Shedding Light on the Keeper

Kīlauea Point Lighthouse Photo credit: Kim Rogers/USFWS

Bob Olson worked at the Kīlauea Point Lighthouse over 50 years ago. The lighthouse sits atop a rocky peninsula on the northwest coast of the Island of Kaua’i, 180 feet above the Pacific Ocean. It is now part of the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge that is home to some of the largest populations of nesting seabirds in Hawai’i.

Recently, Thomas Daubert, Executive Director of Friends of Kauaʻi National Wildlife Refuges, had the opportunity to learn about Bob’s experience and capture it for the Friends.

TD: When did you work at the Lighthouse and what was your role?
BO: I was stationed with the United States Coast Guard Group Kauaʻi from 1967-68. I lived in Poʻipū but one of my primary jobs, as the Lead Electronics Technician, was to maintain the radio equipment and radio beacon at the Kīlauea Lighthouse. The equipment was located, at the time, in the concrete building located just west of the Lighthouse (now referred to as the “Contact Station”). Radio beacons were in use at Kīlauea Point since World War II and required regular maintenance. My duties also included servicing equipment at Makahuena Point.

TD: How did you end up serving on Kauaʻi?
BO: Before I was stationed on Kauaʻi, I was stationed in Hilo. A shipmate of mine on the Cape Small was Norman Peleiholani. He previously lived and worked at the Kīlauea Point Lighthouse serving as a Lighthouse Keeper. I became very close to him and his family at the time and he spoke so highly of his time on Kauaʻi that I sought out a role there for my next station assignment.

TD: What are some of your memories of your time being stationed here?
BO: I remember how great the experience was of the team working at the Lighthouse. Everyone knew everyone and were like family. When I worked on the radio equipment, I was welcomed to dinner with the lighthouse keepers and their families.
I remember coming to the Lighthouse after one particularly bad storm. I was really surprised to see that the storm had broken out the windows in the beacon building. We had to board up the building and clean and dry out the equipment. During another stormy day, I remember sitting at Secret Beach and watching the spray hit all the way up to the Lighthouse, which is already really high above the ocean.

TD: Where were you stationed after your time on Kauaʻi?
BO: After my station assignment on Kauaʻi concluded, I served in Vietnam. After the war, I was stationed on a number of different ships and also at another lighthouse, located at Point Arguello, California. There, I will always remember being awakened by the fog horns, which of course you don’t have at Kīlauea Point!

TD: Have you been back to Kīlauea since you were stationed here?
BO: I had such a great experience during my time on Kauaʻi that I always intended to come back to another station assignment on Kauaʻi or to retire there. Unfortunately, my 21-year career with the US Coast Guard didn’t allow for another “overseas” assignment. After my career wound down, I found myself with my family in Northern California. However, I was able to visit Kauaʻi around 2006 with my family.

TD: When you visited, what were some of the primary differences you noted from your time working here?
BO: When I lived in Poʻipū, Koloa was still a plantation town and there were just two resorts in Poʻipū. Makahuena Point, where I also worked, has changed a lot and is now just a site for condos. I also really noticed the massive erosion to a number of south shore beaches after the two hurricanes that impacted Kauaʻi.
Out at Kīlauea Point, the experience is also very different. The lighthouse is no longer in operation and, therefore, is no longer maintaining a staff of lighthouse keepers. Also, many more people visit the site than my time and, when I was stationed there, guests were only allowed into the first floor of the Lighthouse since it was still operational. Now, I understand that visitors can go up to see that beautiful fresnel lens!

TD: Since your time here, this site has become part of the National Wildlife Refuge system. What wildlife did you observe at Kīlauea Point during your time here?
BO: I frequently saw a lot of seabirds. I remember seeing an albatross once in a while. I was accustomed to seeing them at sea during my time stationed on ships, but not on land.  That was a unique sight.

TD: Mahalo nui loa Bob for your service to our country and to our beautiful lighthouse, and for taking the time to share these memories with our supporters!

Thank you to Tom and the Friends of Kauaʻi National Wildlife Refuges for letting us share this story with you.