History of the Twin City Amateur Astronomers
View History Index
The Hidden Years, 1965-1972
As the years went by, the membership continued to share its interest of the nighttime sky with
the general public. That John and Bertha had done a great thing establishing the TCAA in 1960
was fully recognized by the club. At the February 1966 Annual Meeting the 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. Beginning April 17,
1966, and continuing weekly through April 2, 1967, several members prepared a newspaper
column for the Sunday issue of The Pantagraph. The column titled Central Illinois Sky37 dealt
mainly with aspects of observational astronomy. Rev. Lloyde Strouse was the principal writer of
the column, with several members of the club contributing articles from time to time. The other
writers were Hank Janecek, David Williams (writing from school), Bill Johnson, and Weldon
Schuette. In one of the columns, that of April 10, 1966, Rev. Strouse wrote in a prose poem38 that
The Sky is Yours – Tax Free…
Let’s get acquainted with the sky. It belongs to you, you know; all its glory, its
beauty, its mystery and its challenge come to you entirely free. There are no
taxes, no rent, no legal documents, and no time limit.
Besides being responsible for the weekly column, Rev. Strouse taught an adult education
course relating to astronomy at this time. In addition, Rev. Strouse built an analog computer to
chart the locations of bright stars and planets. He called the device the “horizograph.” Clearly,
Rev. Strouse was among the most active TCAAers at this time.
During July 1967 several club members participated in a hobby show held on the sidewalks
of downtown Normal. The display consisted of several telescopes set up in front of North Street
Figure 12: TCAA hobby show display in front of North Street Pharmacy
On July 24, 1968, John Kieviet gave a talk to the Exchange Club of Bloomington. The
topic of his presentation was the working of telescopes. In making this presentation, he
demonstrated the workings of his home-built 6-inch telescope.
Figure 13: John Kieviet giving a telescope talk at an Exchange Club meeting in July 1968
From 1965-1967 some of the club membership became immersed in the study of variable
stars under the leadership of David Williams who returned to town during the summers. The
club’s study of variables – especially the naked-eye variable Beta Lyrae – resulted in David
Williams writing several articles for Review of Popular Astronomy, and which led to his first job
in 1967 as assistant editor of the Review that was then based in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Club members continued to find themselves involved in observatories of one sort or another.
The club’s observatory on the Fissel farm was used periodically, but its location on the outskirts
of town made it less than perfectly suitable as a regular observing site. Club members continued
to reach out in other directions for observing opportunities. Ray Wilson and Barry Beaman
worked long and hard on refurbishing an 18-inch reflecting telescope for the IWU Behr
Observatory. The 18-inch mirror came from an instrument donated to Illinois Wesleyan in 1895 –
one year after the Behr Observatory was constructed with funds donated by a wealthy Chicagoan.
Reconstruction and installation of the telescope were completed by the autumn of 1966. The
telescope fit snugly into the 12-foot diameter dome of the observatory.39
In 1968 Behr Observatory was deemed too small to contain the observing program and
astronomy classes that the Wesleyan faculty wished to offer. A decision was made to remove the
aging facility and to replace it with a larger structure to accommodate the growing astronomy
program. The wife of deceased IWU alum E. Mark Williams gave $90,000 to construct an
observatory on the same site as the Behr Observatory. As a result, Behr Observatory would either
have to be moved or razed. Once again the club leadership attempted to engage the town of
Normal in efforts to erect a club observatory within the confines of a city park.
Hank Janecek, then President of the TCAA, told the town council that the TCAA had made
arrangements to obtain the Behr Observatory structure from IWU. According to a Pantagraph
newspaper account, the town council instructed administrator Gordan Jaeger and Recreation
Director Dave Anderson to look into the costs associated with moving the structure and getting it
set up. The council assured the TCAA that it would provide the land and a concrete foundation to
ready the observatory for public use in Fairview Park. It was agreed that club members would
supply telescopic instruments, and that IWU would keep its equipment. Investigation of the costs
involved revealed that the project would be more expensive than at first anticipated. The project
fell through and the Behr Observatory would soon be reduced to rubble. Before that happened,
however, Bob Mayo, Hank Janecek, Dave Williams, Lyle Rich, Bill Blunk and perhaps a few
others spent several Saturdays salvaging parts from the old observatory before it was demolished.
They took these parts to the Fissel farm with the idea that the club might one day build a TCAA
domed observatory, but that did not happen.
Club meetings continued as usual during the first decade and served as a focus of most
activity for quite a while. With the turn of the decade many things besides astronomy began to
attract the attention of club members, and the twice-monthly meetings were reduced in number.
The last twice-monthly meetings were held in September 1970. Thereafter the membership would
meet formally only once monthly.
Eclipses continued to hold a certain fascination for the general public and astronomy club
members alike. Weldon Schuette continued to contribute articles and diagrams to local
newspapers highlighting important astronomical events such as eclipses. He journeyed to Florida
in March 1970 and to the Gaspe Peninsula of Canada in July 1972 to see total solar eclipses. Both
times he was clouded out. While Weldon was far a field, the club hosted a successful public
viewing program during the July 10, 1972, partial eclipse on the volleyball court of Fairview Park
in Normal. John projected an image of the sun on a slide screen while observers looked on.
Figure 14: John Kieviet projecting the eclipsed sun in July 1972 using his home-built telescope
It was around this time that Hank Janecek moved to Lucas, OH, following his retirement. He
maintained interest in the club, communicating by phone with Carl Wenning from time to time
starting in the late 1980s and continuing into the early 1990s. The two never actually met. After
Hank’s departure another of the club’s early guiding lights, Bob Mayo, became less active in the
club and rarely attended any club functions. He remained in town until his retirement40.
Years of Transition 1973-1978
37 A complete set of articles is preserved in the TCAA’s historical archives due to the foresight of Hank Janecek.
Images are also available on the historical DVD.
38 Years later, while being interviewed separately for the 25th anniversary edition of A Brief History of the TCAA, both
Bertha Kieviet and Weldon Schuette recalled this particular column with fondness. Rev. Strouse was involved in the
fine arts. His song “Thou strong Man of Galilee” was published in The Abingdon Song Book in 1938 when he lived
in McLean, IL. Strouse moved to town in 1954 coming from pastoral assignments in Cissna Park and Paxton, IL.
That year he acted in a theatrical production during his church’s (Wesley United Methodist Church in Normal)
centennial celebration, playing the role of the parish’s founder.
39 Barry never had observing time with the 18” telescope. He joined the USAF before the telescope was finished. He
stopped to visit in January 1967 while home on leave after Officer Training School and got to help carry the tube
assembly out to Behr Observatory for installation on the mounting.
40 After Bob Mayo’s retirement as a machinist, he and his wife Jessica (Jessie) moved to El Paso, TX, in 1982 where he
passed away in 2007. After Bob’s death, Jessie returned to Normal, IL. She is 87 years old at the time of this writing