest speakers at Island Day, a Friends of Seguin event, and they cooperated and coordinated with the work crew leaders of a local school during their three-week "island wilderness" experience.

The Denkers had a myriad of experiences themselves - Harry and the girls were taken aboard a lobster boat to pull traps, they kept in touch with the Friends by marine radio, participated in a destroyer launch, discovered on grocery-buying trips that they don't get seasick, and found that they were content to be themselves alone on an island, but also happy to meet every visitor that came to Seguin.

The Friends of Seguin Island had a few questions on their exit interview paper: Would you like to be caretakers again? On Seguin? Somewhere else? The Denkers answers were: yes, yes, and yes! "Three months is a long time to be away from 'real life' and it isn't possible every year, but our Seguin experience put things into perspective-it was just as much 'real life' as is home."


An aerial view of Seguin Island.

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