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New Councilor- Roger Kolman

I first met Roger at the AAVSO meeting in Rockford in 2006. He joined Aaron Price, a few of my closest AAVSO friends, and me, in my hotel room one night and regaled us with stories of the good ole days and Clint Ford’s ‘hospitality suite’ at AAVSO meetings in the 60’s and 70’s until the wee morning hours. 

I met up with him again at the Citizen Sky meeting in Chicago in 2009, and shortly after we began corresponding and keeping up with each other through email and Facebook. Recently, we partnered up to co-author a paper about some of the giants in AAVSO history for the Centennial Edition of the JAAVSO. In October, I was able to visit Roger on the way back from a speaking engagement in St. Louis, and there is no better way to get to know someone than to spend a day with him in his castle, with his family, cats and memories.

Roger joined the AAVSO as a teenager in 1962, which makes him one of the longest standing members of the AAVSO. His first variable star observation was R Leo in April of that year. In 2012, he will reach the 50-year mark. That gives Roger a unique and important perspective as a member of council. He has seen a lot of changes in 50 years and has known many of the famous personalities in AAVSO history personally.

Roger’s first exposure to the AAVSO came in the form of an article in Sky and Telescope magazine (December 1961) about amateurs observing variables, written by Clint Ford. He was so impressed by the fact that ordinary people using backyard telescopes could contribute to science that it impacted the rest of his life from that day forward. Kolman became a physicist and now teaches astronomy courses at a Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. 

As a teen, he was fortunate to have regular correspondence through the mail with Clint Ford and Margaret Mayall. “I don’t know how she did it, but Margaret Mayall answered every one of my letters,” said Roger, “and I wrote a lot of letters!”

With tutoring and support from Clint Ford and his local mentor, Dick Wend, Roger became one of the AAVSO’s leading visual observers. He now has over 75,000 visual observations in the AID, and still observes from home every clear night he can, rolling out any number of telescopes from 6” to 18” onto the driveway out front or from his astronomy shed in back. 

“My wife, Elaine, keeps telling me if I would just get all these telescopes out of the garage I would have room to pull my car in,” Roger told me when I visited him in October. “That’s never going to happen!”

These telescopes are among Roger’s prize possessions. He still has the first telescope he ever owned, a 60mm Tasco refractor, hanging on the wall in the garage. “And this 6-inch rich field telescope is the one Clyde Tombaugh looked through when I visited him in the 60’s.” Roger beamed, “I’ll cherish that memory and this telescope forever.”

Some of his other cherished memories revolve around his relationship with Leslie Peltier and Carolyn Hurless. Roger made the trip from Chicago to Delphos and Lima, Ohio many times to visit and observe with Leslie and Carolyn. “For me, meeting Leslie Peltier was like meeting the Pope,” said Roger.

Carolyn was already corresponding with AAVSO observers throughout the Midwest and around the country. Roger recalls how the idea for Variable Views emerged one night at one of the ‘August Orgies’ at the Hurless residence. “She was already writing to so many people on a regular basis and sharing stories, news and observing tips, that the idea of just putting it into a newsletter and mailing it to people suddenly seemed like the best way to deal with the volume of letters.” Hurless published the ‘unofficial newsletter’ of the AAVSO for 22 years after that, at her own expense.

Kolman was the primary proponent of establishing the Astronomical League’s Leslie Peltier Award, and has been the chairman of the selection committee ever since its inception. Roger also wrote a manual for the AL in 1999 entitled Observe and Understand Variable Stars. This began discussion that led to the AL’s variable star observing club.

“I’ve been asked to run for office in the AL and refused a couple times. There are only so many hours in the day, Mike, and I had to decide if I wanted to be an administrator or an observer. Well, as you can see, I decided to stay an observer because that is where my heart is.”

Roger served on the AAVSO Council in the late 90’s, but has been content as an avid visual observer since then. So why, after all these years, did Roger decide to run for the AAVSO Council again?

“I’ll be the first one to tell you that the accomplishments and progress that have been made over the last ten years are impressive, and I’m very proud to be a member of such a forward thinking and technologically savvy organization. But I think a lot of people have been receiving mixed messages in the last few years. 

For some, the new AAVSO is not perceived as a place that is welcoming to beginners, visual observers, or anyone who hasn’t got $10,000 worth of telescopes, computers and CCD equipment. When I joined the AAVSO I was a teenager with a tiny telescope and a dream. Being exposed to the great people I met in the ‘AAVSO family’ was an important part of my life. We shouldn’t lose that. I think the organization can move forward without becoming impersonal. 

We can inspire young people and foster an atmosphere of caring about the members and observers in the AAVSO as much as the science we do. I’m all for progress, but the heart and soul of the organization doesn’t have to be a casualty to progress.”

It’s been a lot of fun getting to know Roger. He can paint a picture of days gone by, look into the future, and tell a good joke all in the same breath. We are now fast friends, and I think, like Roger does, that fostering these relationships is as important as anything else we do as an organization.

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