It was a dark and stormy night on one of the last days of 1979, when I heard a public service announcement on WVIA. It said that the Lackawanna Astronomical Society was holding its meeting in January 1980 in the Community Room at Viewmont Mall. I went to this meeting and I have been at every regular meeting of the Society since then. In 39 years, I have not missed even a single regular monthly meeting of the Club. There have been a few meetings that were cancelled, but they don’t count.
The next meeting was at Everhart Museum where it was normally held. There I got sidetracked talking with Claude Fanucci and looking at the telescopes he had brought. It wasn’t until the March 1980 meeting that I actually joined the LAS. Eight months later, November 1980, I was elected President.
I read somewhere, in the LAS Constitution or By-Laws that we had something called an Executive Committee Meeting a half hour before each meeting. I remember standing outside the museum wondering when the other officers would show up. I got past that pretty quickly. I did do two things. Board meetings seemed to be non-existent. I thought having them was a good idea so I started them up and they have continued ever since. I also raised the dues. They were just five dollars a year then. I, through the Board, raised them to (if I remember right) seven dollars.
Construction on the LAS observatory began before my time. When I arrived, the building no floor and no door. The pier was already installed and conduits ran over to it to provide electricity eventually. I was there, along with John Sabia and Bill Mecca, when the cement mixer truck arrived and the floor was poured over, I’m pretty sure, a bed of gravel. Bill Mecca, at the time, was in the business of masonry and concrete work so he knew his stuff. Bill’s work was also important in laying the cinder blocks when putting up the building itself. It’s said, that by just looking at the blocks, you can kind of tell which ones were laid by Bill and which were laid by others! After a time, John Sabia, Bob Malininsky, and I installed the metal door. We have electricity by hooking up to the Classroom Building. John Sabia, another club member who was around for just a short time, and I dug a trench from the Classroom Building to the LAS observatory. This is maybe a foot deep and has direct burial wire. The actual electrical hookups in the building were done by a professional. I’m not sure if he was a club member. (I apologize if I leave out the name of someone who was there during all this. I wish I had taken notes.) John Sabia and I (and perhaps others) built the work table that’s along the north wall. I built the table along the east wall, the one with the built-in light box. I don’t recall who actually built the cabinet.
The main telescope, up until 1997 or 1998 was a 12.5 inch reflector in an oversize fiberglass tube on a Starliner mount that was bought by Jo-Ann and John. This mirror was the one that was ground by folks at the museum who eventually formed the LAS. This telescope was replaced in 1998 with the 11” Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain. This mirror now lives in a truss-tube Dobsonian mount, built by Jamin Merritt.
I missed being a founding member of the club. I was at the museum in the late 50’s when I asked a guide if there was a planetarium there. He said yes but it was closed. He also told me about some people who were building a telescope in the basement. I didn’t follow up on that.
My first interest in astronomy was sparked when, in the fifth or sixth grade, I read a book called “The Stars for Sam”. This was part of a series, I think, since there was another book called “The Earth for Sam” which sparked my interest in geology. ! !My first telescope was an Edmund 3” f/10 reflector. I remember carrying it around my backyard. I could pick the whole thing up with one hand, tripod and all. Aside from being pretty sure I found M13 with it, I don’t remember much else.
With maybe a dozen runners-up, the two greatest interests in my life have been photography and astronomy. I never had to decide between them since they can easily be combined into astrophotography. Amateurs have done great things using ccd cameras, but I’ve never cared for exposing for dozens of hours on one object and then spending hours on processing. I’d rather photograph a dozen objects in one night using one to five minute exposures and do minimal processing. The results are still good and many times better (and easier) than what we did not that many years ago.
Many people joining the club in the last decade or two come to a meeting and think that what they see around them is the Lackawanna Astronomical Society. This is nowhere near the reality. Around 1970 BMT (Before My Time), Keystone College, persuaded by Tom Cupillari, a physics professor there with a background in astronomy, managed to obtain a 9 1/2 inch Alvan Clark refractor with a dome from Dave Garroway, a legend in early television. The LAS was contacted for help in (at least) locating a site for an observatory built around the big refractor. (This is a grey area for me, so someone else might help to fill in the specifics.) Since that time, the club has had a symbiotic relationship with the college. “Club Night” was initiated to allow club members to use the 9 1/2” refractor. Back then, most members did not have their own scopes, or at least not anything big. Several years after the Keystone College Observatory was in full swing, the LAS got permission from the college to build its own observatory on the same grounds. When the college began its Public Night programs, it was Tom Cupillari, along with LAS members who conducted the public events and it’s been that way for over 40 years. It is true that the folks who run Public Nights now are employed by Keystone, but they are all club members.
When I joined, the club was meeting at the museum. Bill Speare was the science curator there so we were able to be there after the museum closed. I don’t recall when we had to stop meeting there but it was after quite a few years. We’ve met at different places including the Community Room at Viewmont Mall, the Junior Achievement office, and Allied Services. John Sabia carried the LAS “library” in a box to and from his car!
We were holding meetings at the Keystone Observatory in the summers and by the early 1990’s we had our meetings there year round. Compared to some clubs, we have it easy. We have heat, air-conditioning, restrooms, and internet access. We have the ability to use near professional grade telescopes. It’s because of this that we also have among the lowest dues in the country. Some clubs have dues that are three times as much as ours. I believe that without our close association with Keystone College, the LAS would be a very different organization and very possibly would not exist.
Joe Kamichitis December 2018