His illuminating hobby -- lighthouse carving
After retiring from his career as a Long Island Rail Road ticket agent, Keating combined his love of woodworking and his fondness for Long Island lighthouses into gifts for friends, as well as strangers.
Each wooden lighthouse is set in a box frame and surrounded by miniature holiday scenes and popular themes to please adults and children alike. There's a World War II scene, complete with tiny airplanes ready to take flight, a snow-covered Christmas theme, and pieces that are inspired by popular children's movies such as "Pirates of the Caribbean," "March of the Penguins" and "Cinderella."
What began as a craft show hobby for Keating turned into a mission to share his finished works with those he felt could use some cheer, and as a way of saying thanks to others. He's donated his lighthouse lamps to charities and to strangers he reads about who are ill. He generously shares his art with those he feels would enjoy it.
Keating says he started working as a carpenter more than 25 years ago during his off hours from the LIRR. Another job, as a lobsterman, took him past Long Island's lighthouses, including his favorite at Montauk Point.
"People do love lighthouses and Long Island has so many that people don't even notice them all," he says. "When I go out on the water to fish by Three Village Inn there's one there. There's a lighthouse in the middle of the Sound when you take the ferry and more in the Hamptons."
And they all serve as inspiration for him as he creates his lighthouses, complete with a blinking light. Keating makes each lighthouse in his neatly organized garage workshop, which also serves as the winter storage for his 17-foot Key West boat.
"I start with 4-by-4s that people use for posts, cut them down, score them and turn them down on the lathe," he says, explaining how he turns the wood and uses chisels to shape it.
Keating usually has four lamps in progress at a time. Near each one, he sets a box of preselected decorations, including colored sand, paint and figurines such as penguins, ships or holiday items that he often finds at the dollar stores. He stocks up, fearing that he won't see the same decorations again. Asked where he gets his ideas from, he smiles and taps his temple. "Each theme is different but I plan it out carefully."
Keating started making lighthouses that were 4 feet tall and were designed to be birdhouses. For years he sold them at craft fairs. "But wood got expensive, so I downsized to lamps, and I stopped selling them," he says. "Instead I give them away."
He got the idea to donate his 11-inch lighthouse lamps in 2009 when his grandson, who has muscular dystrophy, was the recipient of a gift through Make-a-Wish Foundation of Suffolk, which grants wishes to seriously ill children. "I wanted to thank them for making my grandson's wish to travel to Nova Scotia come true," he says, "so I made several lighthouses they could give to other children."
Joanne McGiveron, director of community relations for the organization, says the lighthouses were a welcome addition to their children's holiday party where they were given as prizes in a drawing.
Since then, Keating has made lighthouses for fundraisers for local school districts and other causes. His doctor, Louis Greenblatt of Hauppauge, says that Keating donated four lighthouses in September for a fundraiser for Greenblatt's nephew Dustin Manwiller, who had been injured in an auto accident. And after reading in Newsday about a 6-year-old boy who was being treated for cancer, Keating sent him a lighthouse with a penguin scene because the boy mentioned that he loves penguins. The boy wrote Keating a thank-you note, saying , "I am happy when I look at it."
Notes like that are why Keating plans to keep working on his hobby. "I get beautiful letters from kids who can barely write. It makes me choke up. I get letters from parents too, saying that the flickering light in the lighthouse helps their child go to sleep. That's worth more to me than getting $75 or $100 for a lighthouse I've made. I think with the way the world is today people need to have something beautiful to look at."
Of course he also makes lighthouses for family and friends. All 12 of his grandchildren have lighthouse lamps.
Keating estimates he's given away about 40 of his decorated lighthouses. But he has also kept more than two dozen to enjoy with his wife of 10 years, Elaine. "We're running out of space here, but Elaine won't let many go."
Elaine explains, "Each one is a work of art and I don't want to part with them." Her favorite piece has a medieval jousting theme.
When he isn't woodworking a few hours a day, Keating still fishes from his boat and he and Elaine bike, bowl and travel. "Everything I do keeps me young," Keating said, "but the joy I get out of knowing that people, especially the children, enjoy my lighthouse lamps, is what really keeps me going."