In the beginning was the Idea – the seed planted by Ray Walker’s father Bruce, to start the astronomy club in this area. That was way back in 1979. The club actually came into begging in 1985 as a group of six friends got together to formally organize the Delta Astronomical Society (DAS). Our founding fathers were: Bob Jasmund, Bruce Virgo, Ray Walker, Bruce Irving, Russ Houle, and Jerry Kibler. The first meeting was held at the JFK School. Chuck Makosky, and John Burroughs got into the sprit soon after, and the DAS grew to about 12 members during its first year. Dues, at that time, were $2 a month, $10 for six months, or $20 for a year (such a deal!), and by-laws were drawn up. Meetings were (and still are) held at Bay de Noc Community College and a monthly news letter was started for members. Some surviving parchments from these ancient days reveal a variety of agenda items, a glossary of terms, star maps, constellation stories, a time line and famous astronomer stories. (The building of the 10-inch club Dobsonian-mount telescope was finished in 1989, with First Light on November 16.)
The arrival of Halley ’s Comet in April, 1986, gave the DAS a chance to try to earn some money selling “guides to the comet” and brought some community recognition to the group. There was a viewing session at the Escanaba public beach in the “pre-dawn darkness” one morning – our favorite time of day – to catch a glimpse of the comet, and folks got a nice view of Saturn even if Halley’s was a disappointing fuzz ball. The Champmans and Barb Snyder became involved with the club after this, as did other interested sky-watchers. The following autumn, Bob Jasmund’s offering of an astronomy class though Bay College’s Community Education Program also brought new people into the fold. Bob offered this class again the following year.
Over the years our contacts with other individuals and clubs have grown. Ron Parmentier has been a mentor and friend in Green Bay, helping test the mirror for our ‘scope and opening his observatory for visits now and then. We were associated for a while with a “grazing occultist” and have been sharing newsletters back and forth with the Muskegon, MI, society for several years. The chapmans helped with connections to the Marquette group and we continue to share information with them as well as occasional visits. For a while we were members of the Astronomical League, and several people continue to hold memberships as individuals. We are included in Sky and Telescope in their yearly listing of clubs, and get calls and information from all over as a result.
Finding a good spot to build a home for our ‘scope occupied a fair amount of time, with different sites checked out before Brad Bender and family volunteered a spot on their property. In Hyde. In 1989, as Brad worked on his home, hardy club members started digging the foundation for the observatory and progressed to laying rock, pouring concrete, constructing the floor, and doing other activates in conjunction with master planner John Burroughs’ design. After the observatory is completed, the next major project will be a permanent mount for the ‘scope. Preliminary plans for this have already started with the ordering of catalogs and the looking over plans and designs.
The DAS became an officially incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1989, stating as our purpose, “to offer an organization and group for individuals to meet who share an interest in astronomy.” Community-wide activities through the years have included setting up public viewings in the Ludington Park area of Escanaba – specifically for the 20th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Walk and annually for National Astronomy Day. Members of DAS have made presentations for schools – in the classrooms and Super Saturday workshops. (A box of astronomy related materials was put together for use in the Escanaba schools.) The excitement of astronomy has been extended to service organizations and scouts. DAS has participated in the NASA Space exhibit at the Bonifas Art Center in May-June 1991 and has provided displays or information at other community events.
National Astronomy Day each May have found us with an exhibit at the Delta Plaza or involved with some other activity to mark the occasion. May 9, 1992 provided a real bonanza, with a full-page article in the Escanaba Daily Press about our group, a day-time kite fly-in at Ludington Park with the ‘scope set up for solar viewing and a night-time viewing session at the Municipal Dock. On July 5, 1992, we held our first major fund-raiser on Family Day at the park, selling Sayklly’s products (caramel apples were the biggest hit!) and pop at a food booth. We made our own caramel apples and finished the day with a profit of $340, thanks to the fireworks crowd and sales after the 4th.
Funds have always been hard to come by and, with expensive projects like the telescope, observatory, and mount, each dollar counts. Membership dues have been the primary source of income though the years, and we have been fortunate to have many members and friends willing to donate time, materials, and money to different projects. Many parts of the ‘scope was donated and the Benders have offered a great deal of assistance and support as the observatory is constructed on their property. Gary McMahon gave wire – many feet in length – for the observatory’s electrical hook-up, Mike Caron has given us the roof, among other things. Don Brackenbury got us a very good deal on wood used for construction and the food booth and Al Jensen and others have used their time, talents, and equipment to bring the projects into existence. Several people joined resources to buy a high power eyepiece for the ‘scope in the summer of 1993. There are on-going out-of-pocket contributions for publication, stamps, and other areas. In July, 1992, we were accepted to participate in the Super One Foods Community Dollars program, and after one year had collected slip totaling $18, 239 – which translates to $182.39 for our treasury!
Recently, we have become the proud owners of an optical research Newtonian telescope, complete with erector lens (which allows one to see images upright rather than upside down as do most astronomical telescopes) and a clock drive (for tracking the stars, planets, etc. at the speed of Earth’s rotation), which will enable us to enter the realm of astrophotography!
There have been good programs at our meetings — from pot-lucks to guest speakers. Rob Bodjanic’s sliders are a legend and other’s have also shared their astro-photography wisdom. Dave Houseman is our own NASA expert. His daughter gave a presentation after she attended Space Camp one summer. We try to keep up with the latest news, and people share their books, magazines, videos, and other items of interest. Our scrapbook is continually updated as events occur –it’s a history unto itself! Sandy Chapman has done a great job of giving us new, charts pictures and other computer graphics.
Despite U.P. clouds and winter cold, we do get some good observing in now and then. The constellations, planets, and “Messy” (Messier) objects are prime targets for our ‘scopes and binoculars. Some nice moon viewing has taken place also. The Presides in the summer is the favorite meteor shower, and John and Chuck show the greatest stamina and persistence in their pursuit of comets and other “heavenly bodies” (as Bob Jasmund likes to call them).
Since its early beginnings, the Delta Astronomical Society has grown from 6 to 33 members and there are many other individuals out there who are interested in this area. The universe is our home, our source of endless wonder and delight. May we always find joy in learning, viewing, sharing, dreaming, and reaching for the stars! – Barb Snyder