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About the Society

A History of the EASTSIDE ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY -
and
THE FRIENDS OF THE PLANETARIUM:


-by Judy Mason,
Secretary & Newsletter Editor

Dr. C. Willard Geer founded our organization as "The Friends of the Planetarium" in 1972, on the campus of Bellevue Community College, (BCC). It was his drive and devotion to a cause he believed in that made a planetarium at the college happen, and who gave our organization a lasting sense of purpose that carries on to the present day. Without his presence in the community at the precise time of BCC’s development, it is safe to say there would be no planetarium there now. He was energetic in dedicating himself to getting it built by writing letters, giving speeches to encourage donations, and founding "The Friends" to help. He spent many hours representing the college in presentations to all facets of the community from the business level to the school child’s level.

Dr. Geer visited the seven school districts in Western Washington served by BCC, and helped by members of "The Friends", gave out attractive posters showing a medieval astronomer with the caption, "Own a Star" to children for their donations. Mary Geer, his wife also went on the lecture circuit, speaking before clubs and community groups.

Dr. Geer's plan was that all school classes would be able to visit the planetarium for free. He even figured out how much money could be saved if the college would simply go unpainted in order to use that money for the star projector. Nothing should stand in his way, not even paint!

Donations rolled in and were turned over to the college. Dr. Geer had invented the color television tube, holding 14 patents on it from 1944, and donated patent money to the cause unheralded. His letter-writing campaign was successful in getting a $200,000 government education grant for the planetarium, as well.

Once the planetarium was built and the $40,000 Model A4A star projector designed by Spitz Space Systems was installed in 1974, the government grant dried up and there was no money left over for other needed equipment. Items such as special effects projectors, a sound mixing panel, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and a lot of bare necessities such as work lights for the back of the dome, dimmer switches, slides, slide carousels, and the electronic wiring for all of it were needed, so the real work of "The Friends" began. The charter was to promote the BCC planetarium by assisting financially in its operation, maintenance and improvement. Members began donating their time in assisting the science staff by putting on public planetarium shows in order to get enough for all those items needed by new planetariums. "The Friends" gave BCC $2,800 in 1975 for use in the planetarium.

Eventually, large and small telescopes (6-inch and 8-inch Schmidt Cassegrains) and two 13.1-inch Dobsonian "Odyssey 1" telescopes would be purchased for use at star parties and by the astronomy class instructors. Money was set aside for a classic 14-incher with the idea of expanding upward to build an observatory. The director of plant operations at BCC agreed that the plan was sound and that specifications were agreeable to the original architect. A check for $4,400 was given to the college for purchase of the 14-inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope, but an observatory did not materialize for more than twenty years, even though the president of the college at the time, Dr. Thomas O’Connell, had assured "The Friends", in a letter, that BCC was moving to acquire the necessary funding for a dome to house the telescope. Others at the college in those days (1978) did not share the vision of Dr. O’Connell and "The Friends".

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The original directors of "Friends of the Planetarium" in 1973 were Dr. Willard Geer, Lois Watson, Joie Soper, V. Robert Baker, Morris Weatherford and Everett Reagan. By 1974, the first officers were Dr. Johan Telkamp (pres.), Dr. Eckart Schmidt (vice-pres.), Everett Nelson (treas.) and Judy Mason (sect.). Instructor Jim Rostirolla soon became the science division’s planetarium director. However, BCC didn't have the funds to cover his salary, so it was agreed that money donated by "The Friends" could be used to pay him.

Dr. Geer arranged for the monthly meetings of "The Friends" to be held in the planetarium and said that science department teachers would present one hour programs at each meeting. He presided at several of these, teaching how the sky looked from different latitudes and teaching right ascension and declination to locate constellations and addresses of stars among the 1,350 stars projected on the 30-foot dome. He said that on the occasions when there were lecturers, the star projector still would be used for a minimum of 15 minutes at such meetings.

Thankfully, Dr. Geer lived to see his dream come true - school children were visiting the planetarium regularly. Community groups also were reserving the planetarium for free programs. "The Friends of the Planetarium" were putting on shows for the public ($600 profit given to BCC from the first year’s Christmas shows alone) assuring that enough money would be available for adding to equipment and updating things as needed.

Dr. Geer was such a dynamic teacher, only his family knew that he was actually in frail health. He died in Aug. 1975, before BCC’s tenth anniversary celebration, held January 25, 1976. In connection with the celebration, a special open house was held at 1:00 p.m. to name the "Willard Geer Planetarium" in his memory. His wife Mary was in attendance. Dr. Geer’s sons Charles and Richard spoke for the family as their father’s memory was honored. An overflowing crowd for the event made it standing room only. At a special star show following the dedication, BCC President Dr. Merle Landerholm sat on an upturned wastebasket, the better to view the dome! Planetarium star shows were held every 20 minutes all afternoon.

Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Willard Geer was the original inventor of the color television tube, Bellevue Community College's first Physics teacher, and the founder of the first major planetarium in the Puget Sound Region.

The year 1976 continued to be a very special one. Glorious Comet West graced the eastern morning sky in early March. Member Bill Kelso gave public telescope-building classes. The 8-inch telescope, acquired by "The Friends", was taken along with BCC astronomy students on the first of many field trips to a meadow at Stampede Pass. Special public shows were held in spring, fall and winter on various subjects and members drummed up publicity by making television appearances on the old "Seattle Today Show", or by being interviewed on Jim French’s KIRO radio show.

In September, the Viking spacecraft touched down on Mars. President of "The Friends", Dr. Eckart Schmidt, presented a public show called, "Viking on Mars", to commemorate the occasion. Dr. Schmidt had worked on the Viking Project as a propellant chemist while at Rocket Research Corp. which built the Viking engines. It was exciting to have someone at the forefront of science as a Friends director!

Since admission to public shows was usually just $1.00 (nonprofit corp.!), it took a lot of hard work on the part of "The Friends" to make money, especially when Santa suits, special slides and other equipment had to be purchased first. But that was okay too, as it all added to the planetarium’s working inventory! Tickets finally went up to $2 for adults, $1 for those under 18, and were sold through Fidelity Lane, The Bon Marche Ticket Office, Bell, Book, & Candle and the BCC Bookstore - and all but the bookstore took a cut. The first shows that were presented included: "How I Use the Stars to Find My Way from North Pole, Alaska to the USA by S. Claus", "The Star of the East", 'Whose Planet Is This?", "The Loneliness Factor", "The Magical Universe", and "Viking on Mars".

By April 1977, The Friends had given BCC over $40,000 for the planetarium. No sitting on laurels! Ambitious plans for more and more new shows were made. "You Were Born on a Rotten Day", a delightful spoof on astrology was presented as a public show. "The Friends" sponsored Boy Scout Explorer Post M-31 and they began writing a public show of their own, called "The Star" that was finally produced by Friends member Brian Parkhurst. Other star shows that would be presented to the public included various versions of "The Guiding Star", plus: "Springtime of the Universe", "The Dawn of Astronomy", "To Worlds Unknown", "Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico", "All Systems Go", "The Universe of Dr. Einstein", "The Last Question", "A Comet Called Halley", and "Starbound".

"Starbound" was such a beloved show that it produced $604 and was brought back for showings that netted $640 and $818, all of which was used to buy a movie camera and six new projectors to make a cove scene around the planetarium dome.

The proceeds from public shows was always "turned into" equipment for more shows for the planetarium and the transactions were not always duly noted. Many of the shows were made available in those days by the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and various planetariums such as the Hansen in Salt Lake City. What many people don’t realize is how much work went into putting everything together for a show. The editing, processing, and arranging of special effects is a long, tedious process. Yet most of these classic show scripts were so elegant that it would take little to update them for staging in the present day. Okay, maybe not "little", but it could be done by "The Friends'" members who made the shows work; Eckart Schmidt, Brian Parkhurst, Todd Ullery, Pat Terhune, Dave Inverso, Dorothy Day, Neil Beck, Larry Shea, Debra Benton, Maia Mason, Chris Mason, Mary Olszewski, Becky Masters, Robert Briggs, Jay Pennel, Joe Palmer, Bill High, Curtis Hruska, and Jim Rostirolla. [It’s risky listing names this way, so email us if you have an addition! In fact, if you have other memories for this history, send them on as well.]

Bryan Brewer, author of a new book, "Eclipse", spoke at the Feb, 14, 1979 meeting in preparation for the cosmic event of the century, the Feb. 26 solar eclipse. Another standing room only crowd was on hand, many of whom were also interested in joining "The Friends’" expedition to the town of Goldendale, Washington, right in the path of totality. Member Bill Kelso made all the arrangements for the 90 people who signed up for the trip - accommodations in the town, such as sleeping on a gym floor in the school (rising at 2:10 a.m. even though reveille was at 3:00 and totality wasn’t until 8:15) with bus transportation to Observatory Hill, and The Friends’ own pancake breakfast after the event with Neil Beck as chef. For two days prior to the eclipse (Saturday and Sunday) there were astronomers lecturing at the Middle School, continuous showings of NASA space and astronomy films, and eclipse workshops on the hour. The people of Goldendale were dedicated to a "Total Experience of the Eclipse". There wasn’t a motel room to be had and so in the spirit of the occasion, people took guests into their homes, planned public dinners and did all they could to help. The Methodist Church ladies got busy making pies!

That morning there was a low cloud bank to the east that, in the words of Bill Kelso, eventually bracketed the Sun at totality like a scene from a Cecil B. DeMille movie. For the over 2,000 people with passes to Observatory Hill, the eclipse was spectacular. The shouting, the beauty, the glory of it, the genuine joy of being together there on the hill, it seemed much more than the Moon passing between Earth and Sun - the greatest Friends field trip ever!

Voyagers 1 and 2 were launched to the outer planets and in 1979 just 5 public shows on the Voyager missions, "Voyagers to Jupiter and Beyond", added another $278 to the planetarium funds. Astronomy has always had a stake in the celebration of Christmas because of the story of the star. The 1979, Christmas star shows were well attended, as there was a lot more publicity than usual, and the story of Willard Geer Planetarium shows actually showed up in a newspaper in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!

In 1980 Mount St. Helens cast a definite pall on Astronomy Week activities and canceled some trips to Eastern Washington for star parties, although "The Friends" managed trips to Stampede Pass that worked out well. This also was the year that some scientists working out of Berkeley announced that the great extinction of the dinosaurs was likely the result of an asteroid at least 6 miles in diameter having struck the Earth in the Yucatan 65 million years ago. Those who lived through the St. Helens eruption had little trouble understanding the plausibility or the ramifications of an asteroid-extinction theory.

The year 1981 saw the maiden voyage of space shuttle Columbia and it looked as though the sky was no longer the limit - everyone was celebrating. The "International Planetarium Society" proposed showing support for US space presence by having planetarium visitors sign a petition that would reach from the surface of Earth to the edge of space or 5 x 106 inches at two inches per name. The Friends considered sending them 83 feet worth of names!

In one year, from September 1985 to June 1986 expenditures for the planetarium paid for by BCC and The Friends totaled $8,768. Purchased were: a $2,000 projector system displaying creation of the solar system; $100 worth of Apple Lab computer programs for astronomy classes; a new $600 dinosaur show; planetarium brochures for $1,500; $500 slides including all the new Uranus flyby shots; a Nikon F3 photographic system for $1,292; Comet Halley flyers and teachers’ guides for $100; $500 worth of components on the aging star projector; and $300 for the Uranus flyby coverage. Member Sid Swartz set up all the equipment and hung the new draperies (cost?) without charge for labor. The Friends sold T-shirts and sweatshirts with our club logo in 1981 and 82 and then again in 1985-86 with a picture of Halley's Comet, all to make money for the planetarium.

More improvements were planned for the Spitz star projector after calling the Spitz Company to learn that new stars could be drilled into it for only $14.95 a shot and that they had clusters of stars that could be fitted into a ¼-inch hole. Right away everyone began thinking about what stars they missed on the dome - M31 and that star in the Water-jar, and so on.

Unfortunately, in September 1987 the planetarium was no longer available for public show productions, so for the first time the holidays went by without "Guiding Star" or Santa shows. Dr. Geer’s dream wasn’t ended exactly. New classes of students would visit the planetarium and public could still enjoy astronomy classes in the planetarium.

By February 1989 "The Friends" had changed to become the "Eastside Astronomical Society", now meeting at the Puget Power Auditorium on 104th, in downtown Bellevue. It had a movie theater-sized screen for videos, slides and opaque projectors and best of all, it was free. After meetings, we could go to the hill at nearby Kelsey Creek Park to have star parties. The fantastic viewing system and screen were great, offering many options that weren’t available back at the beloved planetarium. So the relocation away from meeting at the BCC planetarium went, for the most part, smoothly.

The Friends met happily at Puget Power until one day there was some sort of coup with a power synergism of gas and electricity. The new head of the company had the seats and theater system torn out of the auditorium so it could became rather a large empty hall with nothing but some chairs and a couple tables. It seemed even more appalling than being booted out of the planetarium because of the physical devastation of the environs and loss of ambiance that was involved.

After that one December meeting, the next meeting, in January 1998, was held at Spiritridge Elementary School library, part of the Bellevue School District, in the eastern part of Bellevue. After the charms of a planetarium and the elegance of Puget Power’s lost auditorium, it took some time to become inured, but at least for the first time, refreshments could be served. Somehow it seemed suitable to meet in a public school because of the nature of the organization’s charter:

"...to share a common interest in increasing the understanding and appreciation of astronomy within the community"

Many of the members had taught, or were teaching astronomy to students, and some of those lessons and lectures were at Spiritridge Elementary.

The organization continues to have close ties to Spiritridge, but due to scheduling difficulties, the September 2002 meeting was moved to Newport Way Library, and, since the Fall of 2003, meetings have been located at the Lake Hills Library in Bellevue. Click here for directions.

Meetings have had featured guest speakers, presentations on astronomy-related computer software, the showing of video programs, slide-show presentations, lively discussions - and a book drawing. Newcomers are always welcome!

There are currently about 135 regular members who sporadically come to meetings because they belong in order to get the newsletter. Members receive a six-page newsletter, which is published ten times a year (July and August are vacation time, as we follow the student fiscal year). Maybe it should be called the "Armchair Astronomers"! The newsletter is non-provincial in order to keep members abreast of the latest news in astronomy and space. Among the readership are members of the University of Washington Astronomy and Physics Departments.

Star parties have been held at nearby Kelsey Creek Park in Bellevue, at Stampede Pass, Tiger Mountain, the Cougar Mountain Nike site and Hans Jensen Park, though most of these suffer from too many tall trees these days. Many of the members attend the three-day Annual Table Mountain Star Party in Eastern Washington held in late July or early August. Currently, star parties are held at the Lake Hills Greenbelt Park - Phantom Lake site about every other month.

As a diverse group, mostly from within the Eastside area of Seattle, members range from professional educators to aerospace engineers; from amateur observers to freelance photographers. If you have any interest in astronomy or space, we heartily welcome you, to join us, and share in the excitement of discovery, and wonder of exploring, our amazing universe.

- Judy Mason, 2003
Society Officers:

President:  Tom Gwilym
Vice President:  Paula Clark

Secretary & Newsletter Editor:  Judy Mason

Treasurer: 
Maia Pereyda
Special Events Coordinator:  Anita Eclissi
Directors of the Board:  Tommy Kraft, Gordon Hallett, Natalie Mercer

Click here to join or renew a membership

 

Our Contact Info:

Eastside Astronomical Society
P.O. Box 7482
Bellevue, WA 98008-7482

Email: info@eastsideastro.org

 

Honorary Donors:

Tomás Palmer
Paul Sherrod
Bob Robinson
Mary Harkness


Click here to learn more about BCC's Geer Planetarium

 

Eastside Astronomical Society Officers:

President: 
Tom Gw
ilym

Vice President: 

Paula Clark


Secretary &
Newsletter Editor:
Judy Mason

Treasurer: 

Maia Pereyda

Special Events Coordinator: 

Anita Eclissi

Directors of the Board:

Gordon Hallett
Tommy Kraft
Natalie Mercer

 

List of Prior Guest
Speakers:


Dr. Willard Geer
Dr. Johan Telkamp
Jim Rostirolla
Dr. Eckart Schmidt
Neil Beck
Dale Smith
David Taylor
Chuck Robertson
Dave Richards
Bryan Brewer
Dr. Woody Sullivan
Dr. Paul Hodge
Dr. Tom Green
Dr. Vern Smith
Dave Duncan
Dr. John P. Bradley
Dr. James Naiden
Dr. Paula Szkody
Dr. Phil Peters
Robert Lee Briggs
Dr. Don Brownlee
Dr. Erika Böhm Vitense
Dr. Karl-Heinz Böhm
Dr. George Parks
Dr. Paul Boynton
Dr. Bruce Margon
Dr. Conway Leovy
Dr. George Wallerstein
Brand Griffin
Dr. Jere Lord
Dr. John Johnson
Dr. Bruce Balick
Dr. Michael Fich
Dr. James Bardeen
Dr. Wick Haxton
Dr. George Lake
Tom Colwell
Herman Dittmer
Hugo Entrop
Joe Palmer
Dr. Thatcher Dean
John C. Stewart
Brian Hosey
Steve Mackey
Larry Shea
Dr. William Waller
Alan MacFarlane
Robert M. Cameronaa2d697c-1a2b-4b97-957c-fd07f8b87c7e SMS
Dr. Ana Larson
Dennis Regan
Dr. James A. Joki
Kirman Taylor
Martha Parker
Dr. Caty Pilachowski
John Dobson
Barbara Graff
Bill Borsheim
Lynn Caitlin
Dana Rush
Patti Terhune-Inverso
Scott McElhone
Ed Mannery
Tom Gwilym
Kevin MGrath
Tom Hager
Maxine Nagel
Wade Hasbrouck
Dr. Ron Hobbs
Dr. Charles Simonyi
Ted Cook
Donna Larsen
David Mason
Tommy Kraft

 

List of Prior Video Presentations:

Mission 22/Spacelab D1
The JPL Story
Shuttle Mission 61-C
Spatial Overture
Voyage to the Planets
Voyager II at Neptune
Shuttle Mission 32, LDEF
Astro Smiles
Reflections in Space
Universe by NASA
Star Trek Bloopers
Mercury and Mars
To Boldly Go (Voyagers)
Neptune
Gravity Waves
Nova: Countdown to the Invisible Universe
John Dobson at Table Mt.
The Dream Is Alive (IMAX)
Search for ET Life by ASP
Where...Rest of the Universe?
Eyes On Hawaiian Skies
World’s Great Observatories
Search for Black Holes
Hubble Telescope...from Orbit
The Aurora Explained
Black Holes &...Warped Spacetime
Man Who Colors Stars
The Box of Daylight
Many Galaxies...Little Time

The Planets
Mars the Red Planet
100 Yrs...Lowell Observatory
Quest for the Planet Mars
The Hubble Telescope
Contact: The Search for ETs
From Here to Infinity
3 Minutes to Impact
Natl. Geo.’s Asteroid
Project ASTRO
Chris Stubbs..WIMPs, MACHOs
B. Margon...Sloan Sky Survey
Last Eclipse of the Millenium
Black Hole, Ultimate Abyss
Heavens Above
Edge of Darkness
A Star Is Born
Alien Neighbors70cd6ed4-c8ed-4183-b630-9f18bd544397 SMS
Space Trek
Story of Lick Observatory
Planet Hunters
Edge of the Universe
Inside the Space Station
Understanding the Universe
Search for Alien Planets
Space: the Final Junkyard
B. Margon, Cosmic Recycling
Voyage to the Milky Way
The Three big Bangs
The Creation of the Universe
Sudbury Neutrino Observatory
Time Travel by Nova
The Aurora
Cosmic Voyage (IMAX)
Milky Way’s Invisible Light
Can We Reach The Stars?
Paranal: Eye on the Universe
95 Moons and Counting
Understanding Asteroids
Extreme Astronomy
The Dish
Looking for Earths
The Savage Sun
The Antarctic Eclipse
The Mystery of Chaco Canyon
Cosmic Voyage
Where are the aliens?
Cosmic Africa
Mars Rocks
Space Station 3D
Modern Marvels, The Observatories
Mars Reconnaissance Observer
Passport to Pluto
Black Sky
Roving Mars
New Horizons
Seeing in the Dark
The Constellations
Nebulas
Let's Explore the Universe
Five Years on Mars

 

List of Software
Reviewed:


Sky View
Sky Glow
Distant Suns
CCD Atlas of DSOs
500 Galaxies on CD ROM
Easy Cosmos
The Sky
Space Adventure

 

 

 


© 2005 Eastside Astronomical Society - All rights reserved