Newport Fishermen’s Wives envisioned the Fishermen’s Memorial Sanctuary to be a place of quiet contemplation. A place where loved ones of fishermen lost at sea can go to grieve and feel supported in their loss. When a death at sea occurs and the fisherman is not recovered, the family has no formal grave site to support this process.
Eternus at Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area
The Eternus, a bronze sculpture created by artist Mark Sponenburg, was dedicated in 1988 along with the Yaquina Head Light House as an eternal light for mariners lost at sea. After the sinking of the F/V Lasseigne, NFW realized the need for a place for families to go to grieve when fishermen are lost at sea. The Lasseigne sinking and the loss of her crew, also became the catalyst for NFW to work to bring about siting of the USCG Rescue Helicopter base to the Newport Airport.
Fishermen’s Memorial Sanctuary at Yaquina State Park
The Memorial is sited in Yaquina Bay State Park on the edge of the Pacific Ocean; near the place local fishermen go to observe the Yaquina Bay bar before they cross into the ocean. This memorial offers a tangible place to honor the memories of lost fishermen while their families, friends and community learn to live without them.
Ground was broken in Yaquina Bay State Park in 1997 after eleven years of planning and fundraising. The Memorial Sanctuary was built in the state park in a first-of-its-kind partnership between Newport Fishermen’s Wives Inc., and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. This open-air structure was built entirely with donations from the local community and the fishing community at large.
Development of the Memorial – From Yaquina Head to Yaquina Bay
In May of 1986, NFW ask for and was granted from the Bureau of Land Management, land to erect a Memorial Sanctuary for fishermen lost at sea. Under a separate agreement in 1986, the US Department of Transportation’s US Coast Guard consented to allow Newport Fishermen’s Wives (NFW) to build a memorial plaque honoring fishermen lost at sea. This is the Eternus.
In 1993, NFW was becoming aware of mounting costs to build on the headland. Preliminary costs were upwards of $200,000 for extensive site preparation, safety, handicap accessibility and vandalism prevention. About the same time, NFW learned that an activist group was opposed to any building on the headland, citing “impaired visual resources’ as their main concerns. Wanting the memorial to be seen as a possitive community addition, NFW began looking around at other locations ultimately contacting South Beach State Park managers of Yaquina Bay State Park.
That same year, former Newport High School drafting student Kylan Hoss contributed the original design: an eight sided Russian yurt, with half-walls and windows facing the ocean and open to the back. In 1994, Dennis Lowery of Creative Design and Engineering was hired by NFW to engineer the expanse to be open inside without center columns. This was to accommodate a minimum of fifty mourners while leaving the back open to allow an overflow of mourners to share in larger services.
The Centerpiece of the Memorial
The podium is the centerpiece of the Sanctuary. It is hand engraved with original artwork and the names of over one hundred Lincoln County fishermen who died at-sea, dating back to 1900. Each of these names represents a loved one: a son, a father, a husband, a brother or a friend. A dot placed next to the names signifies that that fisherman’s remains were recovered and brought home to rest. Mark James and Donna Johnson of Silverton, Oregon hand sandblasted all the names and artwork over a three day period.
Sadly, heartless vandals destroyed the original podium in April of 2005. It was recreated with the salvaged artwork centerpiece (which was virtually intact) and newly constructed computer-engraved side pieces by Oregon Memorials in Hillsboro. NFW learned that Mark James had retired, choosing Oregon Memorials on a referral from Bateman Funeral Home. Oregon Memorials was able to install the new memorial podium inside the Sanctuary in time for the annual Blessing of the Fleet in March of 2006.
Half walls of windows allow visitors to view the ocean where working fishing vessels head out to sea and return home to port with fresh seafood. Fifteen family-sized benches were placed inside in honor of loved ones from the industry who died from causes other than at-sea. While remembering these family members, the benches allow mourners to sit at services and face the large, black granite memorial podium.
The Fishermen’s Memorial Service
The Fishermen’s Memorial Service is held each year on the third Saturday in March, at 8 A.M., in conjunction with Newport’s Annual Blessing of The Fleet. Newport Fishermen’s Wives and local clergy work together with US Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay and Air Station North Bend to coordinate the day’s events. All are invited to attend this service to support the families of those lost.
Newport Fishermen’s Wives Inc., is extremely grateful to each and every person who played a role in helping to build this mark of respect to the families of a pioneer industry so deeply rooted in the communities of Lincoln County, Oregon.
A statue in honor of living fishermen, originally envisioned as phase 3, is still just a vision.