History of the Twin City Amateur Astronomers
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1960 - The Founding of the Twin City Amateur Astronomers1
In 1960 the group to become known as Twin City Amateur Astronomers was founded. John2
H. and Bertha3 L. Kieviet provided impetus for the new club after they moved to Normal (715 N.
School Street) in 19574. Both John and Bertha had been very active in the Galesburg Amateur
Astronomers5 of Galesburg, Illinois, with John only recently having served as president. This was
a club whose members came from the local community, including Galesburg High School
students and professors from Knox College. John’s work as an architect6 eventually drew him to
the Twin Cities. Upon arriving in their new community, the Kieviets discovered much to their
chagrin that no astronomy club existed in their new town. With the passing of the next three
years, the lack of an astronomy club seemed to be a growing omission in light of the fact that so
many space-related “firsts” were happening: Sputnik, Leika the space dog, the satellites Explorer
and Vanguard, the selection of the Mercury astronauts, the Luna 2 hard landing, and the first
pictures of the Moon’s far side taken by Luna 3. John and Bertha resolved to rectify the situation.
The Kieviets began by contacting Mr. George Sperry, recreation director for the Normal
Parks and Recreation Department. It was their hope to establish an astronomy club under the
sponsorship of the town of Normal. A meeting was set up with Mr. Sperry to discuss the
proposed club. Mr. Sperry visited the home of John and Bertha on January 23, 1960, to discuss
details. On January 30 a meeting announcement was made in the local newspaper, The
Pantagraph, calling for “amateur moon watchers and star gazers” to assemble in the Normal
swimming pool bathhouse “to meet fellow novice astronomers.” According to Mr. Sperry, “any
person of junior high school age and over interested in astronomy” was invited to attend the
meeting. The meeting was set for Thursday, February 4, 1960, at 7:30 p.m.
At this organizational meeting Mr. Sperry introduced Mr. Kieviet as the person best qualified
to guide the new club through its formative period. Mr. Kieviet then explained what he saw as
club goals. The main themes would be observing and the sharing of observations with each other
and the general public. The club would be a social organization, and never a moneymaking
endeavor. Dues were set at $3.50 for the first adult family member, $1 for each additional adult
family member, and $3.00 for students. Dues would cover what small expenses the club would
have. By way of Mr. Sperry, the town of Normal offered support for a club newsletter if such a
newsletter was to be established. Sky & Telescope magazine was adopted as a benefit of
John Kieviet was selected as temporary chairman of the club because the election of officers
was pending. Mrs. Eileen Jetton7 and Mr. Lee Brooks were appointed to serve as a nominating
committee, and Mrs. Judy Walker and Mr. Robert Courtney were appointed to a constitution
committee. In other business, the 20 individuals present at that meeting agreed to meet on the first
and third Thursdays of each month at 7:30 p.m. At this first meeting, the membership agreed to
meet two weeks later to elect officers and adopt formal articles.
February 18, 1960, was the date of the first regular meeting of the club. John Kieviet was
elected as the club’s first president; Henry (Hank) F. Janecek, vice-president; Judy Walker,
recording secretary; Eileen Jetton corresponding secretary and treasurer; and Robert Courtney,
librarian.8 Norma Fese9 suggested the name “Twin City Amateur Astronomers”. Norma attended
the first few meetings of the organization but never officially joined. The first dues payments
were collected at this time.10 A newspaper article making these announcements appeared two
days later in the Pantagraph.
Figure 1: Pantagraph announcement carrying official club title on Saturday, February 20, 1960
Under John Kieviet’s able leadership, the first year of the club’s existence proved to be very
active. An attempt at monthly public viewing sessions was made and the sky – with it’s many and
varied celestial events – was very accommodating. On the night of March 12-13, club members
viewed a total lunar eclipse with the general public at Fairview Park. This was followed by an
August 1 observing session featuring Jupiter and Saturn. Seven telescopes were used to exhibit
the wonders of the solar system to some 200 attendees. Later that month, members watched the
annual Perseid Meteor shower. On September 5, a total lunar eclipse and the Aurora Borealis
were observed simultaneously. On September 20, club members viewed a late afternoon partial
solar eclipse, and three days later the public was treated to another peak at Jupiter, Saturn and,
this time, the crescent moon. October 8 marked the date for the first ever club trip to the Adler
Planetarium in Chicago. On November 7, members successfully observed the transit of Mercury
across the face of the Sun11. On December 1, two films describing the Moon and “featuring
sound” were presented to club members and visitors.
During the first years of the club, there were only a few notable telescopes among the
membership. Among them were a 6-inch reflector built and owned by John Kieviet, a 3-inch
refractor owned by Robert Courtney, and a 3-inch Newtonian reflector owned by high school
student David B. Williams. Nonetheless, the membership of this new and lively club made
excellent use of very limited resources.
Figure 2: Club members demonstrate telescopes February 5, 1961
In addition to attending observing sessions at Fairview Park in Normal, at Oakland School in
Bloomington, and at the homes of club members, John Kieviet encouraged TCAAers to prepare
“Vital Statistics” for every meeting. These “Vital Statistics” (Julian date, moon phase, age,
sidereal time, location of planets, sunset, end of twilight, and other current information) became a
part of regular club meetings through the late 1970s.
During wintertime the Fairview Park bathhouse12 was converted into a recreation hall because
bathers were not then using it. During the summer the cabana was not available and so club
members met in any of a variety of locations – in the Police Department of the Town of Normal
city hall, Fairview Sanitarium, Citizens Savings and Loan, Victory Hall, Felmley Hall of Science
at Illinois State University (ISU), and Sherff Hall of Science at Illinois Wesleyan University
Figure 3: First Annual Meeting at the Fairview Park cabana
The astronomy club had an auspicious beginning under the able leadership of John and
Bertha Kieviet; the membership of the club (having grown to 23 by the end of the year)
certainly agreed, for at the end of 1960 the club membership presented John with a
gaveled plaque recognizing him as founder and first president, and Bertha received a
corsage in recognition of her interest in and support of the TCAA. The first anniversary
of the club was celebrated at the Fairview Swimming Pool cabana with a large photograph
appearing in The Pantagraph newspaper the next day. During this first year of the TCAA,
The Pantagraph carried no less than 15 articles chronicling the activities of the newly
formed club. Thanks to David Williams,13 the next five years of TCAA activity was
chronicled quite carefully in a club newsletter.
The Years of Activity, 1961-1965
1 In an interesting side note, the TCAA was not the first astronomy club in the Twin Cities. During the early 1900s a
small group was formed in Bloomington. See Appendix 1 for details.
2 b. October 22, 1908, Chicago, son of Nicholas and Cora Owens Kieviet; d. October 28, 1981. John is interred in the
Park Hill Cemetery Mausoleum (west exterior) in Bloomington. Bertha was laid to rest beside him after her death.
3 b. February 24, 1912, Bremen Township, Cook County, IL, daughter of Ewald and Niesja Dyk Ziebell; d. October 6,
4 John and Bertha married on May 26, 1934, in Harvey, IL. They had two daughters when the club was founded,
Valeria (18; later married Vernelle Armour; Valeria passed away on January 1, 2010) and Kora (13; later married
James Searcy). There was also a son, Victor, who was stillborn in 1939. Both daughters spent their lives in
Bloomington-Normal. Both John and Bertha were of Dutch extraction.
5 A newspaper clipping from the late 1950s provided by Vernelle Armour titled Astronomers Group Hears
Description of California Telescope reads as follows: “A report on their recent visit to the telescope at Mount
Palomar, Calif., was given Wednesday night by John Kieviet and Bertha Kieviet at the July meeting of the Galesburg
Amateur Astronomers in the Lowell Whitsitt home at Abingdon. After the meeting, which was conducted by Kieviet
as vice president in the absence of Ralph Sabetti, president, the members participated in viewing through portable
telescopes. Providing the telescopes were Carl Sand, Harlowe Horein and Kieviet. The next meeting will be held
6 After graduating from Lindblom High School in Chicago on June 24, 1926, John went on to become a licensed
architect. He did so following personal study; he never attended college. After moving to Normal, he worked for
Schaefer, Wilson & Evans, Architects, 108 West Monroe Street, Bloomington, Illinois, for 16 years, retiring in 1973.
He was frequently involved in the work of Bloomington’s Elks Lodge, the Loyal Order of Moose, and the Corn Belt
7 At the time of this writing (December 2009), Eileen Jetton is 99 years old and still living in Bloomington, IL.
8 See Appendix 4 for a listing of major club office holders by year.
9 Norma Verlee Fese was one of the last surviving adults associated with the founding of the TCAA. She passed away
on December 24, 2009 – almost 50 years from the founding of the club. She was 88 years old. Norma always
enjoyed discussing “science, space and many of life’s mysteries” according to her obituary appearing in The
Pantagraph on December 28, 2009. At that time Norma was a 38-year-old mother of three.
10In order of dues payment on March 4, 1960, here are the founding members of the club as they appear in the minutes
of that meeting: Owen Brooks, Taylor Cisco, Robert Courtney, Spencer DePauw, Jim Engan, Henry Janecek, Eileen
Jetton, Bertha Kieviet, John Kieviet, Mary Knickerbocker, Sue Remsburg, Pearl Reynolds, Judy Walker, and David
Williams. Warren Light was present at this meeting, but paid his dues on March 17 along with Dennis Soebbing, and
Dan L. Hovis. Karen Mishler joined on April 7, Michael Ryder joined on April 23, and Wilma Dickman joined on
11Sue Remsburg Bassett fondly remembered observing the projected image of the sun and Mercury using John
Kieviet’s reflector as well as Robert Courtney’s refractor (using an eyepiece solar filter) when she spoke about this
event with the author on April 20, 2010.
12According to Kora Searcy – the Kieviets’ daughter – her father absolutely hated the word “bathhouse”. He insisted
on using the word “cabana” whenever talking about this meeting location.
13 Years later, David would become president of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) for
two terms running from 2005-2007. Further, David would serve on the AAVSO Council for more than ten years
during which time his efforts included the purchase of the Sky & Telescope building at 49 Bay State Road for the
new AAVSO Headquarters. In addition, he discovered several variable stars while researching in the Harvard
College Observatory plate stacks.