By Barbara Toy
This is my last formal message to you as president of Orange County Astronomers – a fitting time for some retrospection, introspection, or even plain ol’ reminiscing... Whatever it may be, here are some ruminations on the presidency as seen from the inside… (Caution! The experience of other presidents may differ…)
Some General Ruminations
It has really been a great experience being president for the last two years. Even though I worked pretty closely with Liam Kennedy, my predecessor, as vice president, and so had the chance to see some of what was involved from close quarters, there’s definitely a learning curve and a need for some attitude adjustments when you take on that position. You can get a lot of satisfaction, as well, sometimes in quite surprising ways.
The job certainly adds a touch of excitement to life. You get phone calls and emails from all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons. Some samples: astronomers planning to visit the area and wanting to know about viewing opportunities (at least one made it to Anza and wrote up a glowing report for his own club’s newsletter), people wanting information or recommendations about telescopes, people (fortunately not too many) wanting help locating “their” stars, reporters with questions about the astronomical phenomenon de jour (especially Mars during the 2003 opposition) or wanting information about our activities, people (usually not members) with questions about something they’d read in the paper or seen on TV, and even members or potential members who have questions about the club and its many activities. Every now and then there’d be one who was on such a different wavelength that – well, let’s just say that communication was difficult. Most have been a pleasure to deal with, though I’d sometimes wonder why they’d selected me to contact…it’s a testament to the effectiveness of our website that most told me that that’s how they found me.
Besides the excitement of never knowing who will contact you or why, the presidency imposes a certain discipline. There are regular deadlines that have to be met: the President’s Message has to be done by the 15th of the month, preparations for the general meetings (such as the pre-meeting slide show) have to be done by the 2nd Friday of the month, the agenda has to be finished, circulated and posted well before the bimonthly Board meetings, and so on. This regular rhythm makes it an interesting challenge – maybe it’s even taught me to be more disciplined in general (one can always hope!).
One pleasant surprise to the position was the ability it gave me to bring bits and pieces of information or equipment together to help solve a particular problem, such as pulling together the major pieces so we could install the 12-inch LX200 donated by John Hoot as the first remote-controlled telescope in the Mocat observatory, using a pier that had been donated to the club and put in storage by Charlie years ago, which only he remembered was there, a long-forgotten focal reducer I found at the back of one of the desk drawers in the club observatory, and computers donated through the efforts of Bob Buchheim and Joe Busch, among other donated equipment. In fact, by the time you read this (if the weather allows), the telescope and its control systems should be operational and ready for fine-tuning, which is great cause for rejoicing. Even though the other EOA members have done the actual work of building the observatory, designing the system and getting all of the pieces to work together, my involvement in the project as an officer of the club has helped us reach this point – a little-recognized but very real benefit to holding these positions is the ability they give you to help other club members achieve their goals.
The Joys of Administration
The president is the club’s chief administrator. Most members know that the president runs the monthly general meetings, and may know that he or she also presides over the Board meetings. The responsibilities go beyond this, though, as the president sets the agenda for the Board meetings and has the final responsibility for anything that happens at the general meetings – if there’s any significant problem (such as with the speaker, change of meeting location, equipment issues – basically, anything associated with the meeting), it’s ultimately up to the president to deal with it.
Fortunately, this is far from a one-person show. The vice president, of course, is responsible for the speakers, including making sure that they know how and when to get to the meetings, and arranging for whatever equipment they need, though the president is often involved in these issues as well. Beyond this, when we’ve been faced with the unexpected in the two years I’ve been president, it seems that there have always been people who’ve willingly lent a hand to keep things moving in the right direction – which has included picking the lock to the circuit breaker box so we could get power to the projector (that really did happen!), hauling sheets of wood up the auditorium stairs to put together a makeshift table for the refreshments, posting notices around Hashinger Hall about a last-minute change in the meeting location, and helping out with the frequent problems with the sound system, to list just a few things over the last couple years that have helped make our meetings – interesting.
I usually found out about these little problems when someone emailed or telephoned me (if it was before the meeting) or button-holed me at the meeting to tell me about them, at which point – this is the particular joy of being the chief administrator – they became my problem to resolve. Often this could be done by identifying an appropriate person to pass the problem off to (a popular administrative technique known as “delegation”) or by getting the word out about the problem and asking for help. For all of you who came forward when we needed help – many, many thanks!
Of course, it’s not just meeting-related problems that land at the president’s door. As the chief administrator, he or she may be called upon to deal with any issue that comes up as to any aspect of the organization, which covers a lot of territory. A few highlights I recall are the fire (of course – hard to forget that!), water and wind damage at Anza (a recurrent problem), getting notice that our insurance policy wasn’t going to be renewed, and getting notice from the Centennial Heritage Museum that a small building that had been used by the club in an earlier lifetime was being demolished but still had club property in it (be it hereby known that Charlie Oostdyk did all the heavy lifting – in the last case, literally – on those last two problems. He and I consulted about it a number of times, but he was the one who worked directly with our insurance agent to find a new policy, and he was the one who went to the museum to retrieve whatever we might want to keep from the old building).
Sometimes I’ve actually been able to take care of a particular situation myself, such as putting up the sign with our street address on it when we received a warning from the fire department because it wasn’t posted, and putting in a new lock box with a key at Anza House when the lock on the old lock box couldn’t be opened (when Don Lynn got back from his vacations last summer, he figured out how to fix the old lock box lock – we have such talent in our organization! – so we now have two functional lock boxes), but usually my role has been to collect information about the situation, get it to whoever needed to know about it, monitor the situation as other people have done the actual work, and express appropriate heartfelt appreciation in the process.
Well, admitting this may get me kicked out of the Ex-President’s League, but – dealing with all of these things was fun.
A Case Study…
Of course, the main reason I’ve enjoyed dealing with these things is that I’ve been working with such talented and industrious people. Here’s a very recent instance (this is actually the simplified version – there was even more going on, having to do with the perimeter fence and the observatory plumbing. Since I don’t have room to do all of that justice here, let me at least thank Don Lynn in passing for his efforts in both those areas):
When I was leaving our Anza site in December, I found that the gorge carved by runoff into the far edge of the road going up to our property had widened to the point that someone making a too wide a turn from our driveway onto the road could easily slide into it. I notified the other members of the Board, and Gary Schones immediately volunteered to fill the gorge with a slurry of concrete and dirt that would be more resistant to further erosion on that slope than a repair with just dirt. Equally promptly, Bob Buchheim volunteered to help him, but the project had to be postponed briefly.
Gary was out at Anza working on something else in the week after Christmas, however, and notified the Board that Friday that there had been recent wind damage to the club observatory and to Russ Sipes’ Star Cruiser observatory. When I passed the word on to Don Lynn about it, he promptly volunteered to replace the roof shingles that were torn off the club observatory by the wind at the next star party, which was when he would next be able to get out there. That was more than a week away, and, perhaps being a bit compulsive, I decided to go out the next day (New Year’s Day) to check on the damage for myself and to take some shingles I happened to have as replacements. I found, among other things, that the intervening rainstorms had carved some additional deep and nasty ruts in the driving surface of our entrance road.
While I was walking the site before it got dark, Dave Radosevich and John Kerns tracked me down – they had come out to Anza earlier that day to check on possible damage to their property, and had also checked the club’s property. The observatory roof wasn’t leaking, but they discovered that water had gotten under the door to the warming room and soaked the shipping container that was holding the club’s 10-inch LX200, which had just been repaired by Meade but hadn’t yet been reinstalled on its pier. When I got the observing area open, they undertook the strenuous job of getting the telescope onto its pier (the water hadn’t actually reached the telescope, fortunately). Dave, who actually carried the telescope up the stairs and held it in position on the pier while John got the bolts in to hold it, also mentioned that one of the trees on the club’s property had fallen, taking out part of a fence and blocking the road on that side – he’d already cleared it out of the road by the time I got there.
After I got home, I notified the rest of the Board about the additional road damage, which was of particular concern because of the upcoming January star party, as the damage would make it difficult for passenger cars to get over that stretch of road. Gary noted that there was supposed to be a break in the weather on Thursday of that week, and he emailed me later that he had rented a bulldozer and would repair the road if the weather allowed – which it did. Unfortunately for those of us who were hoping to get a good view of Comet Machholz near the Pleiades, the star party didn’t actually happen because of rain, but at least that stretch of road is now passable and should resist further water damage, thanks to Gary’s hard work and expertise.
That’s a snapshot view of how several significant problems were taken care of recently through the efforts of a wonderful and capable bunch of folks. This is essentially how most problems we’ve had over the last couple years have been handled – my role has mainly been to get the word of a particular situation out to the appropriate people, who have willingly volunteered to do what needed to be done to take care of it (and many times they’d just take care of a problem when they saw it). These volunteers all have a lot of other responsibilities in their lives, sometimes causing more delays before a job could be finished than we’d like in a perfect world, but working with them in resolving whatever has come up has been such a pleasure that I think I’m now totally spoiled when it comes to dealing with similar problems in the “real world” outside of OCA.
Of course, the people mentioned in this account are only a few of the folks whose efforts have kept the club going in the last couple years and whose work has helped make my job pretty easy. It would be impossible to give a complete account here of everyone and what they’ve done – and, if I tried, I’d inevitably forget someone and feel terrible about it forever after. If you look at the Contacts list on the back of the Sirius Astronomer or on the website, look at the people who’ve served on the Board, look at the people who’ve been mentioned in past President’s Messages – that’ll give you an idea. Don Lynn and Gary Schones do deserve specific mention, however, as they are the ones who do the vast bulk of the construction and repair work out at Anza and I don’t know how we would manage without their help (Don doesn’t limit his helpful activities to Anza, as he showed by stepping in on minimal notice to fill in for “What’s Up” at the January meeting).
I do have a motive here beyond roving a bit down memory lane. I’ve found being on the Board and serving as president to be immensely rewarding experiences that I’d like to see other members share. Sometimes people think that the formal leadership of a club like ours really isn’t that important, or that serving on it is incredibly onerous and to be avoided. As I’ve tried to show you in my various accounts of the Board and its activities over the years, including this one, ours is a very hands-on Board that has the serious task of running the club and whose decisions can have a direct affect on every member, but serving on the Board is far from grim or excruciating. In fact, doing any of the wide variety of things that Board members can choose to do for the club while they are in office can give a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and doing them is often just plain fun.
A disproportionate share of the actual work that’s needed to keep this club going is done by current and past Board members (Don Lynn and Jim Benet are two who come to mind in the “past Board member” category), and the episode I described above is typical that way. I have no reason to think that the 2005 Board will be any different in that respect from the Boards I’ve served on in the last four years. Since I’m not running for the 2005 Board, I can be reasonably dispassionate in asking you to please pay particular attention to what Board members do in the coming year to help keep the club viable and growing, and let them know that you notice and appreciate what they are doing. Everyone can use an “Attaboy” now and then, and Board members are no exception.
In closing, I’d like to say to all of you club members who entrusted me with the management of the club these last two years – thank you for your trust, and for the honor and the incredible experience of serving as your president.
And to all of you past and current Board members, coordinators, and other volunteers who have done so much for the club over the years and who did so much that made my job as president a pleasure, you have my very deepest gratitude. As one of my last official acts as president, I claim the honor of thanking you all on behalf of the club for everything that you’ve done and continue to do: On behalf of the club, thank you!