The Lackawanna Astronomical Society began as an astronomy class, run by Dan Davis at the Everhart Museum in 1958. Chris Ray the science curator, then encouraged the formation of a permanent club. Soon after, Mr Ray went on to another position, but under the new science curator, Bill Speare, the club flourished within the confines of the Everhart basement for many years. During the early 1970’s, a reorganization of the museum found the club in need of a new place to meet.
At about the same time, Keystone College professor Thomas G. Cupillari was in the process of acquiring a rare telescope with the intention of public outreach and goodwill for the college. Dave Garroway, original host of The Today Show, owned a 9 ” Clark Refractor, but was going to relocate to California so he advertised it for sale. Amidst interest from many organizations including The Smithsonian Institution, Mr Garroway chose Keystone (then a Junior College) as a recipient only with assurances it would be made available to the general public. The college agreed, a deal was signed and plans for what is now Thomas G Cupillari Observatory began.
Some club members were asked by Professor Cupillari to help chose a site for the new observatory, thus setting up the close association between the LAS and TGC Observatory. The staff of TGCO was drawn from LAS members. The club began holding it’s meetings there and assisting on pubic observing nights at the observatory in July of 1973. The observatory has been a huge benefit to the LAS, ask any 50 year LAS member such as Don Murray, Jane Swarts or Bill Speare.
With the stated mission of bringing astronomical awareness to the public, the LAS has also gone off site and run star parties in state parks and other venues. The LAS’s own small roll-off roof observatory was added to the site in the mid 70s, and now houses several telescopes. TGC Observatory itself has added another observatory, with a computerized 10″ SCT and recently added an extremely high-tech 20″ Ritchey-Chretien telescope to it’s arsenal of observing tools.
A committee consisting of Leo Hensel, George Marhevka and Bill Speare began the grinding of the mirror blank soon afterwards. With the help of many other members, the mirror was completed in about six months. This project included the sonotube to house the mirror, and the homemade equatorial mount made from steel and wood. The equatorial mount was a scaled up version of one that George Markeka had made for his 8 inch telescope.
Building the LAS Observatory 1973-1980
The idea of an LAS observatory really took off in the year 1974. The LAS membership approved a committee to look into finding a place for (and figuring out the ways and means to afford and build) a permanent structure for the 12.5 inch f/5.6 reflector. This was the Newtonian telescope had been built in 1968 and 69 by many of the same club members who founded the LAS in 1958.
As the club was becoming more active at Keystone Jr. College Observatory and associated less with Everhart Museum, the 12.5 inch reflector was temporarily stored at the observatory in 1973. In the summer of that year, a few club members erected a steel pier on Keystone site away from the main buildings for the club’s reflecting telescope. Throughout 1974, the reflecting telescope was setup either on it’s original steel pier within Keystone Jr. College observatory compound for public viewing or “outback”, on the new pier, for use by club members.
During the fall of 1974, a dialog began to determine if the LAS would be able to construct a building around the pier ‘outback’. This was discussed at regular meetings as well as at the Board of Directors meetings, through 1974 and 1975. Ideas on the type, shape and size of the building were gone over and over. A barbed wire fence was put around the pier in 1975 as a warning to the small herd of cows that the ground area was to be kept clean.
In time the LAS came up a final plan to build a roll-off roof building to house the 12.5-inch reflecting telescope. We presented this to Keystone Jr. College and came to an agreement, (including a 99 year lease on the site) and received permission to construct the building. Ground breaking for the start of construction began on July 20, 1976.
As with many endeavors, it started off strong and slowed down in turn. The four concrete block walls were complete in late 1977. Building the wood framework of the stationary portion of the roof began in May of 1978. The first coat of paint was applied to the outside walls in September 1978. At the same time the build of the roll off roof began, roofing paper cover the plywood roofs. With winter approaching the place was closed up in early November.
January 1979 began on a sour note for the club. A winter storm with strong winds lifted the roll off roof from the building and deposited it 30 feet or more, right side up, towards the east of the building. The roof had not been properly secured to withstand the weather. When summer came around the LAS hired a contractor to build a new roof and erect the steel framework for it to roll off onto.
With that part of the construction phase complete, all that was left was to pour the concrete floor and secure a door. The floor was the last heavy task left to do, and it took the better part of a summer day in June 1980. Once it had settled a steel frame door secured the building. The main construction was finally complete, four years after starting the project. A coat of rust proof paint was applied to the steel frame that held the roof when it was rolled open to use the telescope.
In the course of the four-year-long construction, many members volunteered their time to plan and build the observatory. They are listed here, including some active members that you may recognize.
Frank Adams, Jill Adelstein, Jim Albrecht and son, Les Belles, Mike Babcock, Rich Brakefield, Bob Brauer, Norman Brauer, Kenny Czyzyk, Greg Dolhy, Alice Fanucci, Claude Fanucci, Jim Filipski, Robbie Freeman, Bruce Hogg, Richard Hogg, Janet Hogg, Tommy Holeva, Debra Holmes, Joe Kamichitis, Chuck Lonaberger, Ken Mason, Joe Mazzarella II, Joe Mazzarella III, Bill Mecca, Bobby Nicholas, Diane Pluciennik, Jo-Ann Pluciennik, John Sabia, Ed Sidorski, Jane Swarts, Ed Swarts, Mark Wineski and Jerry Zawislak
These members often maintained the building and made improvements to the observatory and telescopes over the years. Items such as a new coat of paint on outside walls and steel frame, repair plywood, tarp and shingles on the roof, place carpeting of the concrete floor, and expand interior electrical outlet boxes.
Les Belles, Joe Gammaitoni, Steve Gedrich, Bernie Gillott, Joe Kamichitis, Jo-Ann Kamichitis, Cindy Krott, Joe Krott, Carol Leola, Robert Maleninsky, Steve Mazurik, Ron Murazzi, Diane Musewicz, John Nalin, Marty Peritsky, John Sabia, Ed Sidorski, Jim Spangler and Charlie Stetz.