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Signaling memories: Storytelling highlights Toledo Lighthouse Festival

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    The Toledo Harbor Lighthouse on a tour during the 105 Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival on July 12, 2009. It is located about five miles north of Maumee Bay State Park's shores and marks the entrance to the Toledo Shipping Channel.

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    People make their way from booth to booth during the Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival at the Maumee Bay State Park Resort in Oregon, Ohio on Saturday, July 7, 2012.

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    Pictures of lighthouses by artist Gail Wonnell for sale during the 10th annual Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival at Maumee Bay State Park on July 13, 2013. Proceeds from the entertainment, arts and crafts, and silent auction, are for the fund to maintain the historic Toledo Lighthouse.

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    Audrey Keune, 16, of the Toledo School of Art, puts the final touches on her entry for the sand castle competition during the Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival at the Maumee Bay State Park Resort in Oregon, Ohio on Saturday, July 7, 2012.

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Marilyn Wuest has always struggled with seasickness, but you would never expect it. The daughter of Martin Hosko, owner of former Toledo mainstay M. Hosko Fishery, she spent much of her childhood on the Great Lakes.

When she was little, her family would build in breaks on their boat trips to give her time to recover. Often, they would stop at the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse, situated where Lake Erie and Maumee Bay meet, five miles north of the shores of the bay.

When she stopped by, the lighthouse keepers were always friendly. “They would always give me a piece of candy or offer me something to drink,” Wuest recalled.

If You Go

2018 Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival

When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Maumee Bay State Park, 1750 State Park Rd. No. 2, Oregon

Details: Continuous entertainment, music, steel drums, Jimmy Buffet-style music, magician, Great Lakes ballads, free concert at 7 p.m. Saturday featuring Suburban Legend in Park Amphitheater. Free parking and admission.

Information: 419-691-3788 or toledolighthousefestival.com/

Her parents, in turn, brought baked goods and booze for the men who took care of the Harbor Light.

“I have a very soft spot for it,” Wuest, now 76, said of the lighthouse. “I remember it so vividly.”

This weekend, Wuest will share these memories with an audience at the 15th annual Toledo Lighthouse Waterfront Festival. She will be one of several volunteers to tell stories about the lighthouse.

“Storytelling is the highlight of this year’s festival,” said Sandy Bihn, founder and president of the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Preservation Society. “Keepers used to come tell their stories, but they got older and the ability to do that went by the wayside.”

In their stead, she asked people with some other connection to the lighthouse, like Wuest, to speak.

This is the first year that this kind of speaker event is part of the festival’s official programming, said Yvonne Juhasz, a festival volunteer and Preservation Society board member.

The Waterfront Festival is put on each year by the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Preservation Society. The society was founded by Bihn in 2003. “We formed the organization to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the lighthouse,” which was dedicated on May 23, 1904, she said.

Now, the group, which has about 500 members, is working on restoring the lighthouse to its former glory. The annual Waterfront Festival is one way they raise funds for their restoration efforts, Juhasz said.

This year’s festival will be Saturday and Sunday at Maumee Bay State Park, right on the shores of Lake Erie and Maumee Bay. The event will feature ample food and entertainment, including a silent auction and a concert at 7 p.m. on Saturday by the group Suburban Legend.

A staple of the festival is the art and craft village. Juhasz said about 75 vendors will participate at this year’s festival.

“We try to get them to do something nautical-themed or to do with the lighthouse,” she said.

There will be water activities too. On Sunday, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources will host a Paddle Palooza with free paddle boarding and kayaking. And if the weather cooperates, visitors can take boat rides around the lighthouse.

For the last few years, arranging these rides out to the lighthouse has been difficult, said Dan Hall, who coordinates membership for the Preservation Society and is also the group’s historian. In 2015, a storm destroyed the dock that was used to access the lighthouse.

Now, “unless the lake is perfectly calm you can’t really get a boat up next to the lighthouse to get up on it,” he said.

This is one of many problems the Preservation Society is hoping to correct in the coming years. The group estimates that restoring the lighthouse will cost $1.5 million. Once it is restored, members plan to have a rotation of volunteers staying out at the lighthouse, giving tours and serving as “keepers” during the warmer months of the year.

Hall and his wife got involved with the Preservation Society eight or nine years ago after attending the festival one summer. In the years since, they have researched the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse exhaustively, even traveling to the National Archives in Washington. He is one of the storytellers at this year’s festival, where he plans to share some of his archival finds.

Hall said he has long been curious about lighthouses. Not only are they in beautiful locations, but the original keepers led fascinating, if isolated, lives.

“I like the stories of the people that maintained them,” Hall said. “It would have been an interesting life.”

Contact Eve Sneider at esneider@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.

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