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The Webfooted Astronomer - August 2001


From the President's Pen . . . Speak Softly and Carry a Big Refractor; You Will See Far

By Mary Ingersoll

SOFTLY you spoke, and the board and I are very excited about your responses to the member survey (sent out in the Webfooted Astronomer, June 2001). What surprised us the most was that the respondents spoke almost with one voice regarding most of the inquiries.

Brian Allen, Randy Johnson and I went over the results of the survey at the July 18 meeting. Those who attended had many comments and suggestions for the club. I led a similar meeting on Table Mountain (July 20) and, again, received excellent recommendations for the future of SAS.

Survey results

Members clearly see our club as a hobby organization (100% of respondents) that is an astro-ambassador (93%) to the community teaching (67%) to promote interest in amateur astronomy. Not quite half of the respondents want the banquet to pay for itself (43%), some don't care either way (36%) and a smaller group would like the banquet to be subsidized by the club (21%).

There was high interest in fundraising for an observatory (73%), but when it came to the last question (Would you be interested in helping with SAS fund raising, i.e. planning projects, writing grant proposals, staffing phone banks and calling on supporters?) 30% said yes. That appeared to change during discussions of specific projects, with a significant increase in interest and willingness to participate or find people who had the experience and talents to get the work done.

The activities that most of you participate in are: Greenlake/Paramount Park star parties, Table Mountain Star Party, and Rattlesnake Lake observing. Suggestions for future club sponsored activities were: field trips to local observatories, picnics at Rattlesnake Lake, member education, restore old special interest groups (with special emphasis on Computer SIG), club organized observing events to promote awards (Astronomical League Messier certificates, Herschel 400, Lunar Observing Program, and so forth).

The top five items that you thought were most important to the club were: (1) property acquisition to build observatory, (2) a speaker fund, (3) members events, (4) Table Mountain site improvement (permanent port-a-potty), and (5) a Youth Club.

When it came to discussions and brainstorming during the meetings, participants were energized by possibilities. The discussion on July 18 regarding property acquisition came to the conclusion that it might be possible to find the land and build using money from grants and fundraising. However if the location was in a dark site, would most of the membership be able to get to it and how long would it take before civilization (lights) made it obsolete? What could we do to prevent that? How about a mobile observatory that goes to Rattlesnake Lake, Table Mountain, Project ASTRO star parties, and Greenlake public viewing events? The ability of raising grant money would be far easier and we would be more visible to the public. I believe that this project is possible for our club. We could have an observatory that is accessible to many more people than can presently get to Bainbridge Island or Pettinger-Guiley in Puyallup. Our vision is not to compete with these local observatories, but to meet the needs of those who cannot travel beyond Seattle, and also to have access to an exceptional telescope at any dark sky site that we choose to visit.

Site improvements to Table Mountain cannot be made at this time because of present government policy regarding public lands. We will be in communication with the Table Mountain Star Party Association regarding possible future collaborations.

Earlier this year the board agreed to give a gift to future banquet speakers. Now it appears that you want to have money available to bring in speakers from other locations or speakers that require a "speaking fee."

Most survey respondents asked that we have more meetings about amateur astronomy (even though lectures from professionals are very much appreciated). Since we are primarily a hobby group, we want more meetings about what we can do at our own telescopes and binoculars.

New members said that they wanted more information about club activities, instruction in the basics of amateur astronomy, and more member events that would help them to get to know the club better. Even though many of our members are individuals who like to do what they want to do when they want to do it, there appear to be many more who want to be a part of a community where they can learn from the "experts" and develop good viewing skills.

There was interest in purchasing more (and newer) books for our library, even though books are rarely checked out. Our library is full of books to help all members to learn more. The books are available from Karl Schroeder, and a list is on the Web site. If you do not have Internet access, contact Karl by phone (his number is listed on page 2). The library is there for your benefit.

There is no opposition to starting a Youth Group. However, there are very few who are willing to take on such a project because they are worried that they will end up doing it alone and then burn-out. I would propose that a team of interested souls get together work out a method in which responsibilities can be shared so that one person is not expected to run the whole show. The success of past youth groups in the history of our club (and other astronomy clubs in our area) was based on the size of the heart of its leader. I know for a fact that there is more than one member in our club that loves kids. After listening to all of the stories at the July meeting of those who were in a young astronomers club, I could plainly see from the reminiscing that it was never time wasted. The young astronomers grew up and today they continue to carry with them the memories of the leaders who took the time to share a little know-how and a lot of love. We need someone with a big heart to head this team. Are you the one we're looking for?

Most of the surveys indicated that the members are happy with the club, but offered suggestions to improve communication, membership events, and club growth. The board and I appreciate all of the opinions and constructive criticism. Our job is to work for you to keep the club operating well and to your benefit. You have spoken from the heart. We in turn will use our heads to do what all of our hearts desire. The Preamble of the club's constitution still identifies who we are:

"We, a group of amateur astronomers, being desirous of securing for ourselves the pleasures and benefits of an association of persons commonly interested in amateur astronomy, for the purpose of furthering better cooperation among its members, of developing individual proficiency, and promoting public interest and educating the public in astronomy, do hereby organize and constitute ourselves as the SEATTLE ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY, INC. . . . "

The board and I will continue to promote the mission statement of the club, with your support.

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