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Man who helped save New Dungeness Light Station dies

Walk out onto the Dungeness Spit on a reasonably clear day and you can see Al Simpkins' legacy standing guard, protecting seafarers from the longest natural sand spit in North America.

The New Dungeness Light Station stands about a half-mile from the end of Dungeness Spit, staffed 365 days a years for the past 141/2 by volunteers who put in one-week shifts. The room at the light station that displays its history was dedicated by the association in his name.

Simpkins, who was instrumental in setting up the volunteer organization, died Feb. 5, 2009, in the Snohomish County town of Burlington at the age of 87. He and his wife, Irene, moved there eight years ago to be near family.

Simpkins had lived in Clallam County since 1968, moving from Bothell to the Fairview area, then later to Sequim.

"If it weren't for him, it wouldn't have happened," said Eric Henriksson, board member of New Dungeness Light Station Association.

Henriksson said he'd known Simpkins since the small group that was determined to save the lighthouse held its first meeting with U.S. Coast Guard officials around Simpkins' dining room table in January 1994.

"He was a wonderful guy. When the Coast Guard said in December 1993 it was going to stop staffing the lighthouse, he contacted local members of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, including me," Heriksson said.

"Eventually we took over the lighthouse as part of the national society with their support," he said.

The New Dungeness Light Station Association was originally a chapter of the U.S. Lighthouse Society but in 2002 the members incorporated as a separate nonprofit organization.

Simpkins' daughter Neta Cahill, of Mount Vernon, said, "Anyone who knew him would be familiar with his shop."

Visitors couldn't even take off their coats before they were escorted to the workshop that was filled from floor to ceiling with "things for which I can only guess their purpose," she said.

"He always had about six projects going at once, including small model replicas. He loved trains and built the railroad at the Olympic Game Farm in the late '70s and early '80s," Cahill said.

"He loved to build things. He was always inventing things and figuring out how to make things better," she said.

One of those inventions was a 4-wheel drive wheelchair/ATV for a friend, who was a quadriplegic, Cahill said.

Alrain Orme Simpkins was born in Raymond on July 29, 1921, but spent most of his early years in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood.

He joined the U.S. Coast Guard in World War II and maintained radios and lighthouses along the Oregon coast, where he met his future wife, Irene, in a Newport cafe.

They were married Oct. 14, 1945, and raised five children. He worked for Pacific Northwest Bell for 28 years and was a volunteer firefighter in Snohomish County for 10 years.

Simpkins is survived by his wife, Irene; twin sister Adlain Culver; son and daughter-in-law Larry "Bud" and Robin Welker of Auburn; daughter and son-in-law Neta (Simpkins) and Jim Cahill of Sedro-Woolley; good friend Gerald Wybenga of Shelton; and many, many grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his sister Dessie May Fassett; sons Stan Simpkins and Robert "Bob" Welker; and daughter Darla Welker Fisher.



In memoriam: Lend a hand

In lieu of services or flowers, which just weren't Al's style, the family suggests carrying on his tradition of lending others a helping hand whenever possible.

Supporting the New Dungeness Light Station Association, www.newdungenesslighthouse.com, would be a wonderful way to celebrate his life. Cards may be sent to Irene Simpkins at 10162 Elwick Lane, Sedro-Woolley, WA, 98284.



Brian Gawley can be reached at bgawley@sequim gazette.com.

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