History of the Houston Astronomical Society

2014 Founder’s Day Event

On March 29, 2014, an event called the Founder’s Day Event was held at the Dark Site. The purpose of the event was several fold:

  • Recognize the developers of the site in the early 1980s
  • Dedicate an observatory in Bob Roger’s honor
  • Recognize all Observatory Chairmen
  • Recognize the Astronomical League Master Observers
  • Recognize the three astronomical discoveries that occurred at the Dark Site

Founders Day Plaque

The original developers of the site, Allen Parker and John Hiatt, attended the event and shared the stories of the development of the site. A bronze plaque giving a brief history of the site was unveiled.

Bob Rogers was the Observatory Chairman of the site from 2007 until his untimely death in 2013. He always wanted to do astrophotography, so an observatory designed for astrophotography was dedicated and called Bob’s Dream.

The guest speaker for the event was Dr. David Lambert, then McDonald Observatory Director. At the original dedication in 1983 the speaker was Dr. Harlan Smith, also McDonald Observatory Director at that time.

Additional recognitions were presented for the previous Observatory Chairmen, Astronomical League Master Observers, Larry Mitchell for Supernova 1994S, Ed Szczepanski for Comet S/1996B1 and Brian Cudnik for visually confirming a Leonid Meteor impact on the Moon.

All of these award plaques can be seen in the observatory Main Room or Warm Up Room.

A copy of the program for this event and the 1983 dedication can be found below.

The Precursors

The history of organized amateur astronomy in Houston, Texas, apparently began as early as about 1940. Walter Woodford (Woodie) Myers, a chemist at Shell Oil Company’s refinery on the Houston Ship Channel claimed to have been a member of that group which disbanded in 1947.[1] If so, that association would likely have included most if not all of the Houstonians who were active members of The Texas Observers as identified by Oscar E. Monnig in his Texas Observers’ Bulletin, including W. S. Athey, F. F. Fouts, Harry Hilliard, Graham Kendall, Joe J. King, Rev. Harold F. Palmer, Dr. Eugene M. Parker, and Greg Ring in addition to Myers. According to Myers, the name of this group was the Houston Amateur Astronomy Club.[2]

A second organization which flourished from the 1945 to 1952 was known as the Houston Astronomical Society. Three Rice University freshmen were apparently instrumental in getting this society started, Bill Korinek, Russell W. Hall and Nathan Miron. Mr. Vines, the curator of the Zoo museum, invited this second society to hold its meetings in a small room at the museum at Hermann Park Zoo. Meetings were held on the last Friday of the month at 7:30 PM.[3] Nathan Miron served the original secretary/treasurer of this association,[4] and later as president. Other presidents included W. D. Martin and Mrs. J. Murray. According to Bill Korinek, a Mrs. Schumann gave the club an 8-inch Newtonian reflecting telescope that her husband had built before he passed away. The club mounted that telescope on a stand near the zoo museum but no further record of this telescope exists. By 1948, the Rice students had lost interest and/or moved. No other record apparently exists of the membership of this society, which dissolved in the spring of 1952. Since Myers does not mention it in his later discussion of amateur astronomy in Houston, one might assume that he was not a member of this group.

The Beginnings

On September 15, 1955 a new group of 71 amateur astronomers elected Woodie Myers, their chief organizer, as the first president of a reconstituted Houston Amateur Astronomy Club (HAAC).[5] This third organization of Houston amateur astronomers can legitimately be thought of as the precursor to the present Houston Astronomical Society (HAS). The new HAAC met at the (old) Museum of Natural History, located at the Hermann Park Zoo. While the meeting location has changed over the years, the pattern of holding meetings at 8 p.m. on the first Friday of each month, except when holidays intervene was established at that time and has remained a thread of continuity over the years.

The organized activities of the HAAC included an amateur telescope making section, organized by University of Houston (UofH) students Edgar Cortes, Fred Garcia, and Leland Dolan. The ATM section proved popular and helped to grow the HAAC membership. To accommodate growing membership, the HAAC meeting site was shifted in 1957 to the Garden Center in Hermann Park. This soon proved inadequate. Museum Director Dr. Tom Pulley offered the HAAC the opportunity to meet in the Burke Baker planetarium and to conduct four free shows per year for the club, but only if the HAAC achieved recognition as an IRS Section 501(c)(3) organization. Planetarium Director Armand Yrmatigui formalized this offer in a presentation to the HAAC and the membership agreed to pursue the necessary changes. As an interim measure, the ATM Section began meeting in the Museum shops, but found that the limitations imposed by the operating hours of the Museum were impractical for the Section, and the HAAC withdrew from the proposition. In the meantime, a committee of HAAC members[6] pursued the necessary revisions of the organization’s by-laws and submitted an application for incorporation to the State of Texas. The necessary paperwork for the IRS exemption was never filed, so the Museum’s conditions could not have been met, but as later developments showed, the arrangement would likely not have met the club’s needs.[7]

The HAAC also engaged actively in some scientific work. For example, Edgar L. Cortes organized a joint HAAC/UofH Physics Department lunar eclipse ‘expedition’ to the university’s facility known as “Camp Wallace.” The WWII U. S. Naval air strip located east of Houston already housed a geomagnetic observatory for the Physics Department. Experiments conducted during a eclipse included crater contact timings, photographic recording of the eclipse, and multi-wavelength magnitude change measurements as the eclipse shadow crossed Mare Crisium. HAAC participants included Dewy Burkes, Edgar and Leslie L. Cortes, and Kirk C. Lee.[8] A meteor counting effort for the 17 November 1966 Leonid’s shower provided a memorable additional scientific effort. During that session, meteor counts exceeded 2,000 per hour and the sky turned gray white with meteors before the counting was stopped at about 2:00am.

Through the efforts of member Ken Thomson (then a graduate student in the UofH’s Physics Department) and his advisor, Professor Leon Graves, the HAAC began holding meetings ((year?)) on the University of Houston campus, in Room 118 of the Science Building. In 1969, meetings were moved to the new Science and Research Building #1. Since then, meetings have been held in Science and Research Building #1 Room 117.

During the first decade of its existence, the HAAC received considerable publicity. President Woodie Myers owned a 20-inch truck-mounted Cassegrain telescope, which he drove to shopping malls, country fairs, and even downtown Houston.[9] For twenty-five cents, anyone interested could purchase a "stunning" view of the Moon, or even a planet. The telescope helped generate interest in astronomy among the public while augmenting Myer’s income. Many early HAAC members joined as a direct result of their experience observing through the Myers telescope. Myers sold the truck and telescope around 1963. Another source of publicity during those early years was Bill Molinare's column, which appeared as part of the weather news, first daily, then weekly in The Houston Post. The column explained astronomy in words that the general public could understand, predicted satellite passages, and announced upcoming HAAC meetings. After completing his assignment for the Post, Molinare wrote a series of similar articles for The Houston Tribune.

Functioning as an Exempt Corporation

During the era of the HAAC, the club was urged to incorporate and seek exempt status as a private, not-for-profit association under the provisions of IRS Code Section 501(c)(3). President Woodie Myers accepted that challenge and organized a committee for that purpose. A new constitution and by-laws written for that purpose changed the name of the association to Houston Astronomical Society (HAS) as the association actually filed the appropriate papers for the first step, incorporation in the State of Texas. That incorporation was achieved on March 13, 1967, and was renewed in 1969.[10] However, the necessary follow up, filing of an application to the IRS for exempt status, was never carried through. Thus, the HAAC/HAS never achieved the exempt status that had originally prompted incorporation.

As the HAS later considered the acquisition of a remote site and construction of an observatory, the matter of achieving exempt status once again became essential. Legal review of existing by-laws revealed certain weaknesses in the language under the prevailing statutes. Furthermore, appropriate documentation of the previous incorporation could not be produced, and the attorney employed for this purpose (Elene Glassman) searched for and failed to find state records of the previous incorporation. Accordingly, this process involved reorganization of the Society's by-laws, and incorporation as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. In 1978 incorporation as a private, non-profit corporation was achieved, and in 1979, the Society's Board of Directors began to function as a legal entity.[11]

The presidents, secretaries, board members and key committee chairmen of the HAS are listed in an attached table.

Scientific and Technical Activities

In 1966, the HAAC reorganized as the Houston Astronomical Society (HAS). Also in 1966, Woodie Myers, retired as president and was succeeded by Ken Thomson. Before and during his tenure as president, Thomson emphasized the opportunities for amateurs to contribute to science, and participated in the last national attempt to organize amateur astronomers for scientific observations. During the following years, the Society engaged in many scientific activities, contributing to groups such as the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO), and the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA). These contributions continue to this day, with members participating in organized grazing occultation trips, and other projects.

No story of the early years of the HAS would be complete without mentioning the interrelationship between the HAAC/HAS, and the Lamar High School Astronomy Club (LAC). The LAC was comprised of active teenage astronomers, who made both visual and photographic observations, and on occasions, even stayed up all night counting meteors. Through the generosity of a business, owned by the family of Allan Parker (an LAC and later HAS member), the Lamar Observatory was built along Farm Road 529, near Texas Highway 6. In the late Fifties and the Sixties, the area still had dark skies. The LAC was not part of the HAAC/HAS, though many (but not all) LAC members were also HAAC/HAS members,[12] and since HAAC/HAS had no observatory of its own, the LAC allowed HAAC/HAS to use their observatory one Saturday per month.

From the 1960s onward, efforts were made in the HAAC, and later in the HAS, to encourage member participation in the science of astronomy. Specific observational opportunities like the lunar eclipse and Leonid shower described above offered one approach to the problem of encouraging scientific participation. Another such approach occurred with the appointment of an observing committee early in the 1970s. The observing committee created a series of observing projects, each designed to illustrate or build a specific observational skill, for example magnitude estimation. One such project was to observe the occultation of the Pleiades by the Moon in February 1971 and time the disappearance of individual stars. Participation in the event at the Lamar Observatory was excellent in spite of sub-freezing weather, and several members expressed pleasure in learning the observing techniques involved in the stop-watch method of timing occultations. Other observing projects written by various committee members included making magnitude estimates, learning the properties of various types of eyepieces, observing Messier Objects, polar alignment techniques, observing an X-ray star-AM Herculis, Jupiter, Perseus-Algol and the Double Clusters, open star clusters, dwarf novae, etc.

By January, 1982, when Art Ciampi became president, the Society's membership had grown to 211. Various Special Interest Groups (SIGs) were formed by members sharing common interests in certain facets of astronomy. Over the years, SIGs have come and gone. These have included the Lunar & Planetary, Astrophotography, Variable Stars, Occultations & Grazes, Radio Astronomy, Solar, Comets and the Advanced SIG. Some (like the Advanced SIG) held formal meetings, while others (like the Occultation & Grazes SIG) met in the field when there was a graze, or other interesting occultation to observe.

As the membership has grown and both observing techniques and equipment have become more sophisticated, several members of the association have made noteworthy astronomical contributions through individual discoveries. In addition to Dennis Milon’s discovery of a comet (see endnote 11), the following discoveries by HAS members should be noted. Here, in the words of the discoverers themselves, are their statements of their achievements:

1. Ed Szczepanski: “The comet discovery date was January 27, 1996, and the official designation is C/1996B1 (Szczepanski).”[13]

2. Larry Mitchell: “Leland: I discovered SN 1994S at the Columbus site on June 4th using my 24 inch telescope. It was confirmed by Brian Skiff and resulted in a new distance modulus for that galaxy. It was once thought to be a member of the Virgo group, but it is now known to be about twice as far as previously thought, and is in fact a background galaxy to the group. Discovery magnitude was VI4.5.My 15 minutes of fame...”[14]

3. Barbara Wilson: “Leland I wrote the story for Guildstar about a year ago. Essentially, I was a involved with the discovery of a new globular cluster: IC1257. I contacted professional astronomers who immediately imaged the globular with the Palomar 200 inch. They did the HR diagram on it and agreed that it was a globular, and the discovery was announced in the Astronomical Journal (2/97) where I was a co-author of the discovery.[15]

These are significant individual achievements that, cumulatively, indicate the HAS membership is engaging in scientific efforts characteristic of amateur astronomers in the best sense of that term.

As mentioned elsewhere, in 1979 the HAS hosted the Southwest Regional convention of the Astronomical League (AL). This started a long-time relationship between the HAS and the AL. The Astronomical League Correspondent, or ALCOR, has been Steve Goldberg since the beginning of the relationship. One of the benefits of membership of the AL is the different observing programs. These programs are broken down several different ways: experience level and object type. The experience level goes from the novice to an advanced observer. There is even a class for 10 years of age and younger called the Sky Puppy. The object types can be deep sky, solar system, or man-made objects orbiting the earth. In the early 1980s, as the HAS membership began to grow, several members recognized the need for a special effort to orient new members who lacked certain fundamental astronomical knowledge, especially where that lack of knowledge left them ill prepared to enjoy the benefits of using their telescopes to enjoy the night skies. At the time, the range of subjects covered by the AL Observe program was severely limited, and the observe booklets did little if anything to bridge the beginner’s gap. In fact, the only real AL observing program at the time was the Messier Club, a recognition for anyone who documented observing most or all of the Messier Catalogue of Deep Sky Objects.

In 1982, Lee Eakins and others called attention to this problem and proposed the initiation of a second HAS meeting each month devoted to training these novices. The idea was to provide basic information about astronomy, telescopes, and the night sky to facilitate further self-training. Arrangements were made for a second room to be available an hour before the main meeting each month for a Novice class. The Novice program was well received and has continued since that time.

In the 1990’s time frame Amelia Goldberg and Barbara Wilson conducted the Novice program that focused on observing specific objects. At that time, A Goldberg and Wilson realized that the AL observing programs assumed that participants had these basic skills and knowledge; there was really nothing in the AL Observe booklets that introduced these basic skills for the beginning or Novice astronomer. It was at this time that they decided to create another program called “The Universe Sampler”. Later, the Universe Sampler book was written by Amelia Goldberg and submitted to the AL as one of its observing programs. All the other programs in the AL focused on one type of object, or a specific catalog like the Messier or Herschel catalogs. As the name implies, this program is a “sampler” of the different kinds of objects that can be observed. Some of the objects in this program are: nebulae, planets, variable stars, galaxies, the Sun and the Moon. The book for this program contains plenty of information for the novice. There are explanations for right ascension and declination, how to find Polaris, measuring degrees between objects using your hands, variable stars, and more. Like the other AL observing programs, there is a list of objects to be observed and logged. As of 2011, over 100 certificates and pins have been awarded to Astronomical League members. And the book has been used in classrooms as a text book for beginning astronomers.

During Lee Cain's tenure as HAS president, several new Special Interest Groups (SIGs) were formed. To fulfill the needs of the large membership, groups dedicated to advanced subjects, Astrophotography and Computer SIGs were organized. Some of the earlier Special Interest Groups still met irregularly, but the Society set up a formalized SIG structure along with financial assistance for the future. Additional groups dedicated to Radio Telescopes, Amateur Telescope Making, Advanced Astro-imaging and Visual Astronomy formed later with projects and speakers to involve all interested members.

The HAS Telescopes and Observatory

Use of the Lamar Observatory continued until June of 1974, when the city's growth and light pollution rendered that observatory unsuitable for deep-sky observing. The Society was allowed use of the W.W. Butler Ranch (located near New Ulm, 80 miles west of Houston) for its monthly field trips. Observing conditions at the ranch were excellent and use continued until mid-1980, when the Society would finally have an observing facility of its own.

In 1973, a telescope-making committee was formed to build a high-quality photo-visual telescope for the Society. More than 15 members, led by Vice President, Fred Garcia, and Telescope Committee chairman Art Ciampi, completed the superb 12-1/2", f/5 Newtonian early in 1979.[16] While the telescope was still under construction, in 1976, the Society made the decision to build an observatory at a suitable remote site. It was also in 1979, that the Society hosted a successful annual meeting of the Southwest Region of the Astronomical League.

As part of the 1979 activities, the Observatory Committee was formed, under the leadership of Alan Parker. Committee members Parker, John Hiatt, Larry Wadle and Tom Williams were aided in early stages of design and site selection by John Arnold, Art Ciampi, Fred Garcia, Bill Murrell and others. A formal site evaluation study conducted by Larry Wadle indicated that a site located west of Houston in Colorado County, Texas, would probably enjoy dark skies for at least 20 years. Armed with this knowledge, Parker was able to establish a relationship with Judge Walter Fondren III, and secure a perpetual use of 18.01 acres of wooded land from Doris Ledwidge Fondren. The actual “Deed of Gift” was consummated on April 29, 1980, showing HAS as the recipient. The deed excludes all mineral rights and is subject only to the continued use of the site as an astronomical observatory as documented in annual reports under oath that the site is being used for astronomical purposes.[17] The property, about 10 miles southwest of Columbus, remains an ideal observatory site for this part of Texas. Clearing of the site and fund-raising began in earnest at this time. The Durwood Greene Construction Company of Stafford, Texas, provided the bulldozer to clear the land. Many months of activity at the site were necessary to clear and fence the land before actual observatory construction could begin.

Groundbreaking ceremonies held at the HAS Observatory site in June, 1980, spurred the donation of $10,000 from the Fondren family, as well as contributions by Society members totaling over $15,500. Key dates in the progress of the project include the pouring of 22 observing pads in July, 1980, and extension of electrical power to the pads in September of that year. The slab for the Observatory building materialized in June, 1981, with the brick walls completed in November, 1981. A steel roll-off roof weighing several tons was fabricated and installed by Parker Brothers Construction Company as a key element of the building. A great deal of experimentation with the windup drum and cable operating system was necessary to achieve smooth functioning of the roof opening and closing.

After several years of dedicated work by especially Alan Parker and John Hiatt, the Observatory building stood fully completed as more than 100 persons turned out for dedication of the building on October 15,1983. Dr. Harlan Smith, Director of the University of Texas's McDonald Observatory and chairman of the Astronomy Department, honored the society by serving as the dedication speaker. The Observatory hosted its first Open House on March 10, 1984. The Observatory building contained three telescopes: a 14" Celestron SCT, a 12-1/2" Astrola Newtonian (on permanent loan from the U. of H.), and the Society-built 12-1/2" f/5 Newtonian, all of which were available to all HAS members. Because of the sophisticated nature of the Observatory and equipment, it was found necessary to train members in the proper use of the facilities. The first Site Orientation class was held in May, 1984.

Improvements continued at the HAS Observatory Site during President Ciampi's tenure, An additional contribution of $7,000 from the Fondren Foundation (in June of 1984), enabled construction of roads, a water well, and restroom facilities. Also, a grant from Exxon (attained through Peter Nolan) provided two telescopes to be used as part of a loaner program. Over the years, the number of loaner scopes has grown, thanks to various contributions. Peter Nolan became president in 1985, and it was during his first term (at the September 6, 1985 meeting) that the Society celebrated its 30th anniversary. At that meeting, a time capsule was filled, and on October 19, 1985, the capsule was buried at the Observatory site during the annual picnic. This capsule was opened on the Society's 50th anniversary, in September, 2005. A grant of $5,000 by the Faith Foundation in January, 1986 allowed the Observatory Committee to complete larger, more modern restroom facilities at the Observatory site.

At the general membership meeting on July 10, 1987, more than $1,075 was collected from members toward additional observing pads at the site. The 16 new pads were poured during a week of work at the site in October, 1987. Four large picnic tables were constructed, along with the completion of the septic system for the new restrooms. The warm-up room was begun, remodeling a small building donated by Allan Parker.

In September of 2006, a second, larger, time capsule was buried. The contents in the capsule included everything from the first time capsule plus more recent astronomical news and articles, and items donated by members. This capsule is to be open in 2030 on the club’s 75th anniversary. This capsule is buried in the same place as the first, under the south window of the observatory. The marker from the first capsule is placed on the east side of the observatory building.

Internal Communication

From the earliest days of the HAAC, the club/society Secretary shouldered the burden of maintaining an address list for the membership. That list would produce mailing labels on a monthly basis to support mailing of postcard announcements to the membership. Monthly postcards would announce the date and time of meetings, and any unusual business to be conducted in addition to the name and topic for the main speaker for the evening. The mailing of post cards continued to at least 2012 for a limited number of members.

In the early 1980s, HAS member John Chauvin decided enough activity of astronomical interest (supernova and comet discoveries, etc. as well as HAS activities) existed to merit the creation of an automatic telephone messaging system. Chauvin started the service, which he dubbed STARLINE and operated it from his home for a number of years with many HAS members expressing their gratitude to Chauvin for this service. The service was finally terminated when other means of communication of events more efficiently emerged with the advent of the Internet (see below)

Then Chauvin took an additional step in improving internal communications for the membership. In 1982, he suggested to the HAS board that the society should have a monthly newsletter, and volunteered to edit some pilot issues to determine whether there was sufficient interest to merit the expense. A few members agreed to write articles for the newsletter periodically, so the Board agreed to the experiment. The first issue of GUIDESTAR, Volume 1, Number 1 edited and published by Chauvin, appeared in February, 1983. By August 1984, there was agreement among various astronomical organizations in the Houston metropolitan area including the HAS to publish a consolidated newsletter, dubbed OBSERVER’S DIGEST which served all the local societies as well as the HAS for a period of time. However, interest in preparing materials for the OBSERVERS DIGEST in other organizations lagged, and within a few months the involved organizations agreed to terminate the experiment. The GUIDESTAR has continued since that time as the primary means of society communication to HAS members. In July, 1991, Bill Pellerin took over the duties of the Guidestar Editor. It was decided in the mid 2000’s to not publish a printed copy and mail it to the members, but have it available on the HAS web page.. This was not based strictly on the cost, as web publication allowed Pellerin to expand the amount of content and to use color throughout the Guidestar. In 2012, Pellerin won the Astronomical League’s Mable Sterns Award for best organization’s newsletter.

When the internet and web pages started to appear in the early 1990’s Steve Goldberg developed the first web page for the HAS. It was hosted by Rice University’s Space Physics and Astronomy department. At that time Goldberg wrote the HTML for the web page. Later, he started using the Netscape Composer to build the web page. Some of the features he had on the web page were a “Site of the Week” and an audio recording of what’s happening in the sky for that week. In 2004 he turned over the web master duties to Bob Rogers, who added his own “flavor” to the web page. Rogers was later elected to Observatory Chairman and that took most of his time. He relinquished the web master duties to Kay McCallum, who put her own “flavor” on the page. In 2011, Jeffrey McLaughlin took the web master duties and made the 4th flavor of the web presence for HAS. Among the features he added was the ability to pay dues online via PayPal. Because of the web presence the HAS has gained membership and expanded our Outreach activities

Outreach

In 1980, under President S. Goldberg, the Society continued to expand its relationships with other astronomical organizations involved in astronomy, and in May of that year, hosted the national spring meeting of the American Association of Variable Star Observers. This meeting was attended by nearly 100 AAVSO members from all over the U.S. It was also during Goldberg's term, that the HAS (in conjunction with Rice University and other local groups) sponsored the first Annual Astronomy Day, held on the Rice University campus in May,1981. Over the years, Astronomy Day has been held at various locations, including shopping malls (to increase public exposure to astronomy), and more recently at a "real" observatory. In 1994, when Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collided with Jupiter, Astronomy Day was held at the George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park. In the years since, Astronomy Day has been held at this observatory, which features a research-grade 36" telescope, and nighttime skies superior to those inside Houston. It should be pointed out that Astronomy Day activities involve many other groups besides the HAS. Other participants include not only Rice University, but also other area colleges, NASA, the Museum of Natural Science, along with the Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society, the North Houston Astronomy Club and the Fort Bend Astronomy Club.

For amateur astronomers, 1986 was the year of Comet Halley. Houston Astronomical Society, along with other local societies and the Museum of Natural Science, began a series of programs to better inform the public about the famous comet. These included mall displays, lectures and public star parties at Brazos Bend State Park. As part of the celebration of the return of Comet Halley, Tessie Nolan designed and had printed “Halleyday” greeting cards in several clever and very unique designs based on the general shape of a comet. Those cards were packaged and sold as an HAS fund raising effort.

Largely due to the public awareness about Halley's Comet, the Society grew to over 400 members during Nolan's term. Looking toward the future of the Society, Nolan initiated the Long-Range Planning Committee, appointing vice president Lee Cain as chairman. The permanent ad hoc committee, to be chaired by the Society vice president, was to survey members annually and anticipate future needs of the Society.

To bring together representatives of all area astronomical organizations into a cohesive group, the Metro Council was initiated during Nolan's tenure. Lee Cain became president of our Society in 1987. Member Larry Wadle, who had spent three years in Guildford, England, in 1986 suggested a twinning of HAS with the Guildford Astronomical Society. Since both societies were founded in 1955, and share common profiles and interests, the twinning was approved. The Guildford Society drew up the twinning charter and it was brought to Houston by Brian States. Lee Cain and Brian States signed the charter at our general membership meeting on June 5, 1987. The charter now hangs in the HAS Observatory building. The 6 hour (90 degree longitude difference between our cities) means that joint cooperative observing projects will offer opportunities not usually available to either Society.

The Texas Star Party

Another activity in which the HAS participates is the Texas Star Party (TSP), an annual gathering of amateurs from around the world for a week of astronomy. TSP first started in 1979 as a camp-out at the Davis Mountains State Park near Ft. Davis, Texas. In 1982 it moved to the Prude Ranch, just one mile up the road from the state park, and twelve miles from McDonald Observatory. Members of the HAS have participated in one way or another since 1983. The TSP is run by volunteers, mostly from Texas and Oklahoma. The HAS volunteers have helped out in the general organization of the TSP, handling housing assignments, running of the registration desk, in charge of the vendors and their displays, organizing the daytime speaker schedule as well as acquiring the nighttime invited speakers. Members have also helped as volunteers by moderating the afternoon talks, in charge of the ATM (amateur telescope makers) awards and helped with “blackout” of the Ranch. Several HAS members serve on the Board of Directors of the Texas Star Party.

Conclusions and comments on authorship

This document was compiled from a series of previous “histories” that had accumulated over many years. The earliest of these sources, two dittoed pages labeled “History of the Houston Astronomical Society” and dated 10/12/79, was likely compiled from earlier documents that are no longer in the files. We seem to recall that these consisted of several pages of typescript on onionskin paper and were likely prepared by Leland Dolan. This was later reproduced for inclusion in a membership orientation package as a second version exists that is labeled “Attachment 1.” In that version, the final paragraph declares “This is an ‘evergreen’ history, and it would be inappropriate to speculate too extensively on the content of the next chapters. However, prospects appear bright, with likely availability of the land for an excellent observatory site, and a growing relationship with Rice University to strengthen the development of the project. We look forward to an exciting year in 1980.”

Subsequent updated versions of this document have collected over the years, as the membership handbook or orientation package was updated, but they are undated and unsigned, and therefore constitute a rather weak source. Nevertheless, these ‘histories’ represent the only thread of continuity that exists for any historian who attempts to extend and elaborate this history. Fred Garcia added helpful notes to one such file and provided those to us in early 2012. All of these prior efforts could be considered chronologies rather than histories in that they consist of additions in chronological order to the basic 1979 documents. One difficulty that arises in preparing a history from such a chronology is that it becomes very difficult for the historian to reconstruct the series of events that occur surrounding any one topic, for example the details regarding the evolution of the HAS observatory.

Another difficulty that arises from the use of a chronology is that they tend to be cluttered with names of individuals as an effort is made to ‘document fully’ who was responsible for each development. As prose, such documents are not always significant or edifying from a reader’s perspective. That issue of individual involvement can be better dealt with by careful construction of tables of the names of officers and responsible committee chairmen as an attachment. We have done that here with the help of tables compiled from the records of Larry Wadle, who maintained these records for a number of years. ((Note however that the data are largely incomplete for the year 1996 and help is needed for this year.))

Furthermore, such an “evergreen” chronology frequently lacks the perspective of what was important during the period as some matters that prove in retrospect to be important don’t rise to that level in the minds of a contemporary chronologist. As examples that might be cited here of such matters in the case of the HAS, consider the “pre-history” of the organization, or perhaps the important matter of member communication. One final problem with the collected chronologies of the HAS has been the failure to document sources or the authors for the information presented. Thus, there is literally no way of validating the information presented in the chronology in a historical sense.

Therefore, when Gordon Houston requested that we assemble what we could as a proper HAS history and an archive of available papers, we agreed and prepared this dated, documented and signed ‘history’ in that light. We have deviated from the previous chronological perspective to organize and document this history by subject categories, a more useable format from our personal perspectives. Wherever possible, we have attempted to preserve the words of earlier documents by cutting and pasting them while reorganizing the information to a more readable form. Future historians may chose a different approach, but at least the sources are now documented and gathered in one place.

This document is incomplete in many respects, but time constraints have prevented our follow-up to complete it even to our own satisfaction. The missing information is in some cases noted in the document in (( )). We recommend that the society by-laws be amended to incorporate a formal position of Historian/Archivist as a separate responsibility from those of other officers.

Respectfully submitted,

Thomas R. Williams, Stephen I. Goldberg, and Larry C. Wadle

05 August 2012
 

HAS Officers and Committee Chairs

  Inclusive Years
Presidents  
Woodie Myers 1955-1966
Ken Thomson 1966-1977
Dennis Zwicky 1978
Tom Williams 1979
Steve Goldberg 1980-1981
Art Ciampi 1982-1984
Peter Nolan 1985-1986
Lee Cain 1987-1988
John Chauvin 1989-1990
Scott Mitchell 1991-1992
Matt Delevoryas 1993-1994
Margaret Nuñez 1995
Allen Gilchrist 1996-1997
Don Pearce 1998-2000
Kirk Kendrick 2001-2003
Steve Sartor 2004-2006
Bill Leach 2007-2009
Ken Miller 2010-2011
Gordon Houston 2012
Bill Pellerin 2013, 2014
Rene Scandone Gedaly 2015, 2016, 2017
   
Vice-Presidents  
Fred Garcia 1966?-1977; 1983-1984
Norm Jones 1978
Lee Eakins 1979-1980
John Hiatt 1981-1982
Lee Cain 1985-1986
John Chauvin 1987-1988
Raul Peña 1989
Scott Mitchell 1990
Matt Delevoryas 1991-1992
Marg Nuñez 1993-1994
Allen Gilchrist 1995
  1996
Don Pearce 1997
Kirk Kendrick 1998-1999
Barbara Wilson 2000
Bill Leach 2001-2006
Ken Miller 2007-2009
Gordon Houston 2010-2011
Bill Pellerin 2012
Mike Edstrom, Rene S Gedaly 2013
Rene S Gedaly 2014
John Haynes 2015
Ed Fraini 2016
Don Selle 2017
   
   
Secretaries  
Wanda McNitzky 1959?-1976?
Bob Bailey 1977
Linda Dodge 1978-1979
Art Ciampi 1980-1981
Bill Yeates 1982
Amelia Parker 1983
Amelia Soileau 1984
Amelia Goldberg 1985
Linda Kaufman 1986
Larry Wadle 1987
John Eilert 1988
Allen Gilchrist 1989-1990
Paula Drake 1991
Tammy Arnold 1992
John Eilert 1993
Cooper Walls 1994
Steve Simpson 1995
  1996
Matt Delevoryas 1997, 1999-2000
Bill Leach 2000
Art Ciampi 2001
Brian Cudnik 2002-2005
Doug McCormick 2006-2009
Gitte Barchas, Rene S Gedaly 2010
Rene S Gedaly 2011
Doug McCormick 2012
Bill Flanagan 2013, 2014, 2015
Mark Holdsworth 2016
Rob Morehead 2017
   
Treasurers  
Randy Pollard 1978-1980
Bob Garza 1981-1983
Tessie Nolan 1984-1986
Debbie Moran 1987-1988
Amelia Goldberg 1989-1990
Ed Preston 1991-1992?
John Krezinski 1993-1994
Jose Sancho 1995-1997
  1996-1997
Bill Flanagan 1998-1999
Gene Horr 2000
Debbie Moran 2001-2003
Bill Flanagan 2004-2009
Alan Grissom 2010
Warren Murdoch 2011-2012
Don Selle 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016
Jessica Kingsley 2017
   
   
   
   
Board Members (Not including Officers)  
Tom Arnold 1992
Carl Baltz 1990
Greg Barolak 2011-2012
John Blubaugh 1998
Lee Cain 1989
John Chauvin 1986; 1991-1993
Art Ciampi 1978-1979; 1985-1986
Brian Cudnik 2007-
Matt Delevoryas 1987; 1989-1990
Linda Dodge 1978
George Dolson 2001
Ken Drake 1991
Mike Dye 1991-1993; 1999-2000
Lee Eakins 1982
Mike Edstrom 2012
John Eilert 1994
Tom Fox 1999
Bill Flanagan 1997; 2000-2003; 2010-2011
Kent Francis 2005
Walt Frerck 1988-1989?
Fred Garcia 1993
Allen Gilchrist 1991; 2006-2007
Steve Goldberg 1984; 1994-1995; 1997:1998; 2004-2009
Alan Grissom 2009
John Hiatt 1979; 1983; 1997
Mike Holdsworth 2012
Clayton Jeter 2008-
Ken Kaufman 1990
Kirk Kendrick 1988; 1991?; 1993
Dana Lambert 1995; 1997
Bill Leach 1999
Howard Leverenz 1994?-1995; 2000-2003
Jay Levy 1995; 1997-2005; 2010
Doug McCormick 2009
Bernie Meisner 1987
Christopher Mendell 2004; 2011
Ken Miller 2005-2006
John Missavage 2007-2011
Larry Mitchell 1992
Scott Mitchell 1993
Bill Molinare 1994; 1999
Debbie Moran 1993; 2000
Dan Morrell 1979-1982
Bill Murrell 1980
Peter Nolan 1983-1984; 1987
Tessie Nolan 2004
Richard Nugent 1995
Alan Parker 1979-1987
Don Pearce 1989-1991; 1993; 2004-2009
Bill Pellerin 1999
Raul Peña 1987-1988
Steve Preston 1985-1986
Mike Rao  
Ana Reyes 1992
Logan Rimes 1985-1986
Rogers, Bob 2006-
Jerry Sadler 1992
Steve Sartor 2002-2003
Don Stockbauer 1989?-1990
Paul Sventek 1984-1985
Ken Thomson 1978
Bram Weisman 2007-2008; 2010-2011
Richard Wilbourn 1994
Tom Williams 1978; 1993
Barbara Wilson 1988-1990
Warren Wundt 1998; 2000
Bill Yeates 1981?
Dennis Zwicky 1981-1985; 1988
   
   
Activities Committee  
Bill Molinare 1980-1981; 1985; 1992
John Chauvin 1982-1983
Steve Preston 1984
Mary Lockwood 1986-1987
Scott Mitchell 1988-1989
Ed Preston 1990
John Adams 1991
   
   
Audit Committee  
Bob Garza 1981
Frank Harvey 1982-1984; 1986-1988
Judith Salathiel 1984
Frank Harvey 1985-1987
Randy Pollard 1988-1990
Ed Szczepanski 1991-1992
Scott Mitchell 1993; 1997; 2011-2012
Steve Goldberg 1994-1995
Mike Gumier 1998
Orv Wiens 1999
Gary Hivko 2000-2001
Matt Delevoryas 2002-2003
Don Selle 2005
Tom Blocker 2006-2010
   
Education  
Mary Lockwood 1991-1992
Debbie Moran 1993-1995; 1997; 2012
  1996
James Benthall 1998
Richard Nugent 2000-2005; 2007-2011
Susan Kennedy 2006
   
   
Field Trip/Observing  
Larry Wald ?
Bill Murrell 1980
Norm Jones 1981
Phil Bradley 1982
Paul Sventek 1983-1985
Ken Drake 1986-1988; 1998-2000
Don Pearce 1989; 1993
Charles Botkin 1990
Tom Arnold 1991-1992
Richard Nugent 1994-1995
  1996
Mike Dye 1997
Steve Grubbs 2001-2002
Ken Miller 2003-2005
Clayton Jeter 2006
George Stradley 2007-2008
Mike Edstrom 2009-2010
Siobhan Saragusa – Check with Gordon. She withdrew for 2012. 2011-2012
Don Selle/Mike Edstrom 2012
   
   
Film  
Steve Newton 1981
   
   
Guidestar Editor  
John Chauvin 1983-1987
Bill Pellerin 1988?-
   
   
Membership  
Steve Fast 2012
   
Novice  
Lee Eakins 1981-1982
Peter Nolan 1983
Bobby Williams 1984-1985
Bernie Meisner 1986
Kirk Kendrick 1987; 1992-1993
Don Pearce 1988
Ken Drake 1989; 1991
Larry Mitchell 1990
Amelia Goldberg/Barbara Wilson 1994-1995
  1996
Amelia Goldberg/Scott Mitchell 1997-1998
Susan Spore/Jose Sancho 1999
John Garza III 2000
Warren Wundt 2001
George Stradley 2002-2006
Justin McCollum 2007-2012
   
Observatory  
Alan Parker 1981?-1985
Don Oliver 1986
John Hiatt 1987-1989
Mike Dye 1990-2005
Kirk Kendrick 2006
Bob Rogers 2007-2012
   
Program  
Art Ciampi 1980
Dennis Zwicky 1981
Bill Reed 1982
Phil Bradley 1983-1984
Don Stockbauer 1985
Tim Younts 1986-1988
Eric Wood 1989
Lee Cain 1990
Paula Drake 1991
Don Pearce 1992; 2002; 2006-2007
Tom Williams 1993
Scott Mitchell 1994?-1995; 1999; 2001-2002
  1996
Ken Drake 1997
John Chauvin 1998
Marg Nuñez 2000
John Blubaugh 2003-2005
Brian Cudnik 2008-2012
   
Publicity  
Larry Wadle 1975-1976
Brent Sharrow 1980
Sara Marsden 1981
Joel Breazeale 1982-1983
Laurel Preston 1984
Steve Preston 1985
Lee Nelson 1986
Barbara Wilson 1987
Dee Coup 1988
Laura Graves 1989-1990
Art Rabeau 1991
Allen Gillchrist 1992
John Chauvin 1993
Ralph Overturf 1994
Judy Palmer 1995
  1996
Marg Nuñez 1997-1998
Michael Cubstead 1999
Mark Egan 2000
Brian Cudnik 2001
Warren Wundt 2002
Joe Khalaf 2003-2005
John Missavage 2006-2011
Mike Rao 2012
   
   
   
Telescope  
Art Ciampi 1981
Fred Garcia 1982; 1993
John Busch 1983-1985; 1990-1991
Don Pearce 1986
Bobby Williams 1987
Buster Wilson 1988
Karl Baltz 1989
Dan Odom 1992?
Ken Drake 1994-1995
  1996
Clayton Jeter 1997-1999; 2003-2004
Darin Palmer 2000-2002
Mike Hamlin 2005-2006
Bram Weisman/Paul McCallum/Kay McCallum 2007-2008
Bram Weisman 2009-2010
John Haynes 2011-2012
   
Welcoming  
John Eilert/Phoenicia Eilert 1995
  1996
Susan Spore 1997-1998
Marg Nuñez 1999; 2001
Bill Leach 2000
Marg Nuñez/Hannah Lang 2002-2003
Hannah Lang/Susan Kennedy 2004-2005
Darlene Sartor 2006
Lee Lankford 2007
  2008
Susan Bruneni 2009
Rene Gedaly 2010
Katy Keene 2011-2012
   

 


 

Endnotes

[1] Freelander, Doug. “Astronomy club is watching universe.” The Houston Post. Houston, Texas; 1962 May 13; 1: 20.

[2] Ibid., These names of Houston amateur astronomers were extracted from The Texas Observers’ Bulletin, Oscar E. Monnig, Editor, a complete set of which exists in the archives of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

[3] Korinek, Bill, telephone conversation with Tom Williams, 2012 August 12.

[4] Miron, Nathan. “Houston Amateurs Organize.” Sky and Telescope, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Sky Publishing; 1945 Jul(45):. 7.

[5] Anon. “Houston, Tex.” Sky and Telescope. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Sky Publishing; 1956 Mar: 215

[6] The committee included Ely Day, A. B. Clyde Marshall, Fred Garcia, Leland Dolan, Bill Molinare, and Ken Thomson.

[7] A later check of the State of Texas corporation files by Houston attorney Eileen Glassman failed to locate the incorporation documents and it is unclear that the HAAC was ever truly incorporated. In any event, the subsequent reorganization and name change would likely have invalidated the earlier effort.

[8] The joint effort was described in Sky and Telescope, March 1965.((need a cleaner reference with title and page))

[9] Freelander, Doug, op. cit., note 1.

[10] The name of the association was actually changed in this process to Houston Astronomical Societey. The incorporators were Woodie W. Myers, Kenneth Thomson, Michael McCants, and Mrs. Hazel Holloman. The State charter number was 232988 for this initial incorporation. This incorporation was recertified in May, 1969 but subsequent paperwork required to maintain the active status of the corporation was apparently never filed and corporate status apparently expired.

[11] The second incorporation was certified on May 9, 1978; the charter number for this second incorporation was 434203. Incorporators were Kenneth Thomson, Frederick Garcia and Thomas R. Williams. Achievement of IRS exempt status was not verified until January 25, 1979.

[12] One noteworthy LAC member, Dennis Milon, went on to work at an observatory in Arizona, and later as a photographer for Sky & Telescope. Unfortunately, illness caused early retirement and his premature death. Milon’s greatest hour was as co-discoverer of Comet Kobayashi-Berger-Milon (1975h). Another noteworthy Lamar Astronomy Club alumnus, Mike McCants, who now lives in Austin, did computer programming for astronomical applications including creation of a fine satellite-tracking program. McCants is also active in the fight against light pollution.

[13] Szczepanski, Edward (<eszczepanski@fulbright.com>). Re: HAS History update for Membership Package . E-mail to: Leland A. Dolan (ladolan@hal-pc.org). 1999 May 3.

[14] Mitchell, Larry (<larrymit@ix.netcom.com>). Re: History in Membership Package. E-mail to: Leland A. Dolan (ladolan@hal-pc.org). 1999 May 22.

[15] Wilson, Barbara (bwiison2@ix.netcom.com ). Re: Information for updating HAS history? E-mail to: Leland A. Dolan (ladolan@hal-pc.org).

[16] Williams,Thomas R. and Ciampi, Art. “The large reflector of a Texas society.” Sky & Telescope. 1981 Mar; 61(3):256.

[17] The deed was filed for recording by Alan Parker on 9 May 1980 and may be found in the Colorado County Records of Deeds, Volume 410, page 244.

HAS Online Store

Get Connected!

HAS has begun using RainedOut, a text message service, to communicate late-breaking news about events. Click here to learn more and subscribe!

Night Sky Network