Planetarium Seeks Friends

The Valley City State University Planetarium is celebrating its 20th birthday this year and only has a few shows left before campus construction puts it into a nine-month hiatus. In the meantime the university is hoping the planetarium can rekindle some old friendships and start some new ones.

“Friends of the Planetarium” donate money to help the planetarium operate. Barnes County Museum Curator Wes Anderson teaches a physics course, “Planetarium Science,” at VCSU and his students put together a new program every year.

Alice Beuchman, of the VCSU Science Office, said the Friends of the Planetarium help pay those students and to pay students for presenting programs to the public, schools, organizations and groups.

Beauchman said the amount of money needed to fund the program varies every year.

“Usually people send the average of $25 and there’s a list each year of people that donated to the planetarium and at the spring show they will list the people that have contributed to help getting that show ready,” she said.

“A lot of time when groups come to the planetarium they just bring a check and leave it with me and I’ll forward it to the foundation office.”
Donations can be sent to VCSU Foundation Office, Attn. Friends of the Planetarium at 101 College Street Southwest, Valley City, N.D., 58072.
“It’s definitely a unique connection to the community, a town-and-gown kind of thing,” Anderson said.

This year Anderson has four students helping him set up public shows which are usually on every third Saturday, but that number is down from seven students last year.

“I’m limited by my students, but that’s kind of the aim, anyway.
Renovation is rapidly wrapping up on the new section of the Rhoades Science Center building on the VCSU campus, and in December, renovation of the old section – where the planetarium is located – will begin, effectively shutting down the planetarium until classes resume in fall of 2013.

We have lots of school tours through every spring, but unfortunately with the remodeling of the building they’re closing us down until September.

During the shutdown, the planetarium will have work done on the ceiling, floor and walls, and Anderson is trying to acquire additional equipment to augment the presentations, but said the additions are limited by funds.

“We’re going to need to find more Friends for the Friends of the Planetarium to keep this activity going for years to come,” Anderson said.

The first planetarium show “Are We Alone?” was created in 1992 by former VCSU professor Eileen Starr, who retired to her home in Spokane, Wash., in 2002. The show opened under the starry planetarium sky with Pink Floyd’s “Is there anybody out there?” before going into a radio call-in theme. That year Starr also created the Friends of the Planetarium to provide money to for hiring students to do the presentations to school groups, partly as a VCSU recruiting tool. Anderson said the thinking at the time was if students came to VCSU to visit the planetarium, they might feel comfortable in attending VCSU as their college.