by John Church
In Memoriam: Dick Peery
Richard D. “Dick” Peery, former Director of the AAAP, passed away on April 3, 2017 at age 75. He held bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Rutgers University and was the former Director of the New Jersey State Museum Planetarium in Trenton, where he worked for 35 years. I knew Dick well, and I offer this in his memory and in gratitude for his many contributions to the AAAP.
The first reliable record that I have about Dick and the AAAP was when he volunteered to be a member of the new observatory committee at our tenth anniversary dinner on November 13, 1972. Ironically enough, at our first committee meeting two weeks later, we eliminated Washington Crossing State Park as a possible site for our projected observatory. Later on, however, as chair of the observatory committee, Dick facilitated negotiations with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection that allowed us to lease the site near the Nature Center where our observatory now stands. The lease was finalized in early 1977 and approved by the AAAP membership at the February meeting.
Dick was elected AAAP Director in May, 1975. His future wife and future Director Roxanne Tobin, who as editor named our newsletter “Sidereal Times,” was re-elected Secretary. Several of us, including Dick and Roxanne, scouted various locations in Hopewell Township and environs earlier, looking for a suitable observatory site, but had come up empty. Without Dick’s creative help with the Washington Crossing site, we might still be looking for a home.
Speaking of Roxanne, I recall her frustration at perpetually cloudy skies such as those we have been enduring for most of this past summer. She usually wrote a monthly column called “Roaming the Skies,” but in 1973 she wrote one called “Roaming the Clouds” with a map and objects such as Dubheious, Vague, Denebulus, Ridiculous, and Beta Cumulonimbus.
We broke ground for the observatory in April 1977. Dick is in the hooded sweatshirt, our crew chief Bill Phillips is on the left, and I’m in the trench.
Groundbreaking was the easy part. Little did we know that we would soon be hitting shale and large rocks. With no funds for power equipment, many pitched in with shovels and pickaxes. The future location for the refractor pier is indicated by a stick, and some dirt has already been removed where the north pier would be.
The photo below, taken two months later and in much better weather, shows the concrete foundation being poured. Dick is at center in the beige shirt. The young “superintendent” is my son Fred and I’m in the red shirt. Bill Phillips is in the blue shirt and standing behind him is future Director Kurt Goepfert. Treasurer and future Director Leith Holloway is in the green shirt. Tireless star party organizer Mike Clark is at right.
Roxanne passed away in 2001. The last time I remember seeing her and Dick was at the planetarium many years ago when Dick was giving our traditional June show. I remember how proud he was for the part he had played in getting the fine Minolta projector that is still there and is occasionally used for demonstrations. It’s now been superseded by a digitized projection system that not only shows the skies, but also gives other major presentations for the public.
The mutually beneficial relationship that the planetarium and AAAP still enjoy would not have happened without Dick’s hard work and contributions over many years. We are in his debt.