In October, just before the 101st Annual Meeting, I was asked to take on a big project: finding every current AAVSO member who has been a member for at least 25 cumulative years. With huge changes in technology and the way this data was stored at HQ in the last 25 years, it ended up being an intricate, meticulous job. And because of the diverse group of members we have, it also uncovered some interesting pieces of information!
I began with the most basic step: process of elimination. I printed a 16-page list of the names and join dates of every current member. However, one of the first details of this project to be ironed out was the clarification that 25 years did not necessarily mean 25 consecutive years. Due to this caveat, I had to cross-reference this list with the membership applications of most of our current members, to see if they mentioned whether they had been members in the past. Good thing we ask new members how they heard about the AAVSO! It was easy to cross out the ones who said outright that they first heard about us through the internet (the AAVSO definitely has not yet had an online presence for 25 years) or very recently. But I had to take care to mark down anyone who said they had previously been members, so I could track down their original join dates.
From this list, I was also able to immediately highlight those people whose join dates were at least 25 years in the past. (That was easy: I am 25, so I just looked for dates before I was born!) I later went through those people’s records as well to make sure the dates were right. Some people had originally joined even sooner than what the database said, and others had joined then but their memberships later lapsed. I wanted to make sure to get all of that information together now so that next time we do a similar project, we won’t have to redo all this work again! Computerizing people’s join dates is something we had been planning on getting to anyway, for the purposes of accurate recordkeeping, so now the hardest part of that separate project is done.
Unfortunately, there were quite a few people with no membership application in the file because they had joined so long ago and their applications were elsewhere, and with no join date in our database. A lot of the join date information was put in when the database was originally created, but there were some anomalies and some periods of time when the website was not keeping track of when people joined. I did not know what to do about this, but Mike Saladyga did.
Mike showed me the membership cards: files full of index cards, color-coded by membership type (white for Annual members, blue for Sustaining members, and orange for the rare Lifetime members). Every join date, address change, and dues payment was carefully tracked on these cards before the AAVSO switched over to computerized records in the early 2000s. I removed these drawers one by one, and went through the cards to find the people on my list and jot down their join dates. When I could not find someone, I went to another index card file, which contained the older cards for anyone who resigned or whose memberships lapsed. Sometimes people’s memberships lapsed for a year or two and their cards ended up in that file. When that happened, I subtracted the amount of time that they were non-members, to determine whether or not they added up to 25 or more years.
Finally, I had found just about everybody on my list. As for the few who were nowhere to be found in the index files and who had no join date in our database, I went into their database records manually and noticed that all of their records had been created during a short period of time in the mid-2000s, so they were probably all new members at that time. There must have been some kind of administrative or website error at that time that did not keep track of their join dates, but it was clear that none of them had been 25 year members.
At the November 2012 meeting, all of the hard work paid off, as we honored the 25+ year members who were present by awarding them special pins. They show the AAVSO logo, with “25” written in gold in the center of the star. A little thank you for your long history of support! But don’t worry, we have more pins to give out to those of you who were not present at the meeting.
The final count? 183 people have been AAVSO members for at least 25 total years! That is over 15% of our membership. And 22 of them have been members for over 50 years – almost half the life of the AAVSO itself!
Our longest-standing “member” is the Haverford College Observatory, which bought a Lifetime membership in 1929. Our longest-standing individual member is Martha Stahr Carpenter, who joined the AAVSO as a college student in 1939 and purchased a Lifetime membership in 1946. Those who attended the AAVSO’s Centennial Meeting in October 2011 may have had the privilege of meeting her.
The AAVSO is proud to have so many longtime members among its ranks. So that their accomplishment may be recognized by all, we have included their names in the Honors and Awards section of our website. The full list of 25 year members can be found here. If you are on this list and would also like your 25 year pin, please contact the AAVSO with your name and current mailing address, and we will mail it to you within 2-3 weeks (may take longer for international delivery). If you are not on this list and believe you should be, or are on this list and believe you shouldn't be, please contact the AAVSO and we will verify and correct the mistake.