Sunday, December 7, 2008

Knowledge as a way of life

John N Swegan said...
I first met Rick when I hung around his younger brother back in high school. Little did I know how he would affect so many other lives in their quest for knowledge. Knowledge: knowing his family, that is more than just a word, but a way of life. I've seen it in his parents and siblings. The quest for knowledge comes not only from seeking it, but in sharing it and seeing how the knowledge you share is seen through the eyes of others.

When my daughter called me about his death, I was shocked. The last time I had seen him was several years back, at his father's funeral. He was like that rock that was always there, one on which his family bound themselves. Now the rock is gone, but he has made sure that future generations will remember him, his work, and his passions. Nobody ever left his presence without being richer for the experience.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The magical insanity of the natural born lineman...

Robert P. Palermo sends some stories; here is one on October 26:

"1:23 pm, Sunday:
"It's Sunday, the day after the memorial service for Rick that I just attended. I received the news about Rick from my sister Patricia, who still lives in the Girard, Ohio Area and the feeling of the loss of a old great friend had overwhelmed me. For the following week I could do nothing but recount the many years of insanity that Rick and I had shared together and from those times I wanted to share the experiences of those days with Ricks other friends.

"Jim Johnston and I are two of Rick's oldest friends and while over the years our paths had taken us away from each other there were many special and magical times that we shared. I had met Rick thru another mutual friend John Biviano who had asked me to provide a ride for Rick to some high school function. Since in those days I did not drive, my sister was good enough to provide chauffeur services on my behalf. After meeting Rick and spending some time with him I knew that we were going to be friends. Rick had a way of living life with a certain kind of zest and devil may care attitude that was very attractive.

"Rick got me to join up with the Radio Crew in high school which consisted of Jim, John and Rick. The original geek squad as Jim has pointed out in his blog. ( If we knew there was going to be some money in this we would have stuck together. I guess it was case that we were ahead of our time.) The radio crew was responsible for setting up all the PA equipment for the schools for special events, and especially setting up and running the phones between the pressbox and the field for the coaches during the Niles football games. Those duties extended to away games where we brought along our own equipment and set up the vital communications between the pressbox coaches and the field coaches. High school football was rather vicious in those days and phones provided by the other schools during away games many times were tapped by those schools trying to listen in . We took our jobs very seriously and ran our own lines down to the field from the pressbox. Many times this required some ambitious climbing and dangling from precarious positions to get the lines strung and that job fell to Rick who was a natural born lineman.

"It was interesting that I was brought into this group as I knew nothing about electronics or wiring or anything even remotely connected to this field. I had grown up working in my fathers garage learning about cars and things mechanical. However the guys were willing to teach , and I was willing to learn. Jim was the brilliant one and had the unique ability to design almost anything electronic and explain the theory about how things would work. I barely understood some of the words he was using let alone understanding what in the world he said.

"It was Rick who would take Jim's explanations and break it down so that I could understand (something around Sesame Street level) After awhile I could honestly say I understood about 10% of what was being said. My forte' as it were was things mechanical having been blessed with the natural understanding of these things from my father who was a natural born mechanical engineer. Over time my talents and Rick's ended up complimenting each other and the result was some pretty incredible stories over the next 10 years. It is my most fervent desire to post as many of these stories as I can here so that others can share in the experiences that we once lived. Stay Tuned, there's a lot more to come. "
Sincerely, Robert P. Palermo

Also read Practical Joke Part 1
Also read Rick and DPB Incident
Also read Rick's First Laser Light Show
Also read Rick Going Fast, Going Far
Also read The Eclipse

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Soldier on the front line

James Randi recorded and sent his spoken personal message to honor Rick on October 25 at the memorial service in the Ward Beecher Planetarium. Many thanks to Mr. Randi (and to Rick's wife, Victoria) for graciously allowing us to also share it here.
If the video does not load or play, try clicking here

Holy Books

elecpenciljim wrote this on his own blog Elecpencil on Saturday, October 25, 2008

Of Holy Books to Rick

"I got up this morning with every intention of going to a memorial at YSU's Planetarium for Rick Pirko. The arthritis in my back, knee and bursitus in my hip had other plans for me. By afternoon I was able to try and speed limp out to the mailbox. I was rewarded with my monthly invite to join AARP and a free copy of, Arthritis Today. Nothing like kicking a guy when he's down and adding insult to injury.

"Since I didn't make it to YSU I'd like to say this about Rick:
I got to know Rick Pirko as a fellow member of the Valley Co-alition of Peace and Justice. I enjoyed talking to Rick while we held signs at Friday afternoon protests against the Iraq war. I remember reading a Letter to the Editor of The Jambar Rick had written. I discussed it with him while protesting, telling him how much I liked what he had written.

"Read Rick's Letter to The Editor of YSU’s The Jambar 2/10/05 here
2/14/06 Letter here
Digging up that letter I note how Rick was sure right about where the Bush economy was headed. I laughed aloud when I read, 'I hoard my Canadian Quarters.'

"I’m Rick’s age and only wish that I had been able to accomplish half as much at Rick did in his lifetime.

"Being a religious skeptic like Rick and hearing the story of him removing bibles from hotel rooms I'm posting this poem (posted here as an article to save space) I wrote some time ago. I hope he would have liked it:

Of Holy Books

"Christians are portraying Moslems who follow their holy book, the Koran as intolerant murderers, criminals and terrorists. Some Christians are saying, atrocities such as the attack on 9/11 can easily be attributed to the prophet Mohammed and the god, Allah. They point out Koran verses that preach hate like the following: 'Don’t associate with those of other faiths.' 'Don’t receive them into you home or even exchange greetings with them.' Others who don’t share your beliefs have an 'evil heart.'

"It gets even more intolerant when you read; 'God destroys those who don’t believe in him.' When the god in this supposed 'Holy Book' isn’t killing someone, which he seems to do on many pages, he is ordering his followers to kill any friends or family that worships a god different than him. He says to kill them in their very own church. He orders, 'Kill all inhabitants of any city where people worship different than you.' There are holy verses that call for the elimination of entire ethnic groups including women, children, animals and even trees. He tells his followers to, hide along the road wait for women and then kidnap, rape and marry them. This god tells his followers you are 'of God' and everyone else is wicked.

"You best believe there’s a lot to fear from this faith when you read, 'Everyone will have to worship the prophet---whether they want to or not.' They place themselves above all laws by the verse, 'A follower cannot be accused of any wrongdoing.' I’ve only scratched the surface of the hate and evil deeds in this so called, 'Holy Book.'

"Knowing that their faith could crumble if it were to under go any free and critical thinking, this prophet tells his followers to avoid philosophy. That just proves that ignorance is bliss.

"Surely this hate-filled book should never be in a library. It should also never be allowed in a school. Banning it is just not enough. All copies of it need to be immediately burned. If I were a politician who espoused 'family values', I’d strike the first match. Clerics of every religion should be calling for a funeral pyre of this unholy book. It’s little wonder that its followers’ fight constant wars and justify them.

"I did extensive research that buried my desk in a pyramid of paper to write this poem. Gathering so much info can get confusing. That’s my excuse because I have just realized, oops, my bad, the aforementioned verses are really from the Bible’s Old and New Testaments, instead of the Koran. All holy books tend to have some type of the hate filled quotes from above in them. Such statements taint any good that can be found in these books. We need to know what’s in our own back yard before we ask our neighbors to clean their back yard. Building fences between our neighbors is surely no way to build a better neighborhood.

"Peace to you Rick."

Tour of the Universe, food great, the company even better

Ted Seman sent this October 25, 2008:

"Rick was a friend who I very much enjoyed seeing and occasionally working with during the many years I knew him. We met when I attended the university as an undergraduate student in the department, so very long ago. I remember numerous ‘tech talk’ discussions we had in the planetarium, where he would show me some current engineering/design work he was involved with at the time. He and I had a common interest in electronics and I had a great deal of respect for what he was able to do as an engineer and technician. I really enjoyed those discussions, as well as a number of collaborations with Rick as I would help make ready a piece of hardware for use in the planetarium.

"I also recall how, on a Friday or Saturday evening, I would take a break from working on some project of my own in a department lab shortly before a 6:00 or 8:00 show and visit Rick in the planetarium workroom, and then stay for a show or presentation he would host. Rick was a great lecturer and producer. I enjoyed the many presentations he gave as well as the content of the programs, for which he was largely responsible. Sometimes we would go out for a bite to eat or coffee after a planetarium show (Inner Circle, Fred's New Life Diner, Denny's... etc.) The food was great and the company even better. Other fond (and fun) memories that come to my mind include the many Halloween ‘Night Lights’ shows. After some of the season’s later shows (when the pumpkins were ripe enough to get up and walk out on their own) we would all haul them to the top of Ward Beecher Hall for the dumpster tossing contest. What a mess it made-- but we had such a great time! (And lest we not forget: turning off streetlights with a laser while we were up there, too!) After one show, we went to Denny's restaurant, with Rick packing some dry ice in his coffee mug. The waitress has a very foggy memory of that cup she served up!! She jumped, and we laughed!! Another fond memory I have is being invited out to the farm for dinner and just walking around your land and talking...

"Aside from his talents, and the good times and memories, I respected Rick for his opinions and views on matters of importance. We saw eye to eye on things like the value of good education, discipline, hard work and common sense. His passing is a great loss to us all, and I will truly miss him. I last saw Rick earlier this year in the planetarium workroom. I had dropped by the department for a visit, and stopped in to see if he was around. Sure enough, he was. We had a nice conversation about the lighting in the planetarium as he displayed new LED panels he had been working with. But time was ticking on and I had to hit the road. My visit ended with a smile, a handshake and a few closing words. Unknown to me then, it was the last time I would see him. Perhaps by some Cosmic Order of things, we will see him again. And maybe then Rick will be able to take us on a tour of the Universe that no planetarium could ever provide. We can only hope...

“In Friendship and with my Deepest Sympathy,”
Ted Seman

Friday, October 24, 2008

Amazing.......and live chickens, too

Warren Young writes:

"Richard Pirko was amazing. He had the widest array of interests and talents of anyone I have ever known. He wrote and produced planetarium shows, built auxiliary projectors, did artwork and graphics for our shows, wired the planetarium and installed the control system. Whenever physics equipment broke we took it to Rick and he repaired it. Whenever we needed a special electronic or mechanical device we took our problem to him and he designed and built the device.

"Some of my strongest memories of Rick centered around April Fools Day. One year we called Geology and left a note for the department chair, Earl Harris, to call Mr. Lyon and gave the phone number of the Pittsburgh Zoo.

"For years my wife Sandy looked forward to April 1st to see what prank Rick and his student assistants would play on me and other faculty. The pranks always occurred at the end of my last class. Once they dropped live chickens from behind the dome. The look of bewilderment on the student’s faces as the chickens flew down from the ceiling was wonderful. I imagine the look on my face was similar. The chickens lived out the rest of their days in the chicken coop on my farm.
"Another year Porky Pig appeared on the dome via the video projector and said “Th..Th..That’s all folks”. The next year George Bush ended class as he slowly descended as a cardboard cutout from behind the dome accompanied by the strains of “Hail to the Chief”. One of Richard Pirko’s best April 1st stunts was ending Edwin Bishop’s class with a god-like voice from behind the dome saying 'let my people go'.

"Rick’s passing is a great loss to the Youngstown State University planetarium and the planetarium community at large, to the physics department, and to the University. The greatest loss though is to us as his friends we will feel the loss every day."

letter of condolences from Provost & Vice President of Academic Affairs, YSU
click to enlarge to read

Something real

Mary Kate Bole sent this October 24:

"My fondest memories of Rick will always be of him running around the planetarium like a kid in a candy store. He had such a youthfulness about him, probably because of the excitement and happiness he found in his work and his life in general. I think there are people in everyone’s life who bring a sort of balance, a calmness, a sense of comfort. For me Rick was one of those people. I loved to stop in the workroom after class, where he would be in his gray sweater, glasses perched on his nose, ready with a new piece of electronics to build, or some slides to crop. Of course he was always ready to listen to the complaints about physics problems or money problems or boyfriend problems that he’d probably heard a hundred times over, but he never seemed to mind. He was always there to listen, buy lunch when you were completely broke, or suggest some creative, and occasionally illegal way to solve a particular problem. He was a true friend.

"Although Rick didn’t teach classes in the physics department officially, all of us who worked for him were his students. The first day I started working for Rick he informed me that he wasn’t sexist, then showed me a stack of 50lb boxes I had to carry up the ladder to the catwalk behind the dome. I knew then I was in for a challenge, but had no idea how much I would really learn from Rick. With him we were able to escape from the theories and equations that often seemed overwhelming, and get our hands on something real. He taught us to machine aluminum, build circuit boards, repair projectors, develop film - things that produced results we could see and touch. He was very particular about the way he wanted things done, especially when carving pumpkins was involved, but he had infinite patience. Working with him allowed us to feel important and needed, and he was quick to give out praise and credit even when it wasn’t deserved. Those things are so important to a college student, they make you believe in yourself.

"Tim and I were married in the planetarium in February of 2004. We couldn’t think of a more important place to us. The planetarium is, to all who have passed through there, a haven. It’s a place filled with excitement and mystery for the children who sit in those chairs and stare up at the stars, and peace and joy for those of us who spent hours there working with Rick. It’s a place where Tim and I found friendship, and where that friendship was able to grow into something more. The amazing feel of that place is no accident. Rick put so much of what he was into the planetarium. His creativity, love, and dedication are literally built into it."

"Nope, we haven't heard anything here."

Tim Bole wrote this October 24:

"In memoriam: Rick Pirko

"To quantify the effect that Rick has had on my life is a difficult task, and putting it in words is even more so. Rick did not set out to change anyone, but spending significant quantities of time with Rick certainly meant some of his charm would rub off on you. Rick was a kindhearted,
fun-loving, eccentric, very intelligent and clever man. He delighted in passing to students his innumerable skills in electronics, lighting, photography and general problem solving. His genius truly lied in his ability to use whatever he had at hand for whatever purpose he intended. I don't so much think of Rick as the MacGuyver of the Planetarium, but rather of MacGuyver as the Rick Pirko of television.

"To me, Rick will always be bouncing around the hallways at Ward Beecher in his favorite sweater with at least one smoldering soldering iron on his work table and always thinking about the next major prank to pull. From what I understand, Rick was the brains behind every major prank pulled in Ward Beecher in the last 30 years. He was definitely the instigator of the major pranks while I was a student at YSU, everything from Brower Beach to the functioning (yes, you read correctly) telephone pole in Gregg Sturrus' office.

"Around the fall of 1999, YSU relocated a tasteful stone sign with the University seal on it, which had been at the corner of Lincoln and Wick, and replaced it with a garish electronic lighted sign with a Coke advertisement on it. Rick, of course, would not take this lightly and began to switch off the sign on his way out of work every night. This lasted for a short time, with the sign being turned on each morning. Eventually, someone put a pad lock on the sign to lock the switch in the 'on' position. At this point, Rick taught me how to pick locks using tools made from a portion of a bandsaw blade and an allen wrench. Each night, one of us would pick the pad lock open, turn the switch to the 'off' position, and lock it there. Eventually, we stopped turning the sign off.

"One evening, Kate and I were working with Rick in the shop and we asked Rick what would happen if we placed a polarized capacitor into a circuit backwards. “Oh, hang on, I have one here” was Rick's response. So, he plugged the capacitor into a power source and excused himself to hold the circuit breaker closed, which should have been our first clue that something was going to happen. A few seconds after Rick reached the breaker box, the capacitor exploded and sounded like gunfire. A few minutes after that, a YSU police officer showed up and asked us if we heard anything. 'Nope, we haven't heard anything here.' With Rick, there was never a dull moment. Work was important, but enjoying work and having fun while working were even more important to Rick. I think the most important lesson that I learned from Rick was learned just by watching him go about his daily business. His position at the Planetarium was a perfect fit for him, anyone could see that he genuinely enjoyed what he did. Recently, I have been thinking about the impact that my years spent working closely with Rick have had on my development as a person. Rick found his place and was happy, and taught us all something by living his life according to his own rules."
ed. Tim returned to campus the following June and observed: "I was on campus a few weeks back. The door to the planetarium office was open, but I didn't want to go in. :(     "

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quiet genius

Jeffrey Murphy on October 23 says:

"I worked with Rick from around 1995 until 1999, roughly, while I was studying physics at YSU. My memories overflow with evenings bent over a work bench with Molex connectors and a soldering iron, or instruction on the proper use of a belt sander, or a shared laugh and conversation over a greasy Little Jimmy’s pizza. All these memories and the people in them have Rick as a locus. Much more than memories of classes and labs, the memories of the work and people of the planetarium stand out – and for good reason; I learned things from Rick that carried much further into my life, and the people and occasions surrounding those lessons carried on as well.

"Many specific memories stand out more than others. One in particular is when he helped bring in several bags of sand to make a vacationing professor’s office into a beach for his return. The setup was completed with a stereo set to play with a photo cell soldered onto the control board of the stereo so that when the light in the office was turned on “Hot! Hot! Hot!” blared from the speakers.

"I also remember his ingenuity; always finding other people’s throw-aways and making spectacular use of them, like taking discarded disposable cameras and creating strobes for the Halloween show. His little pickup truck’s bed always had something he found or came across that had some use somewhere. His was a quiet genius.

"I consider Rick to be a friend, a mentor, and a teacher. From the machine shop to the soldering iron and from the intricacies of low voltage electronics to the intricacies of enjoying our planet and universe, Rick taught by patient example and a playful love of life and work. I shall always remember Rick’s quiet zest for life and lament the abrupt abbreviation of it.

"Kurt Vonnegut was once asked why he thought we, meaning humans, were here. He answered that we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is. I feel as if Rick knew this to be true, too. I’ll always be grateful for the role he played in my life, however short in the whole scheme of things."

A few months later Jeff remarks:
"Rick Pirko passed away suddenly at the young age of 56 last October. It was a shock to many, many people who turned out to memorialize Rick at a service in the Ward Beecher Planetarium. A blog was started at Blogspot, as well, for people to submit stories and remembrances of him. Great Big Space does a wonderful job of featuring Rick's passions for flying and photography and his constant drive to educate in the realm of science.

"I have already contributed to the blog last year, but it was a year ago this weekend (approximately) when I last saw Rick. Ambling through the Arts Festival on YSU's campus, we sat through a few shows and eventually caught up with Rick manning a telescope on the sidewalk. We chatted briefly. He was showing me the three-wheel dolly he made to easily transport the telescope and I tried to give him my contact information to try and get out to the Mahoning Valley Astronomy Club sometime, as my interests in amateur astronomy had been revived recently. I jotted down my email on a scrap of paper while he disappeared to do something (the Arts Festival was always pretty busy at the Planetarium, especially when it is hot or rainy) and I never saw him again.

"I can still feel his enthusiasm for creative and constructive ideas and his fervor for the wonders of the natural world and universe - all from a conversation that lasted less than 5 minutes. It'll be weird strolling through the physics department this weekend with no expectation of finding my old boss for a chat." July 10, 2009.

Loss for the world

Jim Johnston writes this post on October 23:

"Well, I've been out of the Niles area (which for me includes Warren, and kinda includes Youngstown) for something like, well, since 1971. I went to Niles McKinley with Rick, and had a small (ducks and hides) part in running "Omar the Tentmaker" for prom queen, back then. I kept in touch with Rick through college closely (and then Rick and Vicky) through 1976, and then less often after I moved off to NJ to work at Bell Labs, but we did keep in contact. My only disappointment was that Rick really didn't like email, which is my preferred method of long-distance communication nowdays.

"My first reaction on hearing the news was "but he's a skinny dude, YIKES". Let's just say that it's the loss of a good friend from way back, and it's a bit hard to write this. It's a loss for the world, too. People who actually try to combat nonsense and promote science seem to be fewer and farther between these days, and I think it bodes ill for both the country and the human race. Oddly, he and I have both taken a route to doing education, him in astronomy, and me via running tutorials in my own little speciality (human hearing, audio, and signal processing). While I don't think I ever discussed it with him, it seems like we both thought that there was no downside to actually having people know how it really DID work. If you had any doubt out there, go ahead, pummel them with how it really works. Figure out some experiments that anyone can do that make things clear. That would be the best memorial I can imagine for Rick.

"What do I remember? Well, Rick doing photo work for the Daily Times, wandering around taking photos of various dignitaries, accidents, and local disasters. Sitting in the darkroom at 90 degrees waiting for him to be done so the geek squad (we had one long before the bunch at the large chain store, thank you!) could go out and not cause trouble. (err, or something like that) I'm not surprised he got to be a political activist, I'm rather sensitive to the intrusion of mythology into our science and government, too. I also have a low "BS" threshold, and neither of us could really keep our traps shut when faced with astounding (other descriptions of said ignorance omitted for decency's sake) ignorance. I will give him credit for usually being able to be more (yes, really) diplomatic, my own reaction is more along the lines of 'you bleeding idiot!'. The old tactic of "beat them over the head with facts they can try out themselves" really does have great value, even in the modern world. I remember a lot more, but this is too long already, and I should stop torturing the electrons here."

Jim sent along some photos from a caving expedition about 30 years ago to Paxton Cave, VA. Rick took the one of 2 carbide lamps in the sidebar at right, and this one has Rick in the picture:

He gave so much

This is from Jack Dunn on October 23:

"He Gave So Much
"I've know Rick for many years through various Planetarium organizations. We had him come out and speak at the Nebraska Star Party as well as he once was our guest speaker for Astronomy Day here in Lincoln, NE. It was from Rick that I learned about FPIS and all his trips. He loved the sky, but most of all, like the best in our profession, he loved sharing it with everyone, from friends to complete strangers. Our profession will miss his humility, kindness and wisdom."

-- Clear DARK Skies, Jack Dunn - Mueller Planetarium

Contagious enthusiasm

Steve Case wrote October 23:

"I saw the note on Dome-L that Rick had passed away, and I wondered why the name sounded so familiar to me. I'm relatively new to the planetarium community, so I wasn't sure where I had heard it before. The picture on this blog of the lunar eclipse taken outside our planetarium reminded me why the name rang a bell-- Rick took the job cleaning and painting our planetarium dome this winter. I was struck by how kind and enthusiastic he was. He did a great job and engineered an access panel for us to get behind the dome. His enthusiasm was contagious-- I have never known someone to be genuinely excited about cleaning and painting a dome, but he was and he took pride in his work. I think he knew that it was seemingly little things like that, when done excellently, that contributed to a planetarium's success."

-Steve Case, Strickler Planetarium

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

He saw something

Angela (an amazing twelve-year-old) writes October 22:

"My name is Angela Pupino. I met Rick a year ago at the YSU planetarium. Last fall and winter I started to go to the planetarium with my parents. Rick has to be one of the most amazing people I have ever met. He made ordinary things seem amazing. Sometimes (but never enough) I would stay after the show and talk to him. The funny thing is that whenever he talked to me I would get very quiet and not know what to say. If he would ask me a question I would mumble something quiet and my face would turn red. My mother would just sit there and laugh. All winter, Rick and the planetarium were all I talked about. My best friend Katie would laugh and call me a dork. And I was. Every freezing cold night I would be outside, pointing out stars to myself and wondering if Rick was looking at them too. Every Friday night I could I would go to the planetarium shows. This summer, Rick invited me to some Young Eagles events, and I got the opportunity to fly in his airplane. It is hard to put into words how I felt about him, but he really changed my life.

"When my grandmother told me about his passing I broke down and cried. It was like a brick wall had hit me and I wondered what it was like for the people who knew him better. I loved him like a teacher but as a friend as well. I looked online every night since then and have found some pretty interesting stories about him. I wish I could have known him longer. What he saw in me, a dorky twelve year old with glasses who couldn't speak full sentences around him, is beyond me. But what my mother is determined to prove to me is that he saw something, and whatever he saw, I hope it's truly there."

Angela added later via, in a piece entitled The Perfect Stranger:

"It still pains me sometimes, to think about who was lost on October 15, 2008. He was a friend of mind, and a stranger nonetheless. I had known Rick for no more than a year, and yet his death shattered my world.

Rick was a technician who worked at my local planetarium. He was also a pilot, photographer, and countless other things. It may not sound like much, but that planetarium continues to be an amazing place for me.

Rick's impact on my life went far beyond the stars. I maintain, to this day, that Rick saved my life. I was nothing but a lost teen trying to find friends. I became lost during the worst winter of my life, when divorce and sadness ran rampant in my family. Suicide was constantly on my mind. And it took Rick to save me.

Rick was the kind of friend that amazed you. There was a quiet sort of magic to him, he made everything interesting, everything special. He was a grown man treating a twelve year old like she was worth something. He would talk to me after shows and interest me in things. He would smile at me and give me learning materials. He would take me up in his airplane. All things you would never expect from a perfect stranger. And he didn't even realize he was saving me from myself.

Now, when I think of him, I think of him as a hero. I hardly knew him, and yet he saved me. No amount of words on a screen can describe how I feel. He died perfectly young, at the age of fifty-five. That big heart of his didn't hold out. I didn't find out until two days later.

The pain was horrific. Never in my twelve years have I felt that way. No words can sum it up. The grief still hits me sometimes, when I least expect it to. I'll see a plane, see a star, or see someone who reminds me of him. His quiet attitude and soft smile seem to come to me everyday. His voice sits in the back of my mind.

Being only twelve, and knowing him so little, I feel writing about him to be trespassing in someone else's business. His family should write about him. His friends. Some have, and some haven't. So I guess I will.

I am only twelve, but I will never forget."

also see from Angela

The depth of the effect one person can perhaps unknowingly have upon another is so clear in 2 earlier observations by Angela, a youngster showing her elders a transparency we may have hidden away, or forgotten how to acknowledge or express:

Current mood: crushed. "These past few weeks I've been a complete mess. I can not concentrate on anything at all. On the sixteenth I was happily planning to go to a sleepover with my friends Olivia, Nicole, Logan and Kasey. I was telling my grandmother about my plans to go to the planetarium the next evening with Olivia when suddenly my grandmother said, "Honey, didn't you hear? Mr. Pirko died yesterday." I was suddenly confronted with a horrible truth. This was worse than the apartment fire I lived through this summer. This was worse than my parents divorce. This was worse than the problems with my mom's boyfriend this winter. The only person on the face of the Earth who understood me was dead.

"I spent the next few days in a fog. I looked online every night. It had to be a mistake. Rick Pirko was only in his fifties. He was too young to die. Then I was angry. How come no one bothered to tell me? I had went to the planetarium the week before and the guy who gave the show had said that Rick was sick. He could have said that Rick was in a coma at the hospital.

"Rick was literally all I had for a long time. For months I was a friendless loser who was in a world of fighting and crying at home. No one cared about me. And then there was Rick. Here was this crazy nerdy guy who treated me like I was worth something. He would ask me to stay after to talk. He would give me CDs of that night's show. He even gave me textbooks one night and told me that some on the best learning took place at home. Of course, I went it to a shell every time he talked to me. I would mumble or say the wrong answer if he asked me a question. Even when Rick asked me my name and I mumbled Angela, I said it so quietly that Rick spent the next two weeks thinking my name was Valerie. I was shy around him. It became a joke between my mother and my friend Katie that I had a crush on Rick. They would laugh and say Angela Pirko. Then I would (nervously) laugh and say that they were ridiculous.

"Even on the day of his memorial my mother still teased me. She asked me why I was so nervous about going. Truthfully, I was afraid that I would break into a fit of nervous laughter at the memorial (I have a habit of doing so when I am uneasy or worried). My mom laughed and said, 'Are you nervous about meeting Rick's wife?' Then she laughed and said 'The mistress and the wife meet for the first time.'

"I can not say that I feel any better about Rick now. In fact, I missed school today because I am so stressed about life that my face swelled up like a giant balloon and is covered in hives. But life does go on, whether you want it to or not. Rest in peace Rick Pirko." November 5, 2008.

Current mood: bummed.  "The past few weeks I have been a mess. School is a chore to me, and I bet that Mr. Pupino swears that I forgot how to play the alto saxophone. The same three words that my grandma said weeks ago keep echoing through my head. Mr. Pirko died. It has to be a lie. It isn't. One part of me wants to think that he is still alive. The other is slowly falling apart with grief. My parents seem to expect me to move on. 'It is a shame about Rick,' my father said on the sixteenth, 'but everyone dies sometime.' He didn't mean it to sting so bad, I'm sure, but those words hurt.

    "It hurts that I never told him how much he changed my life. Saved my life, that is a better way to put it. I don't know where I would be today if I hadn't met him. That is the thing that know one seems to understand. Rick Pirko saved me from myself this winter. And he had no clue. I went crazy the day I found out about his passing. I commented every blog I could find about him. I usually have a way with words, but I lost it for a while. There is a stack of letters about two inches thick in my desk drawer that I wrote to Victoria. I never could make them sound right. So I never sent them. Whether I do or not depends I guess.

"What really bothers me is that there was a Young Eagles Rally on the 27th that he had excitedly told me about. My mother had just had a baby, and my father had to work. I couldn't go. I spent that whole day feeling terrible about it. He was probably waiting for me. It stabs me every time to think that the rally would have been the last time that I saw him.

    "I went to the planetarium that weekend, hoping to apologize to him. The man who gave the show said that Rick was sick. I thought he had the flu. I pondered in the days after that if I should email him an apology. But then I thought that people don't check their email when they're sick. I thought of calling him. Maybe he was bored or lonely. That idea worked for all of two seconds when it occurred to me that he might actually pick up the phone. (At that point I put the phone down.)

    "I was always incredibly shy around him, something that I have come to regret now. My mind would go blank just looking at him. Even flying in an airplane with him I was thoughtless. He was talking away  about airplanes and flying and I was thinking, "Oh crap, I'm in an airplane with Rick. Angela, don't do anything stupid."  I will never forget the one day I went to a Young Eagles rally and one of the men there smiled and said, "You must be Angela. Rick talks about you all the time." I was shocked. That was kind of thing that your grandparents do, tell their friends about people they know.

    "Reading the stories that people have posted about him, I am not sure whether I should laugh or cry.I will never know the Rick Pirko who stole bibles from hotel rooms or horrified people with laser pointers.I am feeling a little better now about him.Rick didn't suffer. I wondered for a while why I was so upset. Other people didn't get as upset as I did about it. Then I thought that I'm only twelve. I guess I handled it okay for a hormone filled twelve year old. He managed to live one hundred years worth of life in fifty-five years. That really says something about him. Life moves on, and in time so will I." November 10, 2008.

Laughing over the years

Troy McClellan sent this tribute via Warren Young October 22 :

"Rick and I shared many great times, but one occasion would come up regularly as we would talk about the various trips and projects that we were a part of. We were on a flying trip with Joe Rudenic to photograph the 1994 annular solar eclipse. We met rather early at Landsdown Airport in Youngstown to take Joe's Cessna to Definance, Ohio. Those who know me know that I am not really a morning person and I need large amounts of coffee to get myself moving. After using the facilities at the hangar, we departed on a 3-hour flight to Defiance. About the time we were passing over Akron, my bladder, having been shaken and stirred from the turbulence and vibration of the flight, began to tell me it was time! Joe and Rick asked me if I could hold on for another hour and a half. I thought that would be a stretch, but I would make it work. Needless to say, when we landed at the small regional airstrip in Defiance I could not wait to taxi to the terminal. So we pulled off the runway and I watered the grass next to the airstrip for what seem like several minutes. I then proceeded to empty the rest at the terminal. We watched and photographed the eclipse and had a humorous story to remember. I cannot count the number of times Rick and I laughed about this over the years.

"On one of his visits to Florida, Rick took pictures of my children and me at the beach. A memorable shot of Katie and me hangs in my home and reminds me of the special time we spent together. Rick was a true friend and he will be greatly missed."

Troy McClellan

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Star lost

This is from Kris McCallon October 21:

"My heart goes out to all of you there at YSU. While there is no way I can possibly know what you and others are feeling, my thoughts and prayers are with you. The planetarium community has lost another star, but he will continue to shine on through the work he did there with you.

Peace, Kris McCall, Sudekum Planetarium, Nashville, TN"


The blogger for the Oakland Stage at The Oakland Center for the Arts has a tribute here: and additional links. 

The last Stage was a great time. I mentioned on a myspace bulletin that my heart was just not in this year's Stage Fright because we lost a very important and wonderful part of the past 2 years of Stages. Rick Pirko, whom Oaklanders will remember from Dr. Ray's Sideshow of Science, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Rick was a huge part of this community, and he will be greatly missed by people who didn't even know him. His contributions were great and wide-reaching.

I met Rick through Dr. Ray. Here was this guy who would just show up at the Stage and help. I'd turn around and he'd have rigged up a screen for the projector. He's find a pile of junk and turn it into a makeshift prop. He worked feverishly to get the projector he let us borrow from YSU to work at the last minute. He was forever offering use of items he had altered or improved, like fog machines or lighting equipment. He dug out some new-ish computers from the dirges of YSU so the Oakland could run wireless internet on them. He patiently went through them with me, telling stories of math and physics equations and hurting my little girl brain. He told silly jokes and math riddles at the Stage and made everyone laughingly moan. He was such a nerd, through and through, that you just had to love him. He could never hide his intelligence, creativity, or compassion.

He was just the greatest guy. He was so ever-present that you kind of just expected him to show up and help, and it was easy to discount him. He was quiet and never expected anything in return. I remember hanging out in his office at the Planetarium, going through masses of photos he had taken at the Stage. He did little edits to each one, like adding or arranging light cans overhead -- stuff you'd never normally notice but that made things subconsciously pleasing.

At this time last year, we were preparing for a huge Stage Fright as well as Dr. Ray's China fundraiser rental, which featured the Zou and the Crispy Family Circus. Rick was a major part of preparation, and not having him around this year felt so wrong. It made everything seem empty. But we carried on and Ray and Susie gave a lovely, moving, honest tribute to him that brought many of us to tears. I loved Susie's description of the things that will keep his memory alive: farm-fresh eggs, sunflowers, small planes flying low in the sky, the stars at night. Her phrasing was much better.

The next Stage, November 20, will feature a tribute to Rick. Anyone who knew Rick is welcome to dedicate a performance to his honor or just get up and tell a story about him or a joke he would have liked. Part of the proceeds will be donated to the memorial that will be permanently erected in his honor. His memorial will be this Saturday, Oct. 25, at 10 am at the YSU Planetarium. Please attend if you can. Rick's wife, Victoria, who he talked about constantly, would like to install a sundial in memoriam to him. Below is a pretty cool picture he took of a sunrise where you can see Venus crossing:
In the wake of this loss, my sense of appreciation and awareness of all that we have to be grateful for is much keener. I want to thank everyone who has ever supported the Oakland in the past, and especially those who help so selflessly with the Stage. Thank you for believing in the power of arts and performance. Thank you for sharing your gifts. Thank you for all the littlest things, like showing up early or staying late to clean up. As Dr. Ray said, that is one thing we can all learn from Rick, one thing we can replicate and offer in his honor. To be helpful to those around without expecting much in return except maybe a smile and the sense of knowing you've made a difference.

Here's a lovely tribute from someone in the blogosphere. I always heard the story of how he took bible from hotels, but I forgot. This is a great description:  also a year later from the same writer:
Here's Kris' blog from the last Stage with mention of Ray and Susie's tribute:     **Yoments blog was removed.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Out and under the stars

Mike Daugherty writes on October 19:

"I heard about Rick and wanted to share this. About 3 years ago I had to do a career project for my 8th grade English teacher and picked astronomer. I went to the planetarium to interview Pat Durell and met Rick but didn't see him again for a few years. At the beginning of this year my friend Rob and I (he now goes to YSU) went to the planetarium a few times. One time in particular sticks in my mind; Durell put on a show about a specific topic (I think it was Mars), and after it was over Rick waited until most of the crowd had left and then turned on the projector and showed the rest of us around the sky. I was able to pick out a few things like Mars and Orion but most of it was new to me and I was absolutely fascinated. I was already interested in astronomy but those trips to the planetarium inspired me to learn the sky and start a wonderful new hobby. I don't think he realizes it but I'll always be thankful to Rick for giving me an appreciation for the night sky and making me want to get out and enjoy it. He will be in my thoughts whenever I'm out under the stars.
Thanks, Mike"

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Look at the stars and think of Rick

Susie: It is beautiful to think that when we look at the stars we will think of Rick. He touched SO many people in SO many ways. Planetarium guru, teacher, photographer, pilot, farmer, activist, performer, tinker, etc., etc. He is loved and his physical presence will be missed.

Sunman, Cameraman, Plantman, Gliderman, Catman, Horseman, Knowledgeman, Earthman, Starman

Holleigh wrote this October 18:

"I met Rick in the summer of 1995 at the Camp Kern facility just north of Cincinnati, working as a camp counselor for the YSU archaeology camp. I was sitting in the cabin reading Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 when Rick showed up. The other people already knew him, and he was there to take pictures at the solstice markers discovered by Dr. White. He noticed my book, and we started talking about our shared interest in astronomy. After a while, he asked me if I would be interested in a student job at the planetarium, and I said yes. That August I applied, and started working. Working with Rick and everyone else in the P&A department was one of the best experiences of my life! Rick was a feminist, never questioning my ability to learn typically male activities like wiring, woodworking, soldering, film production - anything, and for that Rick provided a safe place for my own abilities to grow. The planetarium was a place of silliness and fun, inquiry and learning.

"I worked with Rick at the Planetarium from the late summer of 1995 until 1999 as a student worker. I learned so much from him, and enjoyed helping him put shows together and making people happy. He was always so excited about the Nightlights show, and indeed it was tremendous! Because of him, I can talk to others about the stars, and how exciting it is to know how the sun rises on a horizon because of Rick's dedication to photographing the movement of the morning sun.

"I remember the many nights when we would go to the roof of Ward Beecher Hall and throw popped corn into the vent blowers on the roof. It would blow into the air like snow and the birds would have breakfast in the morning! Rick hated those damn blowers because of the vibration they caused to the building, nullifying any good use of the rooftop telescopes. So, we put them to some good use! Throwing the pumpkins off the roof after the Halloween shows was fun; Rick was an avid fan of "random acts of gardening" across campus, throwing vegetable seeds into the landscaping. He enjoyed watching pumpkin plants grow in the pristine landscaping; it was an act of resistance. I still do random acts of gardening, and think of Rick every time. Oh, and one night we were on the roof with the big laser. If you aim the laser at the sensor on top of each light post, you can turn out the light! It's totally fun! We freaked people out by pointing the light on the sidewalk in front of people, too. Mike DiMuzio and Rick told me about a time they put the laser on a woman's white sweater and it lit up all red - it scared the shit out of her!

"Rick and Victoria welcomed me to their home as they did to everyone. I'll never look at sunflowers and peppers the same way. Rick would grow the biggest sunflowers ever.

"It is so wonderful that Rick and I crossed paths in '95! He liked to cut out things from boxes and hang them in the planetarium office, like the "store in a cool place" notice on a box. He said he hung it in there because that office was a "cool" place. Sometimes we don't do the things we intend to soon enough. I had recently brought home an image of 3 human figures that I cut from a Tyvek box with the intent of sending it to Rick. The images are of human figures in different Tyvek chemical outfits, and I like to call them Aquaman, Spaceman, and Landman. Rick would have gotten the humor. Now as I sit here looking at the cutout, it is a reminder that life is quick and short. Peace to you, Rick - Sunman, Cameraman, Plantman, Gliderman, Catman, Horseman, Knowledgeman, Earthman, Starman. Peace, man!"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Deep Quietude

Arya-Francesca Jenkins wrote on October 17, 2008:

"During a telephone conversation last weekend, our mutual friend Doug informed me of the sudden and terrible situation involving Rick. I send my sincerest and deepest condolences for your loss and my own snapshot memory of Rick.

"I am a longtime peace activist and knew Rick through the peace vigil I helped to start in the Mahoning Valley. I knew him to be kind, deeply aware of humanitarian and environmental issues. We also shared an interest in photography. And we included Rick's photographs in our group effort, the book, No War No More, which I edited.

"I recall always being impressed by Rick's sensitivity, altruism and what I call deep quietude, a quality that as a practicing Buddhist, I find deeply moving and imperative in our ever-shifting, often abrupt and unkind world. I took a photo of Rick in the early days of our vigil that seemed to me beautiful, as it spoke not only to who I thought Rick was as a human being, but what I believe to be the true heart of the activist and seeker of truth and beauty, which I believe Rick possessed. The photo shows Rick holding his sign simply, as if it was a part of him, and his head and eyes are raised, looking at the sky/stars/heavens/the expanse of life that were a constant part of his heart/mind inquiry. That is the image of Rick that I will always hold -- of a boy/man complete in his state of inquiry, his human aliveness, gazing upward.

"May you be surrounded by goodness, peace and love, and may all the good Rick brought to you remain a part of you as long as you shall live."
Arya-Francesca Jenkins

photo by Richard Pirko

Hardest sculpture

Kris describes the sculptural tribute Rick's friends built on the Oakland Center for the Arts Stage on her blog yoments: Youngstown Moments
Kris's blog is no longer available and I can't find a copy of the post text.

Friend and teacher

Angela commented on the entry in my blog saying October 17: "He was my friend and teacher, and I can't believe this has happened. He deserved to live so much longer.
His photos are amazing, just like he is."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"The Incident" with "the good blokes"

Brett Harrison sends this on Thursday, Oct 16, 2008:

"This is for everyone at YSU; I was shocked & saddened to hear of the death of Rick Pirko. We had great fun together for about a week at the FPSPACE conference in 1996. Rick's quiet yet mischievous sense of humour was the source of much amusement, especially when we were ribbing Rob Landis. :) I still remember the fun we had on the bus trips to various sites, sitting in the back of the bus, swapping jokes with the Russians, and Rick & I doing innumerable Monty Python sketches together from memory, to the astonishment of all. Rick, of course, was instrumental in "The Incident" where the 3 of us, under cover of darkness, and every minute fearing arrest, stuck a map of Tasmania high up on a Russian monument - a harmless prank which became legendary on that trip. The story has been retold by me many times since (and then retold by others, I have now heard), and so I (and others who never met him) will always remember Rick fondly as a partner in crime. I really envy you & anybody who got to work with Rick; he was, as we say in Australia, "a good bloke", fun to be with, competent yet unassuming, and the kind of fellow whom you'd be happy to have with you in any situation. I kept in touch with Rick only a little after FPSPACE96, and I regret that I didn't manage to visit him when I visited the US last year. I'm sure many people have great stories about Rick; and the ones from Moscow will continue to be told Down Under.
cheers,---Brett Harrison
***** " ' I don't appreciate poetry--I don't mind admitting that now; I don't understand poetry. We studied it in high school and college, but they never told us why it was good. I got A's on all the exams--'Hail to thee blithe spirit, bird thou never wert'-- what the hell does that mean? I have no idea.'-Tom Lehrer"

"Thanks, Rick"

Bill Hazlett wrote a heartfelt memoriam at on October 15 on his blog As You Like It
Every morning I rise at 5am. I head down the stairs, through the dining room and into the kitchen. I put on a pot of coffee and then I step out on my back porch and look up at the stars. These days Orion is back. Straight overhead. Lower and to the left is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. A couple of years ago I didn't appreciate any of this. I didn't appreciate a clear sky at 5:15 in the morning. Then my wife and I started going to the Ward Beecher Planetarium almost every Saturday night. It was a cheap date. And we were hooked.
The major reason we kept going was a man named Rick Pirko. Rick presented most of the planetariums programs. He made everything that he was interested in very easy to understand. Once my wife and I became "regulars", (as Rick referred to the small core group that showed up most of the time) he would often stay and talk to us after the show. He would ask our opinion about different programs and about the planetarium in general. It was easy to see that he loved what he was doing. And it seemed to the casual observer that he could do almost anything.
I remember last Halloween at the Oakland Performing Arts Center the Zhou was performing music from Rocky Horror Picture Show. Rick was in the audience with his camera. When the sound system went on the blink, Rick jumped on stage and fixed it.

But Rick's lasting impression on me will always be in the stars. I don't know much about astronomy but what I do know Rick and the crew at the Ward Beecher Planetarium taught me. I will be forever grateful. Rick Pirko passed from this life this morning. He is the same age as I am. His final lesson for me is to see my own mortality as clearly as Orion on a clear winter night.

In my Buddhist practice everyday I recite "The Foundation of all Perfections" by Je Tsongkapa. One of the verses says that "Spirit quivers in flesh like a bubble in water" I will miss you Rick.
Tomorrow morning when I rise at 5am and walk down the stairs and through the dining room into the kitchen, I will put on the coffee and step outside and look up at the sky. And it is then that I will remember Rick. And every morning thereafter. Thank you.

"So Long Scarecrow"

A very nice tribute to Rick written by Lydia can be found at her blog The Spectrum here at this entry of October 13: So Long Scarecrow  

So long scarecrow

Waiting for someone to pass is easily in my top five of worst feelings in the world. Last night I got word that a former boss, and all around amazing person is not going to be with us much longer. Rick Pirko was the definition of non-conformist, he did things for humor and the pursuit of knowledge. He has the heart and mind of a curious child most days. Rick was never arrogant, and never once would I question if he would be there if I needed something.

It seems that Rick's heart stopped suddenly yesterday, and know we're all in this awful waiting game. It seems fitting however that Rick would go at his favorite time of the year. If you ever had the opportunity to see the Halloween Laser light show at the Ward Beecher Planetarium in Youngstown, you enjoyed a genuine treat. It is because of the planetarium that I have some of my closest the least, we became better friends because of that place. I have many memories of very late nights getting ready for the most attended show at the planetarium. I will never forget watching Rick take a broken piece of a band saw blade to a belt sander and filing it down into one of the sharpest damn knives I ever held. It was with those knives that we carved countless pumpkins grown from Rick's own garden. Most of the decorations for the show were from Rick's garden....Rick is the only man I have ever known to eat raw pumpkin with sheer joy on his face.

When Tim and Kate got married, Rick and I were partners in the wedding party. The planetarium clearly was a special place for Tim and Kate, as they held their wedding their. I can't imagine ever forgetting Rick and I dancing at the wedding...apparently I led the whole time. A brilliant awkward man and a lesbian made for a dreadful dance pair...thankfully all eyes were on the newly married folks.

To this day one of my favorite stories about Rick has to do with his fight for religious freedom. It may not be as noble as that, but I will always tell the story that way. See, anytime Rick would stay in a hotel, he would open the drawer on the bed stand and smile when he saw the bible ever so generously placed there by the Gideon's. Before leaving the room, Rick would steal the bible. He must have had 100 bibles the last time I saw the collection he so proudly would show everyone in his office at the planetarium. If I could have one item to remember Rick by, it would be one of those bibles. I know that I have never stayed in a hotel since knowing Rick without thinking about taking the bible with me. For all we know, it could be a Muslim staying in the room, and I doubt there are any free copies of the Koran laying around. Not that it matters, but Rick is a very proud atheist...but if you need a bible, he would gladly hand you one of the countless copies sitting in a drawer.

As far as I know, Rick is still alive, at least in the medical sense of the word. I'm sitting here at work waiting to hear...and in my own way praying that he will pull out of this. I almost expect Rick to suddenly wake up and wonder why everyone is sitting in a hospital room staring at him. If I were in Ohio right now, I would head to the truck stop by his house and have a bowl of truck stop chili...and then go to bw's and raise a glass in his honor.

Without a doubt, Rick Pirko is one of the best things that I got from YSU.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

2 photos

February 2005, Rick flew with Doug over to Clarion County airport and back to Trumbull County; much to Doug's delight, Rick wanted to take lots of photographs along the way and let Doug fly the plane much of the way.
for Victoria

Memorial service

A memorial service was held at Ward Beecher Planetarium on October 25, 2008 on the campus of Youngstown University


Thomas Pirko

Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer
Professor, Department of Geology
Youngstown State University

Dr. Warren Young
Professor Emeritus and Acting Chairman
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Youngstown State University

Rob Landis

Slide Presentation of Richard's Photos by Deidra Nuss
preview at bottom of this page (hover and/or click to view full-sized)

Tribute by James Pirko

The extraordinary life of Richard Pirko ended the morning of October 15, 2008.
As a scientist, artist, educator, inventor, photographer, writer, aviator, farmer and community activist Rick lived a fulfilling life. In his work at Youngstown State University Department of Physics and Astronomy where he started as a student in the 1970’s, he developed technology for multi-media education of the cosmos and space exploration. Internationally recognized, he was involved with planetariums and space programs throughout the world. Among the most popular YSU programs that he wrote and produced were his laser light shows and Halloween presentations with his intricately sculpted pumpkins and special effects. Rick made frequent television appearances with his science demonstrations and photography. His numerous published works include his aerial photos of Ohio Serpent Mound that are on display at the British History Museum.

The Neil Armstrong First Flight/moon landing display on Parkman Rd. in Warren, Ohio was among the many projects that called upon his diverse skills. As an Eagle Scout he supervised the Nature Lodge at Camp Chickagami exploring and teaching the wonders of the natural world. Over the years he assisted many Boy Scouts in attaining their Eagle Scout awards. As a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association Rick was recognized by the Young Eagles Program for providing over 100 students with their first aircraft flights.
Rick and his wife Victoria operated a farm where they raised horses, rescued cats and had a bountiful organic garden. Throughout his life Rick dedicated countless hours to the conservation of natural resources as well as efforts for peace, justice and service to the community.
Richard Pirko Memorial Sundial

A permanent memorial is being established at YSU in memory of Rick. Those wishing to help may send a donation to :
Youngstown State University
Department of Physics and Astronomy
One University Plaza
Youngstown OH 44555


memorial display set up outside the planetarium next to the tribute for Ronald Parise who also passed away recently.
[Parise, 56, was a two-time space shuttle astronaut, a Warren native and noted graduate of Youngstown State University, and also had a life-long love for astronomy and amateur radio.
His spaceflight experience was on Shuttle Columbia (Dec. 2-10, 1990) and Shuttle Endeavor (March 2–18, 1995). ]

A younger brother is still following

This eulogy was offered by Rick's brother, Tom, at  Ward-Beecher at the memorial service:
Hello everybody. I am Tom Pirko, Rick's brother. I would like to thank all of Rick's friends for the wishes and condolences that you have extended to our family in this difficult time. It is much appreciated. 

Welcome to the YSU Planetarium. For those of you who knew Rick from the flying clubs or non-work-related relationships, this facility was built soon after Youngstown became a state university.

For us young people caught up in the excitement of the early manned space program, the planetarium programs here were perfect for expanding our understanding of the cosmos. My brothers and I were very fortunate that our parents would take us to the weekend planetarium programs at this facility. Needless to say, the planetarium really caught Rick's imagination when he was attending this school. He eventually became the planetarium producer, which was the perfect job for him to apply his electrical, optical, and photographic skills and also to share with the world his understanding of astronomy.

At this time I would like to introduce my family members. Rick's mother Phyllis is here as are two of Rick's younger brothers, James and Charles. My brother Michael could not attend. 

For the longest time, Rick had been my family's handy-man on call. He had these electrical talents and innate mechanical skills that meant that he could fix anything that broke at my parents' house. He made time for them, too, so that my parents did not have to do without. I think that Rick felt that even though he had grown up and moved away, he was still coupled to that home with our garden and our trees and the house that my father built.

When Rick was eleven years old, my father began construction on a new home on the lot next door to my parents' house. Since he was an electrician at the steel mill, my father did his own wiring. My brothers Mike and Rick were old enough to help with the wiring, so they got to drill studs and fish wires and terminate circuits at the switch boxes. My father recounted to me how young Rick would ably climb up the unfinished walls and fish a piece of Romex through all of the drilled holes while climbing in and out of the overhanging ceiling joists. 
I remember Rick telling me that when he grew up, he thought that every kid had a dad who taught them how to wire light switches and receptacles.

When I grew up, Rick was my role model. Both of my oldest brothers were Eagle Scouts in the Boy Scout program. Rick was so absorbed in the program that he became a camp counselor, which meant that he spent the whole summer at Camp Chicagami during which time scout troops from the area camped out for one week visits. As camp counselor, Rick was responsible for teaching all the young scouts about tree identification,  how to tie knots, how to paddle a canoe and all of those fun activities that scouting emphases. What boy does not want to learn how to sharpen a knife or build a fire?

My parents were very dedicated to the Scouting program and did a lot of adult leadership work.  They used to take me to the campfire ceremonies at scout camp on parents' night when the scouts did skits and held solemn awards ceremonies and Native American rituals. I was eight years younger than Rick, and I was totally transfixed as I sat there in the back rows thinking to myself: "that's what I want to do when I get older". And I did. Years later, when it was my turn, I joined Troop 31 and went up through the ranks and became an Eagle Scout, too. Those outdoor activities are still my hobbies and when I go hiking or watching wildlife, I still feel like I am still following Rick. 

Decades later, I do volunteer activist work with the Sierra Club. I am still promoting the ideas that I learned in Boy Scouts like conservation of natural resources and brotherhood.

My brother and I talked a lot about current events and issues when we got together. We both felt a lot of frustration with the way things that we cared about were being destroyed or turned into political issues for cheap political gain. Rick dealt with it by doing a little political activism on his own. For the last several years, he has been writing letters to the campus newspaper, the Jambar. He was not afraid to express an opinion that was contrary to the messages that were promoted as orthodoxy by our political leaders or by our weak-willed press.

When I started writing this presentation, I had planned to recite one of Rick's letters to the Jambar. They are kind of long and a bit dated. However, I urge you go to and read them.      [ you may read a couple of Rick's Letters to The Editor of YSU’s The Jambar 2/10/05 here      2/14/06 Letter here ]

Instead of a letter, I would like to finish with some verse that someone emailed to me five and half years ago during a woeful time for us in the peace movement. It was written twenty-some years ago by Wendell Berry and is called The Peace of Wild Things:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, "The Peace of Wild Things" from Collected Poems, 1957-1982

Four more tributes

click to enlarge to read

Jay Williams, Mayor of Youngstown, Ohio

Robert Hagan, Ohio State House of Representatives, District 60

John Boccieri, Ohio State Senate 33rd district

Ted Strickland, Governor of Ohio

Both sides of the camera

Someone in constant motion....

Old photo

This was published in The Jambar October 29, 1991. Click to enlarge.

going West

trip westward, date? (click to enlarge)

Happy to click and give

This is something Rick took delight in: taking some unusual shots and hours (or minutes) later, handing out prints. This was last summer's Mahoning Valley Astronomical Society's picnic, from a story in their newsletter, The Meteorite

Read more about observatories in real books...

Good giving

Elaborating on the black and white photo of the new Habitat for Humanity owner in the side bar...
A Joyous New Home Dedication

"On Nov. 3, Habitat partner/owner Sarah Jenkins and her daughter, Alexis, officially moved into their new home. HfHMC held a house dedication ceremony at the 1811 Lansdowne Blvd location, and served refreshments afterwards to those in attendance. Jenkins, who works as a behavioral coach at Lincoln Place Health Center, was thrilled to finally be a home owner. The ceremony itself was unlike anything she had experienced before. 'It was an over-whelming feeling of excitement and great joy,' she said. 'When I saw the balloons [on the front porch] I knew it was real.' 'It is a beautiful house,' she added. 'When you walk in, it just feels nice.' About a dozen people, including friends, family, and Habitat volunteers, were there to celebrate the occasion. Additionally, several members of Union Baptist Church, where Jenkins is also a member, gathered to show their support. These included Minister Joyce Bou-drey and Brother Sterling Johnson, who read the opening and closing prayers, respectively, as well as Sister Juanita Guss.
"This house was jointly sponsored through grants from FirstEnergy Corp. and the Andrews Trust. Like most Habitat homes, it is 1152 square feet and built on a slab. The house also meets Energy Star guidelines for energy eficiency as established by the U.S. Environ-mental Protection Agency. Richard and Victoria Pirko donated the land on which the house is built. This is the 23rd house built by HfHMC since it was founded in 1989.
"For more information on how to apply for a home, call the ofice at 330-743-7244 or visit their Web site at
"Partner/owner Sarah Jenkins is pictured with HfHMC Executive Director Ken Rhodes, gathered with friends and family to celebrate the dedication of her new home on Nov. 3."

from the Spring 2007 Habitat Hammer, newsletter of Habitat for Humanity of Mahoning County of Youngstown, Ohio

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GLPA October 1995

"In recognition of professional achievement and outstanding contributions to our organization, the Great Lakes Planetarium Association hereby confers upon Richard G. Pirko the rank of Fellow Of GLPA conferred 27th day of October 1995:" (click to enlarge)
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Flight path

Two grateful young gentlemen sent this around June 6, 2008. (click to enlarge)

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Contacting Tim

Does anyone know how to contact Timothy J. Tralick, last seen at 3510 222nd St E Bradenton, FL 34211 Manatee County?