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The Webfooted Astronomer - March 2002


In Memoriam, Ken Applegate

THE Seattle Astronomical Society lost one of its best on January 29 when Ken Applegate died suddenly of a heart attack while at the post office in the University District. He was 61.

Ken was born July 15, 1940, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He received his B.S. in Chemistry in 1962 from the University of New Mexico and his PhD in Physical Chemistry in 1967 from the University of Washington. He began his career as Assistant Professor and Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Ala. In 1970 he took a position as a Research Scientist at the Washington Regional Primate Research Center and Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Washington, where he remained until his death.

As a young man, Ken enjoyed folk dancing and model railroading, but he gave these up when he discovered amateur astronomy. He devoted all his free time to the Seattle Astronomical Society, the Everett Astronomical Society, and Seattle Community Network.

Ken and Tim McKechnie went to Mexico for the 1991 solar eclipse where Ann Sherry took this photo. "If this expression isn't the heart and soul of Ken, I sure don't know what is!" said Tim.


Ken served on the SAS board several times during his many years as a member and in many different roles. His most recent role was webmaster.

Ken is survived by his sister, Janice Applegate Swensson of New York. He was preceded in death by his brother Glen Applegate. A memorial service was held at the University of Washington Faculty Club on February 8.

When the news of his death appeared on the Webftweb e-mail list server, members responded with an outpouring of feelings and fond memories. Here they are . . .

Farewell, my good friend!

Like everyone I've talked or written to in the last few weeks, I've been trying to correlate my thoughts and feelings concerning the very sudden and completely unexpected passing of our dear friend and colleague Ken Applegate. I still find it hard to produce words to adequately convey all that I'm feeling. All I can say for sure is that I miss him already; he was one of my closest friends and confidants and there will never be his like again.

Ken touched everyone he met in a particular way and no matter what the circumstance; he was always positive and caring. He was a pivotal figure in the Seattle Astronomical Society for as long as I can remember. After years of doing astronomy on my own, I finally joined the club in 1979 at the public star party, which at that time was held at Gas Works Park. Even though it was fairly dark for the city, I can still distinctly remember three people who went out of their way to make me welcome; Don Guiley, Alan Macfarlane, and especially good old Ken. I found him extremely helpful and friendly and we remained close from that time on.

Although Ken loved the sky, he was a chemist by profession and he may have love chemistry even more. He would talk for hours about the research his group was engaged in if you simply asked how things were going at work. It was quite interesting. Even something as prosaic as dinner could lead to an enlightening experience. One of my fondest memories is back when Ann and I had Ken and Ed Mannery over for dinner shortly after we were married. While cleaning up afterwards, Ann mentioned something that got Ken to thinking and in short order, we were doing chromatography samples and analysis of common kitchen items while Ken regaled us with horrors stories of what might accidentally be loosed upon the world by the careless and mindless mixing of certain noxious cleaning agents. I think Ann may still have those beautifully colored samples somewhere.

But, of course, it was in astronomy that we really got to know Ken and his wonderfully curious ways. He liked all aspects of astronomy: deep sky, planets, telescopes, everything. Chemistry was Ken's work, astronomy was his play, and it was here he earned and proudly wore the moniker of "Dr. Science." He did many projects over the years from telescope building to asteroid occultation timings. His finest physical legacy may be his ingenious and beautifully crafted collapsible 10-inch Dobsonian reflector. He was justly proud of it and many of us were quite envious, but he shared it freely and handled it like a stiletto. I recall an occasion in 1987 shortly after the scope was completed when the Moon occulted Spica. Dave Parker, Ken, and I drove in two vehicles down to Lacey to observe this event while lending our assistance to Dick Linkletter's occultation group. This event occurred around 2 a.m. and we all had to be back at our jobs that day. We got set up and duly recorded the event. Afterwards, around 4:30 a.m., we had some breakfast and much needed coffee at the local Denny's. Dave and I then returned to my truck and routinely got on the freeway to return to Seattle. Ken, just as calmly and routinely, got on the freeway and headed for Portland! Dave and I both thought this was odd but maybe Ken had an errand down south somewhere he had to do first. We didn't know. When I talked to him later that evening, he told me the coffee hadn't kicked in and he got as far as Olympia before he realized that the state capitol is not on the way to Seattle.

That was Ken. He was a scientist through and through but as human as they come! He wore many hats but was always caring no matter what might engage him. He was a gentle man in the truest sense and had a heart as large as the countryside he so much enjoyed. Ken always seemed to me to be the manifestation of the classic Greek spirit in our own time. "To rejoice in life, to find the world beautiful and delightful to live in, was the mark of the Greek spirit," Edith Hamilton once wrote. I can find no other words which better describe Ken. The world and astronomy are a little less joyful now with his passing, and I will find the stars a little less bright with his absence. But I will continue to look up and wonder and will always think of Ken at those times. As a scientist he has now gone on to investigate that ultimate mystery. May his thirst for knowledge be satiated and find rest at last.
-Tim McKechnie

Nobody told me I couldn't do it . . .

I am truly saddened by the news of Ken's death. I've known Ken for over 25 years. We worked together as officers of the SAS, in planning astronomy events and observing the night sky many more hours then I can contemplate. I remember his 4-inch Coulter kit that he took everywhere including Cabo San Lucas in 1991 for the total solar eclipse. I was amazed by his 8-inch Dobson mounted scope with the six-pole surrier truss. ("Nobody told me I couldn't do it with less than eight!," he said.) I also remember his years of volunteering to handle the Observers Handbooks and his work helping the fledgling Everett Astronomical Society grow into a fine group of amateurs. There is so much more I could say about Ken. I hope others will share their memories of a man who truly epitomized what amateur astronomy was all about. I'll miss you Ken. With best regards and deepest respect.
- "Uncle" Bob Suryan

The twinkle in his eye

I've been trying to collect a few thoughts to share about Ken. His good humor, his intelligence, his bright smile, his love of simplicity and his capacity to understand and explain complexity are widely known by the many people whose lives he touched in the SAS.

I think I came into the SAS in 1983 or 1984. Ken was here then. I thought he always would be. He was among the first people that I connected with in the club. He was there on the first night that Peter Hirtle held a telescope maker's meeting. He helped put edge chips in the heavy mirror blank that we in that group worked for a club telescope project. He built a nifty, collapsible 10-inch telescope that he took to many Gas Works Park, and later, Greenlake star parties. I remember traveling with him and Peter Hirtle, Becky Walsh, and Brendon Hirtle on my very first trip to the Riverside Telescope Maker's Conference way back in 1987. Ken's 10-inch telescope won an award for innovative design at that conference. Ken was a tinkerer. I remember him playing with one of the first SBIG ST4 CCD imagers attached to a 4.5-inch Coulter RFT telescope kit that he'd built some years before. Kid stuff by today's standards but we were all amazed. Ken was amazed when he could actually get something in the CCD field of view.

While I started the mailing list for the SAS, it was really only because Ken had cemented the club's relationship with SCN before that by moderating a couple of general astronomy forums for the network, that I felt brave enough to inquire about setting up a list. Of course Ken was there to help me get it going. Later he would establish the fine Web page that we all benefit from today. Ken has always been a reliable leader for the SAS serving for many years as the club scribe, later in other positions, and as a voice of ration and concern on its board of directors. I loved the twinkle in his eye.
-Randy Johnson

Farewell, sweet prince

I'm absolutely devastated. For me, the name "Ken Applegate" is intimately associated with all I hold dear about the SAS and amateur astronomy in general. More than a decade ago, when I attended my first SAS meeting, Ken was among the very first to offer a warm welcome. The words "kind, gentle, patient, helpful and sublimely intelligent" all come to mind when I think of him.

I don't want to get overly gushy, but he was obviously "an absolute prince," and I picked up on that fact early on in my experiences with the SAS and with him. To tell the truth, it never occurred to me that he might "go" before I did. I always figured Ken would be hobbling to SAS meetings, kindly offering his time, enthusiasm and gentle but sharp insight well into his 90s - long after my demise. Alas, it wasn't to be. Farewell, sweet prince
-Bob Imrie, DVM

Ken, we'll miss you

We loved Ken. He was a good friend and a helper to us, as he was to many others. We couldn't count the hours that he spent on our computer when we had trouble at various times! He always did this willingly and cheerfully. He was the most faithful of all the people who came to attend our Moon meetings. His unexpected passing is a painful lesson in the brevity of this life and the value of having an Anchor that will hold beyond it.
-Joanne Green and Pat Lewis

Ken was a good friend, and a long time member of the SAS. I've always enjoyed talking to him. I think the SAS has experienced a great loss with his passing. We'll miss you Ken.
-Dave Irizarry

I am shocked and deeply saddened. I met Ken just a couple times at the astro-photo meetings a couple years ago. I really liked him. I was fun to talk to. I was a fixture on the e-mail list too. I always liked seeing his name on the "From" line with news about the Web site. One can never know when the Good Lord will call us home. Now when we look up with our telescopes we will know Ken is there looking back down at us.
-Rob Miller

I am very saddened to hear the news about Ken. He was a great person and contributed a lot to the SAS. He will be missed by all. God bless.
-Debbie L.

Although I never met Ken in person, I was aware of his strong presence as a group leader in his energy, kindness, humor, and intelligence. He never seemed too busy to offer helpful advice or information via a thoughtful e-mail. Many times I have enjoyed his great sense of humor in reading his many witty contributions to Webftweb. His energetic and dedicated presence will certainly be missed by all. I am so sorry for his family and close friends.
-Mary Anderson

Kathy and I are appalled. He was such a dynamic person and so interesting to talk to. We both learned much from Ken and will miss him.
-Jim & Kathy Smith

Many of us Squakers knew Ken also. This is a real shock to all of us. It's hard to know exactly what to say at times like this other than we will all miss him.
-David Harris

Having been in frequent email contact with Ken for a couple of years now regarding Web duties, I'm shocked and saddened by news of his passing. I know him only for his patience and competence and for those qualities alone, I will miss him sorely.
-Paul S. Walsh

This is terrible news. Although I had only known Ken for a few months, he was a great guy, very friendly, and I looked forward to working with him on the SAS website redesign.
-Paul Rodman

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