Among a state wide volunteer force that’s nearly 10,000 members strong, one Central Whidbey state park boasts two of the best.
Washington State Parks recently presented awards in a dozen categories for volunteer work done in 2018, and Fort Casey camp host Gary Formhals and Keepers of the Admiralty Head Lighthouse President Wayne Clark received the Award of Excellence and Volunteer of the Year, respectively.
Formhals has been a Clinton resident for 30 years and started donating his time at the campground about five years ago. It didn’t take long for him to become indispensable.
“I don’t know how we would run the park without him, to be honest,” said Kirsten Bird, Fort Casey office assistant.
When the retired Seabees chief isn’t helping out campers, Formhals can often be found fixing equipment, mowing near the fort or doing whatever else needs to be done. He admitted he sometimes gets called out for working more than volunteers are supposed to.
Clark’s time and effort dedication are similar, but his efforts are primarily focused on the park’s iconic lighthouse. The Coast Guard veteran and retired teacher spends his free time either recounting the past of the historic structure or working to preserve its future.
In his positions in the Keepers and Friends of the Lighthouse, he raises funds to keep up the lighthouse’s appearance and structural integrity. He also serves on the board of docents and is an expert in regaling anyone who will listen with stories of its history, which goes back more than 100 years.
“It’s a labor of love,” Clark said.
He began his tenure as a volunteer shortly after he moved to Coupeville about eight years ago and was looking for a way to contribute to his new community. Clark had always been fascinated by lighthouses and had read about Fort Casey’s fixture in the newspaper before he made his move.
The romance and mystique behind the solitary structures in remote areas, shining constantly to keep sailors safe and the people who kept them functional, had intrigued him from a young age, he said. His family frequently went camping at Lake Superior, where he and his brother would get chased off the beaches adjacent to a nearby lighthouse, which was still manned at the time.
He was drawn to Admiralty Head Lighthouse and wanted to pitch in somehow, but wasn’t sure what he could contribute. As a simple way to give back to his community, he painted the short, white picket fence that wraps around the structure.
“It’s Tom Sawyer stuff,” he said. “I know it sounds kind of hokey, but it’s the truth.”
Formhals has been camping at Fort Casey for years with his wife and children and became familiar with the camp host, who eventually suggested that Formhals give the position a try.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said of the job. “A lot of good people work here.”
He enjoys the campground atmosphere and being outside, but his favorite part of the job is meeting the campers. He said he’s talked to people biking across the country, families that consistently return from out of state and “a lot of Canadians.”
Similarly, Clark is just as enthusiastic about the people he meets as he is about the lighthouse itself.
His work as a docent in particular gives him ample opportunities to meet new people, many of whom are just as fanatical about lighthouses as he is.
“I try and find connections to everybody through lights,” Clark said.
He also records community members’ histories and connections to the lighthouse, according to the State Parks press release announcing his Volunteer of the Year Award.
Both men play major roles in putting on the park’s large and spooky fundraiser for the lighthouse, Haunted Fort Casey —— Clark in a leadership role and Formals in “doing whatever needs to get done,” he said.
Both volunteers are also simply kind people who solve problems.
Clark “exemplifies courtesy, friendliness and helpfulness to everyone he meets in the park,” the press release states.
In his nomination for the Award for Excellence, staff commended Formhals “for his service above and beyond the call of duty, his integrity, and his courteous and kind manner with everyone who meets him.”