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NPS: David Luchsinger, Superintendent of Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Retires


Bureau: National Park Service


Dave Luchsinger and his wife, Debbie,standing beside a cake. 
David Luchsinger, superintendent of Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island retires at the end of this month after almost 36 years of service. Here he and his wife, Debbie, attend his retirement party last week. Photo by Kevin Daley, NPS.

As a WG-1 seasonal maintenance employee, David Luchsinger dared to dream he could lead a national park. Almost 36 years later, at the end of this month, he will retire as superintendent of Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island.

Superintendent Luchsinger — called Dave by everyone on his staff — first donned his National Park Service ball-cap while picking up garbage, cleaning bathrooms and building boardwalks at Fire Island National Seashore. In the years between, he has worn many NPS hats and roles, from gardener, maintenance mechanic, concessions specialist, administrative officer and business management specialist, all at Fire Island. He also served as deputy superintendent at several national parks in the New York area, including Gateway National Recreation Area’s Sandy Hook Unit, Manhattan Sites and the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island, where he was destined to return.

He accepted his first superintendency at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in 2005, shortly after Hurricane Katrina had devastated the park. It was a quick, if not easy, decision. “They need us,” he told his wife, Debbie. During his three-year tenure, he oversaw the park’s rehabilitation from the effects of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike.

That experience proved far more useful than he could have dreamed. On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New York Harbor. The storm surge covered all of Ellis Island and most of Liberty Island. The park had just reopened the crown to visitors the day before, after years of work on life safety upgrades inside the Statue and Monument. The storm wiped out the park’s infrastructure. Several park employees also suffered personal losses, including some who lost homes.

Since the Luchsingers themselves lived in park housing on Liberty Island, evacuating before the storm hit, the hurricane destroyed many family possessions including a baby grand piano. Despite his own setbacks, he put aside retirement plans to reopen Liberty Island on July 4 of this year. Ellis Island reopened later this past year, on Oct. 28, shortly after the government shutdown ended and almost one year to the day after the storm. Restoration work continues at both islands.

At Luchsinger's retirement party last Friday Joshua Laird, commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor, described his leadership style: “Every park he has worked at as a manager has a story about him rolling up his sleeves and working alongside his employees to get a job done, including snow removal on Liberty Island. That’s the kind of leadership that inspires everyone to give a little more.”

After this week, the Luchsingers will head north to their dream home in Portsmouth, N.H. Not content to rest for long, they intend to partner with children’s hospitals serving disabled and terminally ill children.

The “Luchsinger Legacy” will inspire National Park Service employees for years to come. It is a legacy of commitment, caring and concern for national parks and the employees who commit the better part of their lives to the stewardship of special places. Certainly, Dave Luchsinger reminds us to be nice to the women and men who keep our parks clean. Someday, that WG-1 may be running a park near you!

By: John Harlan Warren, NPS
Dec. 11, 2013

This story appears in the Dec. 11 edition of InsideNPS.