The Founding of the Great Lakes Planetarium Association

The Founding of GLPA

by David DeBruyn


The Great Lakes Planetarium Association is the oldest of the regional groups in the United States.

It also predates the Planetarium Association of Canada.

I like to believe that the Great Lakes Planetarium Association inspired the others into existence and is also a foundation upon which CAPE, I.P.S., and other worldwide planetarium groups are built.

The inspiration belongs primarily to one man, Dr. Von Del Chamberlain. After making acquaintance with Dennis Sunal and myself upon a visit to the University of Michigan, he invited us up to Flint to discuss the possibility of collaborating with him in the formation of a regional planetarium group. That meeting took place in the fall of 1963.

A year later the first gathering occurred. Dennis had graduated and moved on to the John Glenn Planetarium in Wayne, I had departed for Grand Rapids, and Von Del had become staff astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University.

The meeting was in Lansing on November 21, 1964, which just happened to correspond with one of the earliest major snowstorms in Michigan history. Near blizzard conditions existed the night before. Nevertheless, about 40 people showed up, some from as far away as southern Ohio. Notable were names I have heard of but never seen: Ralph Ewers (the wizard of Cincinnati), and Mr. Richard Emmons of Canton, Ohio, who brought along his enthusiastic daughter Jeanne, and son Tom. I had read about Mr. Emmons' homemade planetarium in Sky and Telescope, and this inspired me to build one myself.

Dr. James Stoekley, a retired astronomy popularizer, and former director of the planetariums of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, was keynote speaker for the one day event. It was decided that there should be an attempt to formalize an organization, and a steering committee was formed to that end. Chamberlain, DeBruyn, and Sunal were among the members of that panel. Discussion indicated that there should be a formal organizational meeting the following year, hopefully a little earlier in the fall to avoid the perils of foul weather.

In March of 1965, DeBruyn, Chamberlain and Sunal got together and journeyed to Canton, Ohio for the meeting of the steering committee- in an ice storm-but the sun came out the next day and it warmed up-a first taste of spring, and a proposal accepted to have the organizational meeting in Grand Rapids with DeBruyn as convention chairman.