Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society

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First President, Richard Somer

by Kevin Kopek

In the late 1700’s, when our country was looking at its new beginning, an extraordinary group of men assembled and set about the task of building a solid foundation for the country to build upon and grow. Men like Hamilton, Franklin, Madison, Jefferson, Monroe, Adams, and others all contributed. The country would not have succeeded if it were not for all of them, but one man stood out. George Washington was the leader of the Revolutionary Army that achieved victory against all odds over the most powerful armed forces in the world at the time. He soon became the first president of this country, and guided it through its initial growing pains. 

In May, 1989, a group of 7 people with common interests met with a singular goal in mind. It included Sam Falvo, Phillip Marasco, John Ossowski, Daniel Paves, Joseph Perry, Arlene and Richard Somer. It wasn’t the founding of a new country, but it was the founding of an astronomy club in central New York, and just like in our country’s beginning, one man stood out among the 7 “founders.” Richard Somer was that man.

Richard was an imposing figure who demanded attention with his authoritative voice and stature. Richard wrote the club’s bylaws, which after they were reviewed and revised, were adopted, and still direct us today. He confidently took the reins and became president of the new Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society for the first 2 years of the club’s history. An estimated 60 to 70 people attended the club’s first formal meeting in the solar classroom at Hamilton College in July 1989. The newly formed organization had well over 100 members throughout its early years. Club star parties at Hamilton College’s observatory, public star parties, impromptu member star parties in his and other member’s backyards, the star-b-que (originally at Colgate), and the club’s yearly banquet (originally at Hamilton College’s dining hall) all started during Richard’s early tenure. Richard guided the organization from its beginning on a course that continues today.   

On a personal note, I first “met” Richard over the phone. I found his name in an Astronomy magazine as the contact person for the MVAS. After attending a star party in 1995, I called Richard and asked for directions to the Hamilton College Science Auditorium to attend the next club meeting. Richard’s directions...” go up College Hill Road, turn right on to Campus Drive, and follow the crowd.” I was a little bit perplexed by that, but over time realized...that’s Richard.  I still smile about that when I think of it to this day. Richard was treasurer of the club at that time, and still an influential figure in the club’s workings. Upon meeting Richard at the meeting, I was a little intimidated, but after getting to know him at star parties, after meetings, and other club functions, I found him to be very personable with an intellect I couldn’t challenge, and a strange “off the wall” sense of humor, like my own, that I thoroughly enjoyed. I always thought of Richard as a friend, but if I mentioned it out loud, he’d probably say, “Wait a minute, I never agreed to that.”

As the years passed, and Richard’s health declined, I missed his presence at club meetings and gatherings. I was so happy to see him at the club’s 25th Anniversary banquet at Aqua Vino a few years back and hope he took pride in seeing the club he pioneered from its infancy still going strong after all these years. I’d like to say, “Thank you, Richard, for all you’ve done for the MVAS. You will always be remembered. Rest in peace.”