Coast Guard Men on Patos in the 40s

We are looking for relatives/descendants of these Coast Guard men; stationed at Patos Island Light Station, Washington State. The picture was taken in the late 40s.

Patos Island Light Station


“Personnel of Patos Light stand inspection before Commander Wilcox as Yeoman Burrows makes notes. Left to right: Russell Slocombe, Los Angeles; Rupert V Hagen, Long Beach, Ca; Arthur Diamond, Provo, Utah; Orville Hudson, Westport, Or; Calvin Hill, Oakland, Ca; George DeJarnatt, The Dalles, Or; and Edward Larson, Seattle. Larson is in charge of the Station.”

Dawn’s Story

Dawn, her mother and little brother in the 1950s, under a Patos Island sandstone formation

Lighthouse Kid: Patos Island in the 1950’s

When my cell phone rang in July of 2008 while I was working in my home office, I was suddenly reconnected with an island.  The island was called Patos and this phone call would change my life in a most profound way.

You see, when I was a small child I lived on Patos Island with my dad, who was a Coast Guard lighthouse keeper, my mother and my new baby brother. The call came from a friend who told me that he had found out about a new non-profit group, Keepers of the Patos Light, which had recently formed with the goal of preserving both the lighthouse andPatosIsland.

Memories came flooding back of idyllic childhood years spent on Patos Island, which is located in the far north of the San Juan Islands, off the northwest coast of Washington State.

The last time I visitedPatosIslandwas 26 years earlier with my first husband. We were on our honeymoon and camped onPatosIslandwhile touring theSan Juan Islandsin a small Boston Whaler.  The old lighthouse was in shambles and needed a fresh coat of paint, with her windows all boarded up.  The Tri-plex, which was newly built in the ‘50s to house the Coast Guard families, was falling apart; the obscured glass block entry broken and vandalized, trees and blackberries encroaching on the place. It was a sad moment for me to see it like this. 

Coast Guard Officer in Charge, Dale Nelson, and CG men, on the steps of the Old Victorian house, mid 50s

My dad, Dale Nelson, was stationed on PatosIslandin the mid 1950’s when he was in his early twenties. He fell in love with its remoteness and unbelievable beauty. Before I was born, my dad sent several letters to my mom, Darlene, describing PatosIslandto her.  On December 5, 1954 he wrote “this is really the place, it is not at all what I expected, its better then Dungeness…you’ll have to see it for your self to understand what I mean”.  Their plan was to have Mom move to the island with him eventually.  On December 24, 1954 he answered some of mom’s questions about theIsland after just finding out she was pregnant with me.  He wrote “The Island is big it takes about 4 hours to walk around it.  It’s mostly woods that have never been touched, it is really beautiful.  There is a little island right next to ours, its called Little Patos, between is a cove where we tie our boat up.  There are two other couples living here, they both have little kids about 18 to 20 months old, they are all very nice”.  He continued to let her know about the living situation, but I am sure he convinced her it was all good. 

I was born in August, 1955, and moved toPatosIslandwith my mom, though I do not remember that stay.  My dad was stationed at other lighthouses after that.  He then re-enlisted and requested to go back toPatosIslandand this time is what I have always called “the best childhood” in the world.

PatosIslandhas been in my heart forever, and thought of fondly throughout my life.  My dad loved to take pictures and we always had slide shows of Patos while growing up which has helped keep the memories alive.

PatosIslandis very remote and the only access is by boat.  We would maybe have maybe 2 – 3 visitors in the summer back in the 50’s, and whenever we did I was always there with my dad to greet and welcome them to the island, even though at the time I wasn’t even 5 years old. 

One time there was a husband and wife who visited with their Boxer dog, named Boy.  They were the nicest people and I immediately fell in love with their dog.  I couldn’t find my dad, so I greeted them at the dock.  They asked if they could see the lighthouse.  “Sure”, I said, so I led them through the woods on the wooden boardwalk, then down the long sidewalk to the lighthouse.  Still no sign of my dad, so I took them inside the lighthouse and up the tower to the big brass light on top.

The Patos Lighthouse Fresnel Lens in the mid-50s

I showed them the radio controls and 3 large generators located inside the building. Then suddenly, my dad was there.  What in the world was I doing?  I was in big trouble.  I had never seen my dad so mad at me in my life, but looking back I know he was embarrassed. Being Coast Guard man in charge of the station, not being available when guests arrived and finding his young daughter giving a tour of a government facility, oh my!  A couple of months later I received a card with a Poodle dog on it from this nice couple and their dog Boy, thanking me for their delightful tour of Patos Island and how it was the highlight of their vacation.

Life onPatosIslandthrough the eyes of a child was magical.  I would explore and find all kinds of treasures, starfish, hermit crabs, mussels, drift wood in funny shapes, special rocks that you could see through called Agates.  We had our dog Scamp who was always with me and I had Crowey, a black crow that would always show up for his daily bread.  I would call him and there he would be.  I also had a pet deer. It was a fawn; my dad said it swam across the channel to visit us on Patos.  I would feed and water the deer, he would nuzzle my neck. Deery started to get really big and he grew antlers.  Then one day he was gone.  My dad told me he swam to another island to find a mate.  Looking back today – I wonder.

Coast Guard cutter arrives on Patos Island

Occasionally, the 55 foot Coast Guard Cutter would arrive to take us to the mainland, to visit our relatives.  One time my mom had sewn a sailor’s outfit for me, in blue and white, with anchor buttons, and a matching hat.  I was very excited.  Every time I came aboard the Coast Guard cutter one of the Coast Guard men would always lead me down to the galley and given an ice cream bar from the freezer.  As I bit into the ice cream I lost my tooth that was loose.  At once all of the Coast Guard men reached into their pockets and pulled out all of their change and gave it to me, while mentioning something about the Tooth Fairy.  Boy was I happy.

Dawn on her teeter-totter

The Coast Guard men were always doing something nice for me.  On Patos they built me a swing from a huge Madrona tree, a teeter-tooter, and a sandbox, which I thought was silly, who needs a sandbox on an island?  I loved my swing and would stand on the wooden slat to see how high I could go.  I had the most incredible view in the world.

On Patos we were often visited by huge pod of Orca whales that would swim across the channel, this was quite frequent back then.  We would watch them through my dad’s binoculars and see their backs rising out of the water as water and air would “whoosh”’ out of their blowholes. My dad called them “Killer Whales” which frightened me, as I was always afraid they would get real close to the island and hurt us. 

Now, so many years later, from an unexpected phone call, I realized there was an organization taking care of this beautiful island.  I immediately contacted KOPL’s president, Linda Hudson. She told me that not only had Keepers of the Patos Light formed with the goal of restoring the lighthouse and protecting the island there was to be a Birthday Bash held in August to celebrate the Lighthouse’s 100 anniversary and to show off the complete renovation that had taken place earlier in the summer. Talk about timing.

As the charter boat approached Patos on August 24th 2008, in the worst weather of the summer, for the Lighthouse’s 100th birthday party, I was filled with mixed emotions.  I was sad because my parents were not here to share this with my husband and me, and excited for what the future would bring for this tiny island that I knew so long ago.  The Patos Lighthouse looked so lonely on the tip of Alden Point; there were no officer’s quarters, no water tower nor flagpole… nothing except the beautiful lighthouse.   Word had gotten out that I had lived on Patos as a young girl and everyone was so interested in my story. I was amazed.  The boat landed on the beach in Active Cove and we were greeted by Nick Teague, who is the BLM Manager in the San Juan Islands  He had a ton of questions for me.  As we were walking down the long sidewalk to the lighthouse, I mentioned that as a girl I would fly on my roller skates up and down this path. My mom had planted Sweet Alyssum along the edge and to this day when I smell that flower I am immediately taken back to Patos.  Nick told me that the tiny white flower still blooms there every spring, and that we certainly need to re-visit at that time.  That made me smile.

The lighthouse looked good as she did in the 1950s, and I was honored to speak to everyone that had an interest and helped restore the lighthouse. I spoke briefly about my childhood here, but most of all about the magic of the place.  Just like my dad wrote, “You’ll have to see it for your self to understand what I mean”.  I look forward to spending more time on the island and I am now very excited to be on the Board of Directors for Keepers of the Patos Light.

Dawn today, volunteering at our Keepers' booth at the Anacortes Water Festival

Let’s hear it for another 100 years for the Patos Island Lighthouse!

Dawn Alexander

Editing by Linda Lee Hudson

Keepers of the Patos Light


Can Lives Be Changed By a Book?

Linda and Carla together again for the first time on Patos Lighthouse tower

Can lives be changed by a book? Ours were! Fifty years ago, my childhood friend, Carla, and I read a book about a lighthouse keeper’s daughter living on a remote island with her parents and 11 brothers and sisters. The book is called “The Light On the Island” and it has changed our lives. Though we grew up in the Chicago area, Carla and I now both live on an island in Puget Sound, quite near our beloved Patos Island and its lighthouse. Four years ago we co-founded a non-profit to preserve and protect the lighthouse that we read about so long ago.

As Keepers of the Patos Light, we sponsor volunteer work trips to the island and started a docent program to help visitors in their understanding of lighthouse history. We have been contacted by all sorts of Patos old-timers and have united long lost friends. We are piecing together the history of the island and have established a lighthouse museum to hold artifacts found on Patos Island. We plan a “Light on the Island” interpretive trail for the many children (and adults) who love the book as much as we did so long ago. Most of all, we feel empowered as women and long-time friends who accomplished this dream. Neither of us knew a thing about setting up a non-profit or creating a webpage, and now we have done it…all by ourselves.


Author Helene Glidden and her book, published in 1952


Taste of Persia!

Rollet..a Persian dessert

Our Iranian  friend Parvin, long renowned for her amazing cooking, has started a catering business! I have been “hired” as her photographer and Carla and I are her copy writers.

For the past few days, she has been furiously making every one of her menu dishes so that I can take some photos. Then her son in Colorado puts them into her website: One of the great advantages is that we get to eat the photo subjects 🙂

This summer, Parvin plans to have a booth at the Lopez Saturday Market. I imagine Carla and I will very willingly  “work for food”.

Soup “Ashee Jo”

The Book That Started It All

The original cover of Light on the Island

Over 50 years ago, while growing up near Chicago, my friend Carla and I read a book which was to have a lasting impression on both of us…that is to say the least! The book’s title was (and is) Light on the Island and the author was Helene Glidden.

Helene Glidden in 1951, at the time of the publication of "Light on the Island"

Helene came from a family consisting of Mother, Father and 11 sisters and brothers. When she was very young, her father, a lighthouse keeper,  and mother moved with all of the children to Patos Island, in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Patos is five miles north of Orcas Island and about a mile off shore boats enter Canadian waters.

In Light on the Island, Helene told the stories of what it was like to grow up on Patos Island in the early 1900s. Her stories are often funny, but often they are tragic as well…medical help was far from island shores.

When we great visitors to the lighthouse, we often see two types of people: those who have read the book and those who haven’t. Often if they have, we are peppered with questions about the book…where was this?, where was that?…are the stories all true? Last summer, I witnessed two teenage boys who positively squealed when they saw the book and display on LOTI. We are used this this from young girls, but….!

In a later column, I will explain how Carla and I got from reading the book in Chicago to being co-founders of Keepers of the Patos Light, but for now it’s over and out.

The Fiftieth anniversay edition of Light on the Island…available from Keepers of the Patos Light

LightontheIsland Seattle times 8261951

Midnight in Paris

David and I watched “Midnight in Paris” last night. I was so eager to see this latest WoodyAllen film that I would have bought it, except that it was not out on DVD ’til yesterday. It was #One on our Netflix list, so there it was in yesterday’s mail!

I am inserting a link to Roger Ebert’s review. It contains the big spoiler of the (whole) movie, so if you haven’t seen it or heard about it don’t read it right now.

As for me, I have been waiting for a movie that is not just set in Paris, but stars Paris….my favorite city on earth. I often wonder about this…why it is my and so many others favorite city. It it situated on some kind of magical vortex or something, like those “Mystery” houses we used to visit on family vacations? Well, let’s just let it remain a beautiful enigma.

Patos Bill

The US Coast Guard on Patos Island

We often hear from a former resident of Patos Island, Patos Bill LaVergne. He now lives in Tacoma, Washington. Bill was stationed on Patos Island in the early “50s when he was with the US Coast Guard,

With Bill on the island at that time were Clarence “T” Titterington and his wife Elaine. All of them were in their late teens, early 20s at the time. Hard to believe, really. Did people grow up faster then? We have been interviewing the Titteringtons informally, but in 2012 we have plans to record all of these memories and scan all the pictures.

We would love to hear from other Coast Guarders (and/or families) who served on Patos Island. The US Coast Guard closed up and automated the lighthouse in the early 70s, so now is the time to find these former residents. We learn so much of the history of the island this way.

Patos Bill has sent us a wonderful Christmas card. The picture was taken last summer when we hosted a Patos Party for Bill’s 79th birthday.