Since July 2000, Bob Trapani, Jr., has served as Executive Director of the Delaware Seashore Preservation Foundation. This nonprofit organization is devoted to the preservation of the 1876 Indian River Life-Saving Station, which was decommissioned in 1962. The group has fully restored the historic building and opened it to the public in 1998. In his day-to-day job, Bob manages all aspects of the project, from marketing to furnishings to exhibits. The job is a big one, but Bob Trapani’s interest in maritime subjects extends far beyond the walls of the old United States Life-Saving Service station.
He works a part-time schedule at the Cape Henlopen Ship Reporting Tower as a Vessel Dispatcher for the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay, which has been recording ship arrival information since it was formed in 1872. Bob’s position in the reporting tower gives him a panoramic view of the mouth of the Delaware Bay and a large portion of the Atlantic Ocean. “On most nights,” he says, “you have the ability to watch Harbor of Refuge, Brandywine Shoal and Cape May lights all sending out their guiding beams.”
Bob is also an associate member of the Mariners Advisory Committee for the Bay & River Delaware. This group is comprised of master mariners and river pilots, and concerns itself with safety of navigation, particularly for large ocean-going vessels. His involvement with this important committee is something Bob says he is “quite proud of.”
Bob’s love of lighthouses doesn’t end with distant viewing. In February 1999 he co-founded the nonprofit Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation, Inc. The group’s mission is to “foster, advocate and coordinate lighthouse preservation with the Delaware River and Bay region.” The emphasis, says Bob, is “heavily on preservation, education and cultural value.” The foundation has successfully negotiated a letter of First Endorsement with the United States Coast Guard for a long-term lease of Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse. Preliminary plans are in the works for the restoration of the tower’s interior, and the goal is to open it to the public for seasonal tours. Bob says he is “very proud of the relationship we have successfully cultivated with the Fifth Coast Guard District. We work hand in hand with the Coast Guard in an effort to educate the membership, and our website visitors, about the important work the Coast Guard performs in maintaining our region’s aids to navigation network.”
Which brings us to Bob’s next passion. “I began casually working with the Coast Guard in 1998, developing different kinds of educational features,” he says. “In June 2000 I began working with Senior Chief Dennis Dever of Aids to Navigation Team Cape May. I wanted to take everything one step further. I joined Flotilla 82 Cape May of the Coast Guard Auxiliary and immediately started training to become a certified AtoN Technician.” Later this year, Bob will attend the Coast Guard’s Yorktown AtoN Academy to receive certification in Advanced Minor Solar Aids to Navigation. “Once I complete the course, I will be qualified to work all solar powered aids,” reports Bob. He already qualifies to work most Delaware Bay solar aids to navigation, including a few lighthouses.
Senior Chief Dennis Dever at Cape May is a lighthouse buff himself, and in fact was a keeper of America’s first lighthouse station, Boston Light, in the late 1980s. About Trapani, Senior Chief Dever says, “What’s unique about Bob is that he has an interest in lighthouse history and presenting it in an educational fashion, but he’s also involved in the whole aids to navigation system, including buoys, range lights and so forth. You just don’t find people who do that.”
With all his other responsibilities, why does Bob volunteer for this Coast Guard work up to four times a month? He says it’s because he wants “to give something back to an Aids to Navigation program I enjoy so much. In the end, the enjoyment I derive from knowing I am helping to keep the lights shining throughout the lower Delaware Bay region — protecting both commercial shipping and recreational boaters — is simply unbeatable.” He also says that his hands-on experience has given him a more thorough appreciation of why lighthouses were established in the area.
As if that’s not enough, Bob has written about lighthouses and maritime activities for a number of regional newspapers, travel magazines and websites. He co-owned the magazine Atlantic Lighthouses, which published three issues and was very well received. He also serves as editor for The Bay Pilot, the quarterly newsletter for the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation, Inc. He is now working on a book on the history of the Indian River Life-Saving Station.
The Bay Pilot often spotlights the Coast Guard’s aids to navigation work. Senior Chief Dennis Dever says, “The taxpayers don’t know that much about what we do. They know about search and rescue and so on, but Bob is showing them the aids to navigation side that isn’t in the public eye. People know someone fixes the lights when they go out, but he puts a face on something that’s often taken for granted.”
Bob Trapani, Jr., devotes much of his life to maritime preservation, but like many who are devoted to a cause, he’d prefer that the spotlight stay off him and shine instead on the subjects of his devotion. As Bob puts it, he just wants to “make a lasting difference,” to preserve lighthouses and other maritime history “for future generations to learn about and enjoy.”
For more information:
Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation, Inc.
P.O. Box 708, Lewes, DE 19958
Delaware Seashore Preservation Foundation
P.O. Box 949, Bethany Beach, DE 19930
This story appeared in the
June 2001 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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