The Astronomical Society of the Toms River Area

This page is dedicated to Dr. Erik Zimmermann, whose efforts have made all this possible.

R. Erik Zimmermann, Ph.D.

President, ASTRA.  1977-2001
Director , Robert J. Novins Planetarium. 1974-2001

There is a degree of respect that seems to come from earning a Doctorate and achieving the position of Planetarium Director.  And then there is the degree of respect that one commands for his accomplishments once he achieves such a position.  In the rarest of instances, an individual unceasingly dedicates himself to his chosen field. From those with whom he interacts he commands both personal and professional respect. And still, if that's not enough, poking his head out from under all his various hats is Erik, the man we call colleague, mentor and most of all "friend".

Erik is one of those rare individuals who has truly touched the lives of those with whom he's worked and associated. The outpouring of affection and admiration he commands has been overwhelming. Erik's dedication to ASTRA encompassed every aspect of creating an organization not just to promote Astronomy but also to create pride in membership. He welcomes new members to ASTRA with open arms. We are all new members to him so everyone knows the feeling. He never spoke down to any of us even though his knowledge surpasses all of us. He made us feel like his equal. He wanted us all to excel at this hobby. Whether it was pointing out a satellite at a star party, discussing recent developments in the field, helping a new member with a small/new telescope or just shooting the breeze, Erik wanted us to enjoy the Astronomy hobby to the max. Like it was his personal responsibility. Anything he could do to make our enjoyment of the night sky better was important to him.

By himself Erik did what must now be done by at least 5 members. He gave the club stability, organization and direction.  For many years, he was the only club member who made presentations. A great storyteller, sharing with us many a tale both personal and scientific.   He is the father who adopted ASTRA in its infancy and nurtured it through its childhood and teens.  With his impending retirement, he began preparing his child to enter adulthood.  Because of Erik, we consider ourselves Amateur Astronomers, not just hobbyists. We can run ASTRA without him. Not because we are so good, but because he taught us so well. We learned more than just Astronomy skills from Erik. We learned people skills as well, and if you have that, the rest is gravity (or is it gravy).

Because of Erik, many of us discovered hidden talents. We discovered we could understand many aspects of the hobby that seemed way over our heads. If you were stuck, Erik could always give you that push to get you started again, and was happy to do it. He gave you confidence. He would encourage you to speak at a meeting even if you didn't have much to say. He made you feel like it was important because it was important to him. Erik would help you prepare for a presentation and made you feel you were up to the challenge. The guy never separated the "big guns" from the "lightweights". He knew we all have something to offer and somehow he could bring it to the surface.

Erik has reached a crossroad in his life.  He has retired from the Robert Novins Planetarium after 26 years of service.  He is not retiring from ASTRA, but he will no longer be our club "Director". The two endeavors were so intertwined that Erik's retirement brings ASTRA to a crossroad as well.

Erik became the Director of the Planetarium in 1974, when it first opened. Erik's assistant, John Coolbaugh, started ASTRA in 1977.  John left within about a year and Erik took over the operation of the club.  Erik ran the whole show. As stated in the "Man of Many Hats" award that we presented to Erik last December, those tasks included publishing the newsletter, performing as the club Secretary, keeping club membership records, being the club treasurer, running the club meetings, presiding at all of the meetings, being the "Astronimical League" coordinator, buying cookies/refreshments, hosting the college star parties and was just as happy as he could be to do it.  This was all in addition to his real job as Director of the Planetarium, preparing scripts for many shows, preparing the slides for all of the shows, being the Planetarium service man, teaching "Astronomy/Navigation" courses.

As ASTRA became more active,  editing/publishing the "ASTRAL Projections", creating/managing the club web site, maintaining a list of e-mail addresses, hosting club picnics managing club telescopes, coordinating "Astronomy Day". Now that Erik is retiring, ASTRA has taken on the responsibility, through the election of club officers, of those tasks related to the club.  A full executive board is necessary to accomplish what Erik has done alone for all of these years.

Erik and Gayle, his wife, haved moved to Georgia.  Erik will not be gone in spirit, however; as he will remain net connected to us, I am sure we will hear about his "Astronomical Adventures" in Georgia.  We will, nonetheless, miss the interaction ASTRA has had with him over the years and on which it has come to rely in so many ways. Will he be missed? Certainly! Will he be called upon for advice and guidance? Probably! Will a time ever come when he and his achievements are not gratefully acknowledged? NEVER! And so we are here to wish him not "farewell", but "fare forward, voyager"! The club you founded is strong. If ASTRA had a last name it would be "Zimmermann".

    Erik had returned to the Novins Planetarium in 2003 as a part-time lecturer. He missed us and we missed him. Welcome back!
    Dr. Zimmermann passed away Jan 26th, 2007 at the age of 65.

The following ASTRA members are recognized for their dedication and contributions to the Astronomical Society of the Toms River Area !!!

Congratulations to Eugene Russo,

Recipient of the Dr. R, Erik Zimmermann Award !!!

It is with deep sadness and regret that we must advise you all that Gene Russo passed away December 7th 2010 at home with his family by his side.

Some remarks from Gene’s friends…

When you first meet Gene your first impression might be, “Look at this guy, he thinks he knows everything”. Gene is such knowledgeable and likable guy that your opinion rapidly changes to, “Look at this guy, he knows everything”. Through the years many experienced ASTRA members have helped spark the interest in astronomy to newer members, sort of a Mentor I guess. Well Gene was our Mentor, the Mentor’s Mentor igniting our interest and desire to get others involved in the club and Astronomy, so we can all thank him for that.

We may as well call him Gene “How can I help” Russo. There’s never been a question at a meeting, a post on the message board or Telescope project Gene did not want to get involved in. He’s the McGiver of Astronomy. As a Comet Chief, well not even Gordon Ramsey could shake a stick at him. We’ve all seen him take a group of small children under his wing at the Astronomy day Comet Making table and become entertainer, teacher and clown in one 35 minute session. *** “We’re gona need that recipe Gene”.
He’s been to more Star Parties for Public outreach than anyone can count. Often he’d have a challenge object or a particularly interesting DSO for us to observe. At these events or an ASTRA meeting Gene could lecture at any level from simple “How to buy your first telescope” type themes to “Light wave transmission lengths through different types of Hydrogen Alpha, Beta, Sky Glow and Oxygen III Nebula filters”. ***”Does anyone know what I just said? Gene will explain later.” He always volunteered his time to do these lectures at meetings and public outreach events and took great pride in doing so. We all were happy to listen and consider ourselves lucky to have him there.

As an Astronomical observer, no one has a better eye than Gene. He taught us that observing faint objects in a telescope is a skill to be learned over the years and that knowledge of the night sky beats a goto telescope hands down. Gene insists that if you keep looking and your scope is good enough, you’ll see what you looking for and he is correct. Always willing to share his eyepiece (or assist you at yours), Gene showed us many DSO’s we might have missed and could talk you thru seeing them as well. It would go something like this:

   “Look again” he’d say. “Half a degree North of the two 12th magnitude stars with the 14th magnitude star below them”.
   “GENE! Speak English!”
   “OK, just above that dim triangle of stars”
   “OH Yeah, I see it, a dim speck right?”
   “That’s it! You got it

Never would have seen that without Gene, but more important, he taught us not only “how” to look for dim specks like that he taught us how to appreciate them. (Bob S.)

There have been so many thoughts going through my mind since I heard of Gene's passing. It's tough to sum up what I want to say, so let me just say this: Gene Russo was not just my employee, he was my friend. And my life is richer for having known him. (Gloria V.)

We will miss Gene very much. I remember one of the first telescope workshops I helped at. Gene had chosen a young girl about 8 who brought her new telescope to get help. It was a small telescope and the tripod was not very sturdy. We both watched as she tried so hard to see the moon. Gene put one of his home worked on/homemade telescopes in front of her and asked if she could get that one to work. Well she was SOOO excited to find the moon on her own. Well....when Gene asked she would mind trading with him it was one of the most heartwarming wonderful moments I have ever seen. Between the spark of Astronomy in this wonderful little girl and the amazement of the parents and the joy Gene received in giving her the better telescope. Gene showed how much he loved to help others whenever he was able to. He helped me many times with my telescope and always had time to answer every ones questions. Our heart goes out to Pat and Gene's family. Our heart also goes out to so many friends that will miss him and all people he touched with his kindness and good nature. He was an original member of ASTRA and hard worker at the Novins Planetarium. Truly a man that made a difference in this world. And... Rich loved to talk about deer hunting with him. :- ) (Love ya GENE! Sarah & Rich W.)

God Bless you Gene on your final voyage! We have all been enriched with your presence! We are less without you! We know; in our Faith; where you are! We will all be together again someday. "Oh Death, Where is thy sting". Love to Gene, and his Family! Love to all! (Ronald W. Kelleher)

I am just so saddened by the news. I'll always remember the good times that I was able to share with Gene, and his constant good nature. Rest in Peace Gene. (Pete C.)
Loss of friend and colleague. Gene's passing is both sudden and sad. The memories come thick and fast of Gene entertaining folks through ASTRA and at Novins. His talents as a builder, innovator and fixer-upper kept Novins up and running through many an equipment crisis. Now he joins the deep sky realm he so avidly sought out with his telescopes. Our loss is great. (Phil Z.)

I am a recent member and did not have the opportunity to get to know Gene very well and share experiences with him as many of you were fortunate to have done. I will miss our conversations. This is so sudden and so sad. (Vic P.)

I'll miss you Gene and thanks for everything. (Mike Kozic)

Gene was a friend. He had a big heart and was very charitable with his knowledge of many things and always sharing... Not only was I fond of Gene but Vicki also... she is devastated with his loss! Our hearts and prayers go out to Pat and his immediate family! (Mauro & Vicki B.)

I’m sure I am speaking for many members of STAR Astronomy Club to express much sadness to learn of Gene's passing. I did not know him very well as others did, but I could tell he was a special person to many people and a great ambassador for our hobby. Prayers for Gene and his family. (Rich Gaynor Vice President STAR Astronomy Club)

Gene showed us there’s a time and a place for different observations. One of Gene’s quotes from Coyle field is, “It’s 2:00 AM, it’s 9 degrees out here, my hands and feet are frozen stiff, we’re not here at this time to still be looking at M13”. That says it all. The dimmer the speck he can see the better he likes it. Gene gave us that kind of appreciation for the night sky free of charge. We at ASTRA are very grateful for everything Gene has done for the club and for us (the members) over the years. From his term as President, his Lectures, Teachings, Advice, Assistance, Encouragement and Enthusiasm we are all better amateur Astronomers. Now let’s take it one step further, because of Gene Russo we are all better human beings, better friends. For this we award you the first Dr. R. Erik Zimmermann award for a lifetime of achievement at ASTRA. Thank You, (Bob S.)

Congratulations to Randy Walton,

Recipient of the Dr. R, Erik Zimmermann Award !!!

Randy Walton
It is with deep regret and sorrow that we must advise you all that Randy Walton passed away peacefully on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at the age of 67.

(Written and presented by Bob Salvatore):

First I’d like to say that when I look around at the meetings I don’t see as many people as I used to who knew Dr. Erik Zimmermann. That’s good and bad. Bad because we’ve lost a few friends over the years including Eric of course. It’s good because I do see many new faces who didn’t know Erik so the club he founded is thriving after he’s gone. Erik was a man who brought astronomy to the public. He was the Founder of ASTRA and for over 25 years he was the Director the Planetarium, President of ASTRA, Treasurer, Star party coordinator, Web Master and Newsletter Editor. But more than that, he was a friend and mentor to all who knew him. We created this award in his memory for deserving members who follow in his footsteps bringing Astronomy to the public and being a mentor and friend to all ASTRA members. This year we bestow this honor, the second recipient of the Dr. Erik Zimmermann Award to Mr. Randy Walton.

I’ve known Randy Walton for as long as he’s been a member or as long as I’ve been a member, I can’t remember who joined first. On a personal note, the thing I love about Randy is he can take a joke with a grain of salt as big as Mount Everest and come back with a snappy answer as good anyone. When I arrive to every ASTRA meeting I look around to see who’s here, Randy is one of the people I hope to see. I know when Randy is here we’re going to have a few laughs. Randy can play the straight man or the comic, either way I think we’ve made a lot of people laugh together. Those are good times and I look forward to many more good times with Randy. When someone tells me “Hey Bob, you’re a funny guy, you made me laugh” I personally consider it the highest of compliments. So let me say right now, “Randy, you’re a funny guy, you made me laugh”.

Randy served two consecutive terms as president of ASTRA. During his tenure ASTRA was run like clockwork. We started every meeting on time, snack time was 20 minutes, the presentations started on time and the custodial department was grateful for us leaving on time. Now this may seem a little ridged compared to the more lax environment we have at meetings now. But believe me, at the time it’s exactly what the club needed. Membership was down, attendance at meetings was down, enthusiasm among the members was at an all-time low and nobody wanted the job of President. The club might have gone under, dissolved, ran a ground, sunk in the mud, went down the tubes, kaput or worse if Randy hadn’t stepped up and taken the helm. There was no way he’d just sit back and let that happen. Randy made sure we kept the club functioning as an organization with rules and regulations to be upheld. It didn’t matter how many people showed up, thanks to Randy there was a meeting every month, some sort of presentation, coffee and snacks were there and we had fun. Most of all, the club remained alive and Randy was a huge part of that effort.

When the club needed a newsletter editor and no one else had time, Randy came to the rescue again until someone else took control. Even today, you can still see Randy’s work in the newsletter providing the sky events for the month, every month for as long as I can remember. Once a year he takes it upon himself to coordinate the group purchase of the observers handbooks and Astronomy calendars. Now when you say it fast, that may not seem like such a huge task. All you have to do is:
     1) find out when the order is due
     2) for three months before the order is due announce at every meeting your collecting money
     3) collect checks and cash from interested members
     4) make a bank deposit every month
     5) fill out the paperwork and send in the order
     6) make phone calls to change the order because people decided late they wanted a book
     7) go to FEDEX and pick up the order because you weren’t home when it arrived
     8) Bring the order to the meeting and hand out everything
     9) bring the remainder home because not everyone was there
    10) repeat 8 at the next meeting
    11) repeat 9 at the next meeting
    12) repeat 10
    13) repeat 11.
By the way, Randy is a member of Star Astronomy and coordinates this with them also getting an even better price at twice the work. Not to mention his Coin club, Camera club and Computer club, I’m getting tired just writing this.

Randy has participated in every type of ASTRA function I can remember. We’ll start with Astronomy day. Randy always had some sort of telescope, binoculars, books or other Astronomical paraphernalia to show the public on Astronomy Day. He did the solar observing with the shadow and sun in the box. He has set up two PST’s the hydrogen-alpha and the calcium-k. Then came the year we found ourselves in a bind. Gene Russo our long standing Comet Chief passed away and there was huge vacancy in a very important Astronomy day program. I was at a family function and not available. Randy saved the day becoming the comet Chief for the day. He put on the chief hat, the big rubber gloves, pulled out the bowls, the ammonia, the H2O, the Organic material and the Interstellar Dust, (or the windex, water, dirt and corn syrup) he smashed the dry ice and made one of the best comets a bunch of kids ever saw. I believe he performed the presentation 175 times that day breaking the all-time record set back in 1932. Randy is a guy we’re all glad to see on Astronomy day no matter what his planned presentation is. Randy has always been a huge help at the annual New Telescope workshops. Nobody has to say “Randy could you maybe give that guy a hand” Nope! Randy was always right in the middle of things. I’ve never seen him standing there if a guest was not being helped. He takes it upon himself to make sure everyone there got the help they needed. I’ve even seen him ask other members to get busy, that guy needs help or hey nobody’s helping that woman, like it was his personal obligation to get assistance for all guests. He always seemed to have all the little things you needed at the work shop. You could ask him, “Randy do you have an allen wrench, a scissor, a Phillips screw driver and a 5 lb. sledge hammer” he’d say, “here’s the wrench, scissor, screw driver but I only have a 3 lb. sledge hammer my 5 lb.’er is in my car, do you want me to get it?”.

Now let’s talk ASTRA presentations. I remember Randy brought a video he made of the Lunar Eclipse. Very impressive! (Except for the part behind the telephone wires). He had a complete presentation with descriptions of the equipment used, detailed information on Lunar Eclipses in general and all the information specific to that Lunar Eclipse, very professional job. He’s done presentations on how to purchase a beginner telescope which were very helpful to new members. He brought scopes for them to try out as well. Randy supplied many fascinating and informative videos over the years on a verity of subjects. This type of thing is great to have when there is no presentation planned for a meeting and Randy has always been a good source for this kind of stuff. Randy has never failed to disappoint at a new equipment meeting. I’ve seen him take up way more than his allotted time on new stuff he bought nobody really cared about. He also has stuff everyone cares about and new ideas on how to make things himself which he shares on a regular basis. He’s always been an expert on eyepieces, filters, general telescope operation, camera’s and astro-photography stuff. He’s a clever guy improvising the things he needs. Like attaching the red dot finder onto something, a small telescope I think. I can’t remember what it was attached to but he had all the specs in case NASA wanted to copy his design. And I’ve never seen anybody with so much red plastic to make a red flashlight. Randy must have given away enough of this stuff to people at star parties alone to make hundreds of red flashlights. Which brings me to the next topic. Star parties. I’ve seen Randy at every different venue we visit. Over the years he’s been to scout camps, Planetarium star watches, Jakes Branch, the Lighthouse and all the other places we had regular events over the years. Sometimes he set up equipment; sometimes he’s just there to help answering questions. Either way, it’s always good to have Randy there to help. He’s good with the kids and even better with technical questions from people who don’t accept as an answer like, “Oh it’s 25,000 light years away”. I’ve never seen him at a loss for words when asked a question.

Which brings me to the next topic ASTRA meetings. First of all, if you didn’t notice, Randy always seems to have a box of stuff at the meetings. I don’t bring a box of stuff; do you bring a box of stuff? If we run out of things to talk about, Randy shows us some stuff in the box. Even if was don’t run out of things to talk about, Randy shows us stuff from the box. That’s great! One year he won the award for the most stuff in a pocket protector. I guess he brings that in case he runs out of stuff in the box. Randy always has an opinion and has never forced it on anyone. He’s always polite and considerate of others and their opinion at meetings (except me Bob). I’ve never heard him utter a cross work about anyone, not even President Obama. (except me Bob) He’s actually one of the most helpful guys at meetings. Especially when a new comer brings a scope they need help with or a regular member having a problem with some piece of equipment. Randy is more than willing to spend time with the person and try to get the scope, or whatever, working no matter how technically challenging it may be or what a big piece of crap the person brought in, Randy is there to help. Every meeting I see him standing explaining something to someone and that’s why we’re here. To bring Astronomy to the public as Erik did.

It is for his dedication to the public, the hobby of Astronomy and ASTRA that we the members of ASTRA award you, Randy Walton, the second Dr. Erik Zimmermann Award!


Congratulations to Ro Spedaliere,

Recipient of the Dr. R, Erik Zimmermann Award !!!

Ro Spedaliere

(Written and presented by Bob Salvatore):

When Erik Zimmermann left us we soon realized we needed at least 5 people to take over everything he did for the club. Ro Spedaliere, who was still a relatively new member at the time, immediately jumped in and assumed the responsibility of two of these tasks, Treasurer and Star Party Coordinator. She’s held both these positions since then and still does today (so get those dues paid up!).

Anyone who’s been treasurer of anything knows the difficulty and accuracy involved when dealing with people and their money. At ASTRA most of this is done behind the scenes where members don’t even see it until comes time they need to make a payment or get paid, which happens pretty much every week for Ro. Her efforts in this regard have been seamless, professional and accurate. I’ve never witnessed a financial problem due to errors on her part or otherwise. The accounts are always in balance, the bills always get paid and thanks to Ro an, “Uck-o, What are we gonna do now?” financial situation has never arisen. And if it has, I didn’t hear about it, did you? That’s what I’m talkin’ about. At every meeting she takes care of registering new members, collecting dues, paying for refreshments, running a raffle and that’s just some of her treasurer responsibilities. She also balances the books, the checking account and actually goes to the bank to make deposits. There has never been a challenge to Ro for this position come election time. Not only don’t I think anyone else wants the job (let’s face it, it’s actual real work), no one else can do it better than Ro and we should consider ourselves very lucky to have her watching over our financial situation.

Ro is and always shall be the “Star Party Queen”. Let’s start with booking. Just for fun, let’s see how many of the different organizations I can remember Ro has booked Star Parties with:
    1)  Our monthly party with Jakes Branch Park which is still going very strong.
    2)  Astronomy Day at Jakes Branch which is still going very strong.
    3)  The Light house which we did for many years and would still be going if not for a change in management on their part.
    4)  St. Barnanbus Church.
    5)  I’ll just go with boys scouts. Several different troops over the years.
    6)  I’ll just go with girl scouts. Again, several different troops over the years.
    7)  Student Aviators.
    8)  The Cancer Kids.
    9)  I’ll just go with schools, several different schools over the years.
   10) I’ll just go with sidewalk Astronomy.

Several different sidewalks over the years. Laugh Well that’s 10 right off the top of my head and I can keep going. Anyone else want to jump in here? Jakes Branch has been a huge success for many years mostly due to Ro’s efforts. She books the dates, makes the call for “go” or “no go” in a timely fashion and never makes a bad call. She shows up early with her telescope and even more important, brings “Alcor”. Kids flock to her for pictures with Alcor and a look in her scope. If all the pictures of kids with Alcor were posted on Facebook, I bet there’d be over 250 pictures of kids with that silly Alien we all love so much. Ro promotes the club at Jakes branch and we’ve had new people show up at meeting due to her efforts. She’s helpful to other members as well as the general public at Jakes Branch. Her coordination efforts are outstanding, there’s the parking lot situations we set up in, the lights turned off, the caravan to the camp field when we set up for the campers (did I mention Ro books that as well), Astronomy day preparation and most of all, she finds a decent place to eat afterwards.

I think it’s safe to say that over the years, thousands of people have enjoyed a night under the stars at Jakes Branch thanks to Ro.

But her efforts as Star Party Queen are not limited to Jakes Branch. No way. Every Star Party she books gets the same superb treatment. The call is made by 3:00 or 4:00 depending on the start time, she shows up early to make sure the set up location is picked and ready for everyone else. She takes the call and finds some of us who tend to get lost on the way to the location and troubleshoots anything else unexpected that should arise. It’s amazing the lack of knowledge people requesting a Star Party have for what we require (which isn’t very much). Because of Ro we never had to set in the mud or poison ivy. Laugh. We never set up under an awning as planned by one of our hosts. Although street lights are always a problem, Ro gets us as far away as possible. She gets as many lights turned off as possible no matter how much the host believes we need them on. We never have to carry our equipment far, we always set up next to the car and Ro always, ALWAYS finds a decent place to eat afterward.

Ro is responsible for getting ASTRA involved in the NASA Night Sky Network. This is a great organization for Astronomy clubs across America. They list all of our events as per Ro’s efforts in getting the entries out there for posting and even our reports get posted by Ro. We are all members of this wonderful organization as/per Ro’s involvement and hard work. She sees to it that we all get credit and awards for our Public Outreach Volunteer work which as Star Party Queen she leads us all. We have received many perks from NNSN like all of our Star Party kits and the Asteroid fragment slice we show off and public events. NNSN once ranked us as the number 1 Club in NJ for public outreach and top ten in the country thanks to Ro’s efforts in getting our work recognized. And Ro’s payment for all this work is hovering 3 feet above her head, see it there!

Berkley Pride Day is another event Ro set up for several years. We had an ASTRA booth and brought astronomy to the public in many ways. We set up telescopes for Solar and night observing, gave away handouts, did demonstrations, posed for pictures with kids and our telescopes and of course how can we forget Alcor. Several hundred if not thousands of people went home knowing more about astronomy than when they arrived at those events thanks again to Ro’s hard work and dedication. Applause. See that payment once again hovering 3 feet above her head. Ro’s has participated in every Astronomy day event since joining the club. She’s worked about every NNSN kit, did the Moon Crater box with the kids, supplied many handouts, spoke to every interested person that showed up and brings her telescope for Solar and night observing. She's usually at the forefront of planning the event, setting up the location and arranging a space for all club members attending so they have a comfortable display area. I’ve never known anyone to be in need of something on Astronomy day that Ro could not provide on the spot. What would we do with her?

A few years ago Ro alerted me to a contest Astronomy magazine was running where we could win a cash prize based on our public outreach efforts on past Astronomy days. This was a worldwide contest. Ro a few others and I worked on the project for several weeks and put together a package which we submitted. We came in third which did not get us a cash prize but we were listed on their website under contest winners. As far as Astronomy Magazine was concerned, at the time, we had the third best public outreach program in the world. And of course this program is still alive and well today mostly due to the efforts of Ro Spedaliere.

Right there, payment is hovering right there 3 feet above her head. (Laugh). Then there’s the new telescope workshop. Ro has been to every one of these events since joining the club. She has participated in group training when several people had the same scope and individual help for those in need. She goes around as if it’s her responsibility to make sure every person has someone helping them. I’ve seen her showing people how to use a new computer drive. Then she’s pointing a small almost unusable piece of junk for someone who believes it’s the best scope money can buy and making them feel like their right! Again she’s wonderful with the kids at these events and promotes Astronomy as something they can enjoy their whole lives and getting an early start will only make them love it even more. She teaches people to use books and charts and encourages the use of a computer to learn more about the sky and current Astronomical events. I’ve never seen her put someone down or make them feel as if they made a mistake with their purchases. This includes people who don’t even bother to bring the instructions to the workshop. Ro always makes do with the situation and finds a way to send them home happy.

At the monthly ASTRA meetings Ro always has the star party updates ready. This includes a report on any parties held or cancelled during the previous month and an announcement of up and coming events. Often she has a “heads up” for some Astronomical event in the near future. This includes stuff like space ship launches visible from our area and where to go to get the best view, unusual ISS activity like being chased by another space craft, Lunar Eclipes, comets passing by and she always knows when the ISS will be visible passing overhead. We see her announce the ISS arrival time and everyone starts watching for it at star parties and occasionally at ASTRA meetings. She’s aware of any Iridium Flares coming into view at Star Parties, explains what they are to the public and they marvel at it for the first time. ASTRA Members run outside to catch a glimpse of a Iridium Flare she may announce at a meeting as well. Of course she welcomes new comers to the meetings, introduces them around and encourages them to join up. If they do, then she takes care of that as well collecting dues and giving information about the club resources available once you’re a member.

Now at this point I’d like to say, “In conclusion” and wrap this up, but there is no, “In conclusion” where Ro is concerned. What Ro has done for this club seems endless and there’s no end in sight. Because of her interest in the hobby, enthusiasm for the club, her personal efforts to keep the club running smoothly financially, her push to get new people into Astronomy and her never ending dedication to Public Outreach, we the members of ASTRA present you, Ro Spedaliere, our highest honor, “The R. Erik Zimmermann Award”.

We All Thank You Very Much!

Congratulations to John Endreson,

Recipient of the Dr. R, Erik Zimmermann Award !!!

John Endreson

(Written and presented by Bob Salvatore):

It was a cold dark Friday night back in the winter of (ought 1) 2001, the meeting was over and a few members were headed back to my house for some backyard observing. Of course the new guy, (John or something, I’m not good with names) was standing there, “What? You’re all going observing? Where? Can anyone come? Is this like a club…. thing or a private thing?” To me he seemed a pleasant interested sort, so I says, “Sure your invited, come on follow me, red minivan.” Ladies and gentlemen, that was the one and only time John Endreson ever had to follow me to get somewhere.

The snow and ice was thick on the ground except for a round circle where the tripod legs would sit on frozen dirt instead of the snow at our feet that would shortly be freezing up to our knees. We saw Jupiter and Saturn then ploughed through deep sky object after deep sky object. The new guy, John (I’m sure that was it now), was very impressed, but something was missing. We were observing, galaxies, planetary nebular and open clusters. I still needed to find one really exciting showpiece for this guy, he’s really into it. Then it hit me. The globular cluster M5 is high in the sky, far more dazzling than the wispy galaxies and little planetary nebulas we were observing, this should be really cool. I moved the scope. It was a real cold crisp clear still night and the seeing was fantastic, M5 was extremely impressive. John took a look, I’m pretty sure, “Love at first sight” was the expression on his face.

I’ve heard him tell this same story several times since that day. John’s face has aged, just a bit, but you can still see that expression whenever he talks about Astronomy. It doesn’t matter if it’s answering a technical question or teaching little kids about the Great Red Spot, John brings he’s love of this hobby to the public in every way possible and is well deserving of the award we bestow on him tonight.

During the next 2 years John taught himself and questioned others enough about Astronomy, and ASTRA, that he became a leading member of the club. Veteran members Gene Russo, Rich Brady, and Paul Gitto convinced John to run for President of the club. In 2004 he was elected president and started to effect change. First he started setting up committees to handle the different ASTRA functions (before that all club functions were handled by club officers). Next he took over as the club Newsletter Editor and took the Astral Projections newsletter from a 2 page pamphlet to a multi-page booklet. Then he went online and became the club webmaster and together with other key members of the club advanced ASTRA’s involvement in the NASA Night Sky Network which supplies helpful kits and gives awards to our members for public outreach.

All that in just 2004. Over the next two years John continued his effort in public outreach, suppling information and entertainment at every ASTRA meeting. As president he never abused the office or pretended he didn’t need any help. He’d call on other trusted members and former club officers when necessary to run an event or give a presentation at a moment’s notice and we were glad to do it.

John brought the ASTRA logo and website into the 21st century. The new look says, “This is not your Grandpa’s Astronomy club” and it now appears on every ASTRA document. In his spare time (I’m sure he had plenty of that being just a full time father, husband, home owner and Verizon employee, he took over coordinating and setting up of ASTRA’s Astronomy Day presentations which were in a shambles as I recall. We used to set up telescopes in the Mall and although we had quite a few passersby, very little serious interest. John changed all that. The Astronomy Day event he helped institute is still alive today and going strong. We have outdoor observing with both Solar observing in the day and deep sky at night. Indoors we have many stations supporting several Astronomical topics manned by knowledgeable members trying to raise interest in Astronomy to anyone who will listen. Later, John got involved at Jakes Branch and now we celebrate Astronomy Day at two different locations over two different weekends. John kicked all this into gear and there’s no shift planned in the near future.

We’re still dealing in history. From 2007 to 2009 with John’s help, ASTRA became New Jersey’s #1 public outreach astronomy program and made the top 10 list (#?9th?) for public outreach in the nation. (Astronomy Magazine “Out of this World Outreach Program Awards”). When Ro and I approached John about a contest we’d planned to enter through Astronomy Magazine where the club could win a $2500 prize for our outreach program, John supplied over half the pictures from our events that we used and other information we needed. Although we didn’t win the $2500, we placed third in this international contest and even though our name appeared in small letters under the winner, ASTRA was on the front page of the Astronomy Magazine website. We couldn’t have done that without John’s input. ?

And speaking of international events, the NASA Night Sky Network invited John to California to represent ASTRA and help design and test new NSN toolkits that would be used by other astronomy clubs for their outreach programs. How much more international can you get than California?

Then in his “spare” spare time, John setup “Exclusive club discounts” with local and national telescope retailers for ASTRA club members, which is now common practice among retailers.

Gettin’ closer to the present now. 2010 John didn’t think he was doing enough for the club, so after being elected Vice President he quickly, created the ASTRA Library, took over the club telescope loan program, created ASTRA’s Facebook page, all while still serving as ASTRA’s Newsletter Editor and Webmaster and attending every star party he could. In 2011 John was once again elected club President and held the position through 2012 and continued to run many of the clubs day to day functions including hosting the annual Presides Picnic. I imagine we can also thank John’s wonderful wife Pam for providing a beautiful homey atmosphere, good food, drink and hospitality for this yearly event. We look forward to more good times with John and his family.

Which brings us to the present. John continues to support ASTRA and its members, most recently working to acquire and insure that ASTRA members have access to some of New Jerseys dark sky observing locations such as Coyle Field and Island Beach State Park. He pledges his unending support and participation in ASTRA’s “Top Ranked” public outreach program and makes it his person responsibility to insure every ASTRA event has adequate if not exceptional coverage. During an informal brain storming session about possible awards a few years back, we talked about an Astronomer of the year award. John sort of morphed that idea into what is now the Dr. Eric Zimmermann Award which is presented to ASTRA members who show dedication in ASTRA’s mission to bring astronomy to the public. John has demonstrated excessive dedication to Dr. Zimmermann’s mission with idea’s he backs up with action. Time and time again his actions produce results, and results are what makes the world move forward.

For everything you’ve done to move this club forward, John Endreson, we the members of ASTRA present you our highest honor, the Dr. Erik Zimmermann Award. Thank you!

Congratulations to Phil Zolner,

Recipient of the Dr. R, Erik Zimmermann Award !!!

Phil Zollner

(Written and presented by Rich Brady):

Phil Zollner has been a member of ASTRA for 38 years where he has shared his passion for Astronomy. He was invited to give a talk on one of his eclipse trips and joined ASTRA after that. He has the distinction of being the earliest member who is still with us.

The Planetarium opened in 1974 with Erik Zimmermann as the Director. ASTRA was formed in 1977 by the then Assistant Director to the Planetarium – John Coolbaugh. After about a year, John left and the operation of the club was assumed by Erik. Erik took care of all aspects of the club including doing all the presentations.

By the mid 80’s (after I joined in 1982) several of us including Phil did some of the presentations taking the burden off Erik. Phil has a flair for presenting a topic while weaving in a story at the same time. He has done several presentations on astrophotography, one of his favorites. He has combined photography of the heavens against the backdrop of Earth scenes, sometimes called Earth/Sky photography.

He has done presentations on eyepieces demonstrating the different types, what they are used for, how they work, and which ones to get. He has also given presentations on telescopes and mounts. Finally, he shared his experiences on many of the 13 (soon to be 14) eclipses to places like Siberia, Colombia, Australia, Kenya, Manitoba and Mauritania to name just a few.

Instead of giving information on just the eclipse, Phil presented a bit of a travel log giving information on his trip, exploring the surrounding area and culture, and any astronomical related activities in the area (museums, Planetariums, etc.) Everyone was interested in his presentation.

This typifies Phil’s style of presenting a topic and weaving a story into it at the same time. When Erik was preparing to retire (around 2001), he asked Phil (along with Gene and I) to help “run” the club as a Director. This was before we had the bylaws and election of officers.

Phil has also been with the Planetarium for about 38 years sharing his passion for Astronomy there as well. He started in Sep 1978 long before the Planetarium installed the automated system. He did live shows as well as prerecorded shows, some of which had his voice along with Erik’s and Bill Kinsella’s (the Assistant Director).

He continued after the Planetarium was automated, helping with the school shows as well as the public shows on the weekends. Phil has an eye for the sky and can notice when something is out of place in the Planetarium sky. He reminds me a little of George Lovi who did the star charts that were published in Sky & Telescope years ago.  It was said that he could walk into a Planetarium and spot a star out of place.

Phil has a degree in Astronomy and was a middle school media specialist for most of his career.  Phil is also a licensed pilot.

Because of Phil’s interest in the hobby, enthusiasm for the club and personal efforts to help with club activities, we the members of ASTRA present you, Philip Zollner, our highest honor, “The R. Erik Zimmermann Award”.

Congratulations to Richard D. Brady,

Recipient of the Dr. R, Erik Zimmermann Award !!!

Rich Brady


 Dr. Erik Zimmerman Award – Richard Brady Presentation By: John Endreson

For those of you who didn’t know Dr. Erik Zimmermann let me give you a little background history of the man.

Dr. Erik Zimmerman became the Director of the Planetarium in 1974, when it first opened and was the director of the Robert J. Novins Planetarium from 1974 to 2001.

Along with Erik's assistant, John Coolbaugh, he started the ASTRA astronomy club in 1977.  John left within about a year and Erik took over the operation of the club. He was the President of ASTRA from 1977 to 2001

Erik's dedication to ASTRA encompassed every aspect of creating an organization not just to promote Astronomy but also to create pride in membership.

He never spoke down to any of us even though his knowledge surpasses all of ours. He made us feel like his equal. He wanted all of us to excel at this hobby. Whether it was pointing out a satellite at a star party, discussing recent developments in the field, helping a new member with a new telescope or just shooting the breeze, Erik wanted us to enjoy the Astronomy hobby to the max like it was his personal responsibility.

Anything he could do to make our enjoyment of the night sky better was important to him. For many years, he was the only club member who did club presentations. And he was great storyteller, sharing with us many a tale both personal and scientific.  

By himself Erik did what must now be done by at least 5 club members. He gave the club stability, organization and direction.

He is the father who adopted ASTRA in its infancy and nurtured it through its childhood and teens.

If ASTRA had a last name it would be "Zimmermann".

Erik had returned to the Novins Planetarium in 2003 as a part-time lecturer. He was overjoyed to see that the astronomy club he started so many years ago was doing well.

Dr. Zimmermann passed away on January 26th, 2007 at the age of 65.

To honor Dr. Zimmerman for his dedication to public outreach, the hobby of Astronomy and to the ASTRA astronomy club we created the Dr. Erik Zimmermann Award!

This award is to honor those ASTRA members who chose to follow Dr. Erik Zimmerman’s example and support the ASTRA astronomy club with its objective to provide an open forum for those interested in astronomy to explore all aspects of astronomy and space sciences and to promote knowledge of astronomy and associated equipment to the public.

And that leads me to long time ASTRA member Richard Brady!

Richard Brady joined ASTRA in 1982 and over the years he has given many presentations on topics such as:

Distances in astronomy, Spectroscopy, Observing deep sky objects, What to look for when buying a new telescope, and explaining the different types of eyepieces just to name a few.

He edited many of ASTRA’s documents and handouts such as the “ASTRA Brochure” and the  “ASTRA’s Guide to Astronomy”.

In 1999 he started what would be many years as a presenter and operator at the Robert J. Novins Planetarium.

In the year 2000 with Dr. Zimmermann’s anticipated retirement, Rich Brady along with future Zimmerman award winners, Gene Russo and Phil Zollner setup ASTRA directors and committees to establish the official ASTRA By-laws.

 In 2001 after Dr. Zimmerman’s retirement Rich Brady was elected Vice President of ASTRA, with Gene Russo as President.

Rich Brady was later elected as Club President in the following years 2002, 2003, 2009, 2013, and 2014. He was also the editor for our clubs newsletter the “Astral Projections” for several years.

I met Richard Brady in 2001 when I first came to an ASTRA astronomy club meeting and it was then that Rich along with other ASTRA club administrators such as Gene Russo, Paul Guito, Phil Zollner, Bob Salvatore, and Ro Spedaliere all convinced me to get more involved with the club and with their support over the years I am where I am today.

Rich Brady continues to this day to help support ASTRA’s club officials/administrators, and members with its objective to provide an open forum for those interested in astronomy to explore all aspects of astronomy and space sciences and to promote knowledge of astronomy and associated equipment to the public.

And this is why I the President of the ASTRA astronomy club along with ASTRA astronomy club members would like to present to you Richard Brady the Dr. Erik Zimmerman Award!

 Thank You Rich!!!


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 Last update: 2/8/2019