The old fort is still a sight to behold, attracting visitors for its history as well as the natural beauty all around it.
To get a thorough foothold of Fort Casey’s place in history, however, it is suggested you take a tour. And if you’re lucky, Dick Malone might be your guide.
For nearly 20 years, Malone, a retired Marine Corps reservist and educator, has served as a volunteer at Fort Casey State Park, providing tours, welcoming visitors and leading restoration projects behind the scenes.
This month, he was awarded the highest honor for individuals who donate their time at Washington State Parks, earning the title of “Volunteer of the Year” for 2016.
For those familiar with Malone’s commitment to the World War I-era army post, first opened in 1897, on Central Whidbey, they couldn’t imagine a more deserving recipient.
As a volunteer member for two Fort Casey groups — the Fort Casey Volunteer Battalion, which provides guided tours, and the Admiralty Head Lighthouse docents, who greet and educate lighthouse visitors — he’s still going strong at the age of 86.
Time invested at the fort is a labor of love for the Oak Harbor man who spent 30 years as a high school machine shop and metalworking instructor in La Grange, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.
During most of that time, he also served as a reservist in the Marine Corps, becoming an officer and retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
“I guess I spent my whole adult life working for people and with people in the Marine Corps and in teaching,” Malone said. “After I retired, you just kind of keep doing the same things one way or another and the volunteer work came into my life.
“All of a sudden, I was reading your newspaper and there’s an article looking for volunteers. I said, ‘I’ll look into it.’ I went down there and have been there ever since.”
Malone has helped using his bare hands and through his leadership, inspiring others along the way with his energy and drive.
He’s been instrumental in several restoration projects at the park, including replacement of the lantern house at the lighthouse in 2012. Students from all three of Whidbey Island’s public high schools, Archie Nichols of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders and volunteers worked together over two years to complete that project.
“He has a lot of skills and talents,” fellow Fort Casey Volunteer Battalion member Steve Kobylk said of Malone. “He’s a master craftsman when it comes to woodmanship. He’s built cabinets and display cases and all kind of things for the lighthouse. He’s also a good machinist. He’s working on a current project with Oak Harbor High School (students) building a shell cart for 10-inch guns.”
Fort Casey’s busy season is fast approaching. Malone figures he gets out to the park about two to three times per week from April to September.
The Fort Casey Volunteer Battalion provides scheduled fort tours every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.
But Malone wears other hats, too.
“He’s been amazing,” said Jon Crimmins, manager of Fort Casey and other Central Whidbey parks. “He’s been working at the lighthouse really forever. He’s been the driving force behind what’s going on at the lighthouse, in particular.”
Crimmins knows how fortunate he is to have such skilled, passionate volunteers as Malone and Kobylk, who’s considered to be the resident expert on the fort’s history.
Kobylk also was honored by State Parks for “Outstanding Contribution by an Individual,” an award he’s won before.
He’s been involved as a technical consultant in a capital project by the state at Fort Casey in which interpretative panels are being made and extensive restoration work is taking place in the fort’s plotting room.
Kobylk, a retired Boeing retrofit engineer, said the public should see the results by this summer.
“The changes we’re seeing right now at the fort we certainly couldn’t do without those two,” Crimmins said. “Their knowledge is just incredible. They come back day after day looking for more punishment.”
And for Malone, none of this would’ve happened on Whidbey Island if it were not for one Pacific Northwest road trip pulling a small travel trailer in 1990. He and his wife pulled into the City of Oak Harbor’s recreational vehicle park at Windjammer Park and stayed for awhile, then decided they never wanted to leave.
Oak Harbor has been home for them ever since.
“I didn’t know there was such a thing as Whidbey Island,” Malone said. “After retiring from teaching (in Illinois), we did a lot of traveling around the country. The last place we came to was Oak Harbor on a fluke. We happened to be coming by here. It was 40 degrees in February and I said, ‘This is great.’ It was howling that day, too, with about a 40-knot wind. We like 40 degrees in February. That’s about 40 degrees higher than we were used to.”
Malone said he was sorry to learn that the RV park will be going away.
“That’s a great little place to sell the city,” he said.