History of the Twin City Amateur Astronomers
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The Years of Activity, 1961-1965
Beginning in August of 1961 David Williams prepared an untitled monthly astronomy club
newsletter of one or two pages. The purpose of this publication was, among other things, to
document the activities of club members. Each newsletter included information about meeting
dates, astronomical events, observing ideas, and other club news. After several suggestions by
club members that the newsletter be named, a contest was held to do so. David’s own suggestion
won – The OBSERVER of the Twin City Amateur Astronomers. The newsletter first carried the
name on the June 1962 edition.14
The OBSERVER described a small but very active club. During this second year of the club,
member Mike Ryder15 obtained a 2.4-inch alt-azimuth Unitron refractor, Hank Janecek obtained
4.25-inch Newtonian reflector, and Bob Mayo moved up from a 4.25-inch reflector to an 8-inch
reflector. Half a dozen members, including John Kieviet and Russell Blakney, completed
homemade telescopes (6” and 4.25” respectively) before the first two years of the club came to
During 1962 or 1963 the club began telescope-making activities. John Kieviet and Hank
Janecek led the group using the Normal pool bathhouse on Saturday morning during the winter to
do so. Under their guidance, Bill Blunk completed a 4.25-inch f/5 RFT mirror and mounted it
with the assistance of Bob Mayo. John Bryan16 made a 4.25-inch telescope. Mike Ryder
worked on an 8-inch telescope during this time as well.17
Because there was no “large” instrument in the club as this time, observations were limited to
such things as the moon and planets, the Orion nebula, the Andromeda galaxy, and double and
variable stars.18 Members also were involved in meteor observing and watching occultations of
Jupiter’s moons. On four evenings in December 1961, members Hank Janecek, Bill Blunk, and
Lyle Rich observed and charted 111 members of the Geminid meteor shower. Delta Cephei was
observed and 31 magnitude estimates made by David Williams, Hank Janecek, and G. Weldon
Schuette from October 1961 to January 1962. Weldon, commuting regularly from Gibson City19,
observed the Echo satellite over 400 times. Public observing sessions were held. Attendance for
trips to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago exceeded 20 several times as well. By April 1962 the
club membership had stabilized at approximately 30 members, with generally ten persons
attending each club function.20
By the second year, fully one-half of the TCAA membership was composed of junior high
school members. These members would be partitioned off in October 1963, under the leadership
of Hank Janecek, into a youth group that could more easily cater to the wants and needs of the
younger set. Tim McCarthy was elected president; Paul McClure, vice-president; Mike Fisher,
secretary/treasurer; and Henry Charneskey, librarian. The meetings of the youth group were held
concurrently with the regular club meetings.
Of particular note among the junior members were six very active boys21 – among them
David Williams, Mike Ryder, Taylor Cisco22, and John Bryan (the older ones who observed
mostly on their own), as well as Bill Blunk and Lyle Rich (the younger ones who observed
mostly with one another during club functions under supervision of John Kieviet, Hank Janecek
and Bob Mayo. These individuals, mostly high school students at that time, were extremely active
amateur astronomers and telescope makers. These individuals inspired many of the club’s early
activities. They frequently traveled to the Peoria Academy of Sciences’ Northmoor Observatory
for all-night observing sessions, observing primarily lunar and planetary objects.
There were numerous opportunities to observe the heavens. Besides the observatory
equipment in Peoria, club members had obtained early access to IWU’s Behr Observatory.23 After
a professor at IWU by the name of Porter F. Brace departed in 1961, astronomy courses at that
institution were discontinued. As a result, the Behr Observatory, which contained a 6.25-inch
refractor, became unavailable to TCAA members and fell into disuse for several years.
The TCAA’s early involvement with the town of Normal nearly paid off by way of a public
observatory on city property. Members had reason to believe that the town would completely
fund such an observatory, and John Kieviet and others approached the city council for approval.
Upon the recommendation of the new Normal Parks and Recreation director, Mr. Jerry
MacDonald, the club undertook a program of selling hot chocolate to ice skaters at Fairview Park
as a fundraising effort to support the project. Bertha would make kettles of cocoa in her kitchen
and then transfer the mixture to insulated jugs to take to skaters and viewing parties on chilly
evenings. During the months of December 1961 and January 1962 the ladies of the club, headed
by Bertha Kieviet, generated $55 for the observatory. Upon further examination of the costs
involved, the city leaders rejected the proposal as too expensive.
With the passing of the years, TCAA members kept up their chosen mandate of being an
entity dedicated to public service. Numerous star parties were held for Scouts and also for the
general public. Membership swelled to a high in 1963 with 53 persons comprising the club, and
many of these members undertook observing projects on their own. On July 20, 1963, a partial
solar eclipse observing session at the home of Hank Janecek; it was attended by some 15 club
members as well as members of the general public. Robert Courtney24 went to Maine to observe
the total phase of the eclipse, while Dan Hovis25 went to Canada. Weldon Schuette also attempted
traveling to Canada but was prevented from doing so by car trouble; he observed a partial eclipse
Observing the sky was an obsession for some, especially with the younger members. On the
night of July 29, 1963, Lyle Rich and three other club members observed the Delta Aquarid
meteor shower. Lyle observed and recorded 106 meteors. The observations formed the basis of a
short article that appeared in the September 1963 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine. Beyond
meteor observations, numerous magnitude estimates continued as part of an ongoing observing
program. Beta Lyrae was the subject of 66 observations completed by David Williams, Mike
Ryder, Hank Janecek, Warren Light, Bill Blunk, and Lyle Rich26. The observations and the club’s
observing project were the subject of an article prepared for Review of Popular Astronomy in the
July 1964 issue. Observations were also made of comets Alcock, Humason, and Ikeya-Seki, as
well as Nova Herculis during this time.
Observing was not the only focus of club members at this time. There was undoubtedly much
reading and lively discussion. Rev. Lloyde Strouse spent some of his time writing poetry. He
wrote The Sky is Yours in 1963, and distributed it to club members on sheets of mimeographed
Men of wealth and worldly pleasure
Boast of what their power ensures;
But you too have untold treasures,
For the arching sky is yours.
There’s no need for legal tenure:
Taxes, deed, or rental fee;
For God’s Sky in all its splendor
Comes to you entirely free.
If you yearn for inspiration,
Crave adventure that endures,
Seek new knowledge of Creation:
Look above! the sky is yours!
Then give thanks for all its glory,
And the rapture it assures,
And the challenge of its story:
You are rich! the sky is yours!
With the arrival of Dr. Ray Wilson, a new instructor of astronomy at IWU, things began to
change in October 1963. Under the auspices of Dr. Wilson, Barry Beaman27 and later David
Williams refurbished the aging equipment of Behr Observatory. Barry first installed a 4.25-inch
refractor and later, working with David, re-installed the refurbished 6-inch refractor that had been
removed earlier. These efforts were rewarded by a chance to observe a total lunar eclipse from
the observatory on December 19, 1964.
Figure 8: IWU’s Behr Observatory
Throughout their time at IWU, much of Barry’s and David’s lives revolved around the Behr
Observatory. One night, Barry would later fondly recall, Weldon Schuette stopped by the
observatory. After about 15 minutes of small talk he humbly announced that he had just
completed his 1,000th observation of the Echo 1 satellite. Somewhat later, by the autumn of 1966,
Barry and David would rebuild and then reinstall the observatory’s original 18-inch reflector.
Barry, with the assistance of his father, would later build a 3-prism spectrograph. The 18-inch
telescope placed on a massive Cave mount, would eventually find its way into the new Mark
Evans Observatory28. There it would remain until, several years later it was replaced by the
current 16-inch Ealing Cassegrain reflector. In January 1966, Barry moved to Peoria working as a
substitute teacher and lost contact with the TCAA.29
Figure 9: The Behr 18-inch reflecting telescope
By the summer of 1964, the club had its observatory. With Bob Mayo as “prime mover,” the
first club observatory was built on the Fred Fissel farm on the crest of the Bloomington Moraine
just north-northeast of Normal. Mr. Fissel, Bob’s friend, “loaned” a plot of land for the
observatory on the condition that the club membership maintain it. The membership agreed to do
this. Using scrap wood from an abandoned rectangular two-story “chicken house”30 in Lexington,
club members worked from late 1963 through the summer of 1964 to build a roll-off-roof
observatory. The chicken house provided plenty of structural lumber, siding, and roofing planks.
The new observatory, named the Beehive Observatory31, housed the 8-inch home-built reflecting
telescope built by Mr. Mayo. A Lionel locomotive motor drove the telescope. The observatory
was officially opened on the evening of June 12, 1964, and was preceded by a picnic that
subsequently became an annual tradition. Taylor Cisco and David Williams, who spent their time
viewing and drawing lunar craters, conducted some of the first systematic observations there.
Figure 7: The Fissel Farm “Beehive” Observatory
During the early 1960s, events relating to astronomy happened quickly. In October of 1963
the eminent astronomer Harlow Shapley lectured to the TCAA.32 Dr. Shapley, of Harvard College
Observatory, spoke about “astronomy and astronomers” and focused attention on the international
nature of astronomy. Later that autumn, David Williams, having become a student at IWU, met
Barry Beaman. They made a compact with David saying, “You join my astronomy club and I’ll
join your fraternity.” It was quickly a done deal. Barry and David formed a life-long friendship
that year that has continued to the present day. Much of their early friendship revolved around
refurbishment of the Behr Observatory following the departure of Professor Brace.
In January 1964 several members convened at Fairview Park after midnight to observe a
lunar eclipse. In February of the same year the Peoria planetarium opened with a 33-foot dome
and Goto G-1 star projector. Club members visited the facility the same month.
Regular public observing sessions became a reality during the summer of 1964. Among these
were sessions held at Oakland Elementary School in Bloomington. On most occasions, Rev.
Lloyde Strouse, a Methodist minister who lived on Vale Street near the school, conducted these
observing sessions attended by a few other TCAAers and members of the general public. The
sessions were simple and included observations of brighter celestial objects using one or two
small telescopes. There were no formal presentations at these events, but Rev. Strouse would
point out planets and constellations while observers were waiting for their turn at the telescope. A
typical observing session would consist of about a dozen or so members of the general public –
mostly school children with their parents. Among the student observers was a very young Lee
Green who would one day also figure prominently in the history of the TCAA.33
Several hundred persons attended these and other special functions but, to the disappointment
of the club, only two members were gained by the numerous and widely publicized events.
Several newspaper articles had featured the astronomy club and its activities, but the club failed
to grow substantially. The membership had grown explosively during its earliest days, but now
that rate of growth had begun to wane. Many other things kept the spirits of the membership high,
however. One such thing was the opening of the ISU Physics Department Planetarium on
September 1, 1964.
At about the same time that the TCAA had its start, ISU began to expand. With funding from
the National Science Foundation, a planetarium was added to construction plans for the new
Felmley Hall of Science. Not part of the original building plan, the planetarium was added only as
an afterthought when the agency funding the expansion project reviewed a wish list from ISU. At
the very bottom of this 30-item wish list was a planetarium. The National Science Foundation
reviewed this aspect of the wish list favorably, and a planetarium was added with little concern
for staffing, parking, and restroom facilities. It was only later agreed that the planetarium should
serve the purpose of being used in the Physics Department’s astronomy course, for holding adult
education courses, for instructing school and social groups, and for admitting the general public
from time to time.
Opening without a formal staff, Dr. Harold J. Born, chair of the ISU Physics Department,
asked IWU’s astronomer Dr. Ray Wilson to help with getting the new planetarium operational.
During September of 1964 Dr. Wilson gave several astronomy club members a peek at the new
facility, and explained how the Spitz A3P star machine could project sun, moon, and planets,
along with 1,354 stars and the Milky Way. He subsequently was asked to “give a show” to the
rest of the astronomy club. He did this on October 1, 1964, one month after the official building
opening. Ray again explained the workings of the Spitz A3P star projector, and allowed the
membership time to do a bit of constellation study as well. Thus began the long and cordial
relationship between the ISU Planetarium and the TCAA that continued for many years under the
guidance of various ISU Physics faculty members (1964 - 1971), and planetarium directors: Nerio
Calgaro (1971 - 1974), Patrick McGee (1974 - 1978), Carl J. Wenning (1978 - 2001), and
Thomas Willmitch (2001 - present).34
Figure 10: The ISU Planetarium as it appeared in 1964
With June 1965, the detailed record of the TCAA comes to an end. David Williams, the
editor35 of the club’s newsletter, left town after graduating from IWU. The newsletter, The
OBSERVER of the Twin City Amateur Astronomers, was no more. The last item of importance
noted in the final newsletter was the fact the David had introduced a program of regular Messier
observing and had kicked off the project with a lecture about Messier himself. With the loss of
the newsletter there was no widely distributed documentation of the club’s activity. What was
recorded appeared only in the club minutes and newspaper accounts. Unfortunately, some of the
earliest secretary’s minutes and sign in log (containing the signature of Harlow Shapley)
disappeared and later minutes were irretrievably lost in 198136. The history that remains of the
club’s next dozen or so years comes only from a few newspaper clippings and memories of some
of the TCAA’s early members.
The Hidden Years, 1965-1972
14 It is probably only a coincidence, but the newsletter of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green
Bank, WV, was also titled The Observer at about this same time. This NRAO publication ran from 1961 – 1981.
15 At the time of this writing, Mike is a retired physical science teacher and school administrator.
16 Bill Blunk later remarked, “One former member who I have not seen any current information about is John Bryan.
John was the same age as Dave Williams and Mike Ryder and was a club member at about the same time. I believe
he and Dave were members (perhaps the main members) of a musical group called the “Hydraulic Banana Singers”.
They specialized in “Tom Lehrer” like satire and one song I recall (perhaps at a TCAA function) was a modification
of “John Henry” who in the song was “a mirror grindin man” rather than a “steel drivin man” (personal communication,
April 1, 2010).
17 For additional details about telescope making, see Bill Blunk in His Own Words in Appendix 2. For comments from
early members, see in this same appendix reflections by Taylor Cisco and Mike Ryder.
18 David Williams and Barry Beaman were both AAVSO members and reported their observations that were
announced bi-monthly in the Review of Popular Astronomy – the same publication that would employ David as
Associate Editor several years later.
19 At this time Weldon worked for Vail H. Moore Associates in Paxton as an architectural draftsman. He moved to
Normal to start work for Keith Middleton & Associates, Architects, on April 1, 1964.
20 The club membership grew from 23 in 1960, to 33 in 1961, to 39 in 1962, and to 53 in 1963. After that, the
membership numbers fluctuated up and down on an annual basis. The average annual membership over the first 25
years of the club was 33.2. The total number of different members over the first 25 years was 181.
21 As this manuscript is being written, David is living in Whitestown, IN; Mike is living in Oregon, IL; Taylor is living
in Chicago, IL; John’s whereabouts are unknown; Bill is living in Joliet, IL; and Lyle is deceased.
22 Taylor was enrolled at University High School at this time along with club member Sue Remsburg.
23 Located on the current site of the Mark Evans Observatory.
24 He was a well-known projectionist at the Normal Theater and the Irvin and Castle theaters in Bloomington.
25 Mr. Hovis was a traveling salesman from Belvidere, Illinois, who happened to be in the Twin Cities every Thursday
evening and attended club activities when able to do so.
26 TCAAers reported variable star observations to AAVSO regularly from 1962 through 1966. During this interval club
observers provided the following numbers of reports: David B. Williams, 405; Barry Beaman, 25; Bill Blunk, 19;
Hank Janecek, 9; Mike Ryder, 7; Lyle Rich, 4; and Taylor Cisco, 1. (Data taken from AAVSO Annual Reports.)
27 Barry would become a well-known variable star observer, and serve as president of the Astronomical League from
1994 – 1998.
28 The Mark Evans Memorial Observatory was dedicated on March 18, 1969. In attendance was honored guest and
astronaut Col. Frank Borman of Gemini 7 and Apollo 8 fame. Borman “secured the cornerstone” of the observatory
after depositing a time capsule containing memorabilia, including a medallion that had circled the moon during the
Christmas 1968 Apollo 8 mission. Also in attendance were IWU Physics Department members Gary Kessler and
Ray Wilson. See IWU’s weekly newspaper, The Argus, for details.
29 Barry moved to Peoria to become a substitute teacher. In July 1966 Barry married Carol Gray, and in October Barry
joined the USAF. They returned to Illinois 6.5 years later and took up residence in Rockford, IL, where they reside to
this day. The 18-inch telescope’s truss system now supports Barry’s 16-inch homebuilt reflector in the Praesepe
Observatory. They returned to Bloomington-Normal from time to time and maintained their TCAA membership until the summer of 1973 when they learned of the Rockford Amateur Astronomers. Several years later Barry
became the chair of the NCRAL meeting at Rockton, IL, and Carol became editor of the Astronomical League’s
newsletter The Reflector. Shortly thereafter, Barry became president of the Astronomical League.
30 Barry remarked in January 2010, “First thing that comes to mind…is the ‘barn’ we tore down. Actually, it was a two
story ‘chicken house.’ We had looked at several circular chicken houses that local farmers offered to donate for
telescope shelters. The older club members concluded that doing anything with these buildings was too much work.
But the rectangular, two story chicken house offered plenty of structural lumber, siding, and roofing planks. It just
needed a little cleaning. Well, that’s an understatement. Our crew was seven or eight TCAA members. I know Hank
Janacek was there and I was there. I’m not sure if David Williams was there, and I think Bill Blunk and Lyle Rich
may have been there. We split into outside and inside crews and went to work. The outsiders got a little dusty but
when the insiders came out they looked like they were ready to go on stage in a minstrel show. Those second floor
chickens had been very busy depositing a lot more than eggs in that building!”
31 Mr. Fissel was a beekeeper who kept honeybees in the vicinity; hence, the name of the observatory. Barry Beaman
would later call his observatory in Rockford, IL, the Praesepe (Beehive) Observatory.
32 The IWU Physics Department had brought Dr. Shapley to campus and Barry Beaman, an IWU physics major, was
assigned the task of escorting Shapley to various offices around campus including the philosophy and religion
departments. There he evidently argued with various faculty members. Barry would later describe Shapley as “a
grumpy old man.” Barry did not attend the TCAA event as he had not yet made a connection with the club.
33 Lee Green would become president of the TCAA for the first time in 2007 and continue in this capacity for three
34 While an experienced amateur astronomer, Tom never became significantly involved in the TCAA.
35 See Appendix 6 for a listing of editors, property managers, and other minor office holders by year.
36 A discussion with Bob Finnigan on August 3, 2010 revealed that some of the club’s important historical
documents were irretrievably lost following a club meeting at Bob Johnson’s Brandtville Restaurant in
Bloomington. The records were inadvertently left behind following the meeting. Upon inquiring at the
restaurant, the club was informed by the management that one of the restaurant’s workers had thrown away
the materials without thinking.