Thursday, October 15, 2009

Showing the world

Lydia's thoughts a year later:

Saving the Scarecrow

October 2, 2009
I haven't posted to this blog in nearly a year. Nothing seemed all that worth posting after my post about Rick. It took me a long time to realize why he meant so very much to me. When I started working at the YSU Planetarium, I had just lost my job in the YSU theatre department. One could argue the reasons as to why I lost that job, but today none of that really matters. At the time I thought that theatre was my whole life, and losing a job in theatre, I felt like everything that I had been working for was lost. Working in the planetarium showed me just how much more to performing there was in the spectrum of things. I would never have seen any of that if it weren't for Rick.

My entire life changed direction in the time that I worked for Rick, and I don't know that I could ever really capture in words just how much I owe him. The night that Kate called me to tell me that Rick had first suffered his heart attack I began thinking about how I would show the world how much this man meant to me. Initially I thought I might get a tattoo of a scarecrow. Somewhere I have a picture of Rick dressed as a scarecrow for Halloween, and to this day it is one of the most enduring images I have of this man. Over time, the idea of a memorial sundial in honor of Rick began to take shape. It was then that I knew a tattoo of a sundial was the right tattoo. (yes, tattoo, I'm a permanent kind of gal) There is a very simple yet very beautiful sundial in the Forbidden City in Beijing that speaks to me. I'm sure it has to do with the fact that so far all of my tattoo's have been Chinese. My goal is to have this sundial represent the time of 10:15, the day Rick passed.

I just learned that the design for the Rick Pirko memorial sundial has been approved. I am hoping to get my hands on a picture of the design, as that would be beyond perfection for the tattoo I want. However, if I can't get that, the sundial I have chosen will work out just as well.

What makes the whole thing even more "right" is that I will be getting this tattoo the weekend that I attend a protest march, and see Kate and Tim. It feels like the weekend is designed by Rick...and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Here is the sundial that tells the world about the impact of  Rick:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Memorial sundial update

We've received an update on the sundial being sculpted in Rick's memory. Warren Young from Physics and Astronomy at YSU: "The department and the artist Tony Armeni have agreed on the design and price of the sundial. The University has approved the design and location. Construction of it will begin soon. The target date for installing and dedicating the sundial is next spring, perhaps at the spring equinox. Although we are getting close to the required funds for the project we are still looking for additional contributions."

Those wishing to help may send a donation to:

Youngstown State University
Department of Physics and Astronomy
One University Plaza
Youngstown OH 44555

Tony sent along a few a pictures of the maquette (small scale model, rough draft), the sculpture will be about 9' tall and the armillary sundial will have a 32" diameter. Read more about armillary sundials here.


Came across this the other day in a photo album of Annie Wilson's, captioned "Rick loving on the airfield kitty", sometime before July 14, 2007

Sunday, June 14, 2009

There's an asteroid 22105 called "Rick" now

THE GREAT LAKES PLANETARIUM ASSOCIATION (GLPA) announced in their Summer Solstice newsletter (Volume XLIV, Number 2, 2009) that the asteroid formerly known as 2000 LS36 has now been renamed “Pirko” in honor of Rick. If you go to its JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA) web page at, you can read its designation, as follows:

22105 Pirko

"Discovered 2000 June 11 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search at the Anderson Mesa Station.
"Richard G. Pirko (1952-2008) was a producer and space science educator for the Ward Beecher Planetarium at Youngstown State University. An accomplished photographer, pilot and horse trainer, his passion for astronomy exposed many college students to new educational experiences.”

Its absolute magnitude is 14.4 and its orbital period is 3.6 years.

Classification: Main-belt Asteroid [e.g. Asteroids with orbital elements constrained by (2.0 AU < a < 3.2 AU; q > 1.666 AU)] SPK-ID: 2022105
absolute magnitude H 14.4 mag n/a PDS3 (MPO 8964)
Alternate Designations: 2000 LS36 = 1975 VR1 = 1993 UC4 = 1993 VE5 = 2000 WB125
Reference: 20090409/MPCPages.arc Last Updated: 2009-04-10

It is the scribe's understanding that Rob Landis lobbied the people at Lowell Observatory about the re-naming.

At the GLPA meeeting in October, also, President Cheri spoke of the group's deepest heartfelt sorrow for the loss of a great friend, colleague and planetarian, and that he would indeed be missed by their “family.”

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pictures At An Exhibition

We wanted to do this last October and couldn't and hope to down the road (stay tuned!) here was the idea:
Upon seeing the great extent of pictures Rick had captured, -- intense and varied, of life on the farm, of the skies he loved to be in, and of people performing -- Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition reminded us of a suitable celebration of Rick as part of the memorial service at his planetarium. We would line the hallways of the physics and astronomy department where he worked with as many pictures as physically possible and space music would play while his friends strolled the halls.

That was the same inspiration for the composition Pictures at an Exhibition – A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann, composed by Modeste Mussorgsky in 1874, and orchestrated by Maurice Ravel in 1922. "One of the most powerful of all creative urges is to memorialize. The results can range from the trivial statues of mounted generals that clutter our parks to the awe of the Pyramids. Yet, perhaps the most powerful creations are those which try to overcome a grievous personal loss by immortalizing the evanescent.
"Modeste Mussorgsky produced his Pictures at an Exhibition to perpetuate the memory of a friend. In the process, he created a monument far more massive and lasting than his subject."1
The piece was inspired by the untimely death of a close companion of Mussorgsky. Victor Hartmann, an architect and occasional painter, died from an aneurysm in 1873. The sudden loss of the artist, aged only 39, shook Mussorgsky along with others in Russia's art world.
Influential critic Vladimir Stasov helped organize an exhibition of over 400 Hartmann works in the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg a year later. Mussorgsky lent works from his personal collection to the exhibit and viewed the show in person. His visit to that show became the most famous gallery stroll of all time and fired by the experience, he composed Pictures at an Exhibition in six weeks. This masterful piano suite illustrates ten of Hartmann's images, with a recurring ``Promenade`` theme to illustrate the viewer's progress from painting to painting.

There wasn't time or resources enough to create this display shortly after Rick's death but hopefully it can be accomplished in the coming year. A coffee-table oriented book of Rick's work is also in the planning stages. Anyone who wishes to donate to the project or be kept up to date on any exhibit via e-mail, drop us an email or use the Donate button.

1. address:
title: Classical Notes - Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Classical Classics, Peter Gutmann.mht
2002 by Peter Gutmann
2. address:
title: Pictures at an Exhibition - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
3. address:
title: Mussorgsky/Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition
1999 by Geoff Kuenning

Friday, June 12, 2009

What use is a planetarium if...

We found this (group) Letter To The Editor in Rick's things :

An Appropriate Mix

What is an appropriate mix for IPS conferences? We must first define the end to which we are working: the accurate informative depiction of the universe in which we live. The accuracy challenge was well stated by Jeanne Bishop (IPS 1988 Richmond, March 1989 Planetarian) and widely supported by all who wrote in response.

However, we seem to quickly divide into separate camps of planetariums vs. astronomy, and entertainment vs. education. Encouraged by the mass media, many of us view learning and recreation as exclusive activities. They do not have to be, as shown by the large numbers of amateur astronomers, bird-watchers and wildlife photographers for whom a knowledge of the natural world forms the core of their recreation. Education should never be placed in a separate column from entertainment.

The marvelous technical innovations and hardware of the planetarium fields are necessary tools, but the best equipped planetarium cannot compete with the multi-million dollar effects of Hollywood. We cannot and must not try to make a show run on its effects or a big-name narrator. To do so would make us only a third-rate imitation of the mass media.

The other side of this ugly coin is the lack of modern science and the total avoidance of controversial subjects. Attitudes like "No one will understand or care" serve only to isolate our community and foster Scientific Elitism. Topics from the mainstream of modern astronomy that are given good coverage in the popular science press are often either badly distorted or altogether ignored in planetarium programming. For example, in the last five years recent advances in cosmology have been featured in Astronomy Magazine, Sky and Telescope, the National Geographic and Scientific American as well as Newsweek, Time, The Wall Street Journal and others.

With this in mind we make a plea for the continued inclusion of pure astronomy in conference schedules. We in the planetarium community have a vehicle to combat scientific illiteracy. A working knowledge of basic, up-to-date astronomy is essential for anyone making presentations to audiences who trust us as authorities.

John Beaver
Mike DiMuzio
Douglas A. Fowler
Susan Peterson
Richard Pirko

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Forever in the skies he loved

Asteroid named in honor of late YSU alumnus, planetarium producer, originally published at Tue, June 2, 2009, Vindicator, Youngstown, Ohio

By Harold Gwin

YOUNGSTOWN — Richard Pirko’s name will live on forever in the skies he loved.
An asteroid has been named in honor of the late Youngstown State University alumnus and former show producer and technician of YSU’s Ward Beecher Planetarium.
It’s somewhat of a rare honor, said Warren Young, recent interim chairman of the YSU Physics and Astronomy Department.
Asteroids are traditionally named after family members of the astronomers who find them, he explained, adding that he doesn’t know anyone else who’s had an asteroid named for him.
Asteroids are planet-like bodies measuring between a fraction of a mile and 500 miles in diameter.
The asteroid named for Pirko is in the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and was discovered at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., in June 2000, as part of an ongoing survey, Young said. Formerly known as Asteroid 2000 LS36, the International Astronomical Union has officially named it Asteroid Pirko.
Young said Pirko had a friend, Rob Landis, who works at NASA who contacted astronomers at Lowell and asked that an asteroid be named for Pirko, and the observatory agreed. This particular asteroid is believed to be between one and two miles across.
“This is a fitting tribute to a very dedicated educator,” Young said. “He was an amazing person with a unique combination of talents. We feel his loss every day.”
Pirko’s passion for astronomy exposed thousands of people to the wonders of the universe, Young said.
Pirko worked at the planetarium for more than 30 years writing, producing and presenting planetarium shows to public school classes, college classes and the general public.
He died of an apparent heart attack Oct. 15 at the University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center in Chardon. He was 55.
“He was a very important person to the university and our department,” Young said.
The Astronomy and Physics Department is still planning to erect a sundial on campus as a tribute to Pirko.
Pirko liked sundials and did classes on them, incorporating them in the planetarium weekend programs.
The department announced in October that it was raising funds for the Rick Pirko Memorial Sundial, which it hopes to erect just outside the planetarium doors.
Young said the funds are now in place and the department is awaiting approval of its plans from the campus beautification committee to proceed.
Pirko was a licensed pilot and as a local organizer of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program, provided hundreds of children with their first flight, according to a university spokesman.
He was also a counselor for the Astronomy and Aviation Merit Badges for the Boy Scouts of America, the spokesman said.

Contact Harold Gwin or

More on the asteroid elsewhere on this blog:   There's an asteroid 22105 called "Rick" now

Read up more on skywatching in books

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Most importantly -- friendship...

Phil Plante wrote this in the November 2008 The Meterorite, newsletter of the MVAS (Mahoning Valley Astronomical Society):

"During the 1980’s there continued to be an influx of YSU students and planetarium staff into the MVAS. This had all started a decade earlier with Ron Parise, Warren Young and Ed Bishop becoming MVAS members. Keeping with this trend, in March of 1985, Rick had come aboard as a member of the MVAS. By the time summer came around Rick was involved in the first of his many observatory projects. He helped rebuild the roof around the 16” dome when it was removed on July 27th. This was done in order raise the circular tracks by 6 inches to solve a leaky roof problem. For most members this would have been enough volunteer work. But Rick offered more. Along with his workload as a planetarium technician and producer, he took on double duty as the MVAS Treasurer and as the Observatory Director until 1988. Rick also ran the annual Christmas raffle in 1986 and 1987. During the winter of ’86-’87 he also supervised the re-tooling of the 8” focuser and drive; the machine work being done at a YSU machine shop.
During the 1990’s Rick served as master of ceremonies and even as keynote speaker for many of the MVAS-OTAA meetings. He blossomed in the field of photography, especially capturing conjunctions, planetary alignments, solstice photography and eclipses. He had traveled to the snowy landscape of Canada and to the sunny beaches of Baja, Mexico for total solar eclipses. In 1994, he flew into Toledo, OH to be on the centerline for the May 10 annular eclipse. He captured a timed multiple exposure sequence of this eclipse on one frame. He was proud of it and rightly so. It is often displayed in the planetarium. After this eclipse flight, Rick seemed to become increasingly interested in space flight and aviation in general. In April of 1996, he traveled to Russia for a tour of the old Soviet space facilities at Star City. Not long afterwards he received a pilot’s license for gliding. He soon joined the Cleveland Soaring Society. Eventually he’d qualify as a pilot of powered flight.

"In 2001, the MVAS decided to replace the steel 8” building with a wood construction. The first attempt by the membership was a disaster. Upon seeing this, Rick hired a contractor to erect a proper frame onto which members could complete the building as it is today. Rick asked for no compensation, paying for the frame-work out of pocket. In most ways we are indebted to Rick for the building we enjoy today.

"In 2000 and 2001, Rick arranged a flying/ observing outing with the MVAS and the CSS. For a greatly reduced fee, MVAS members could go up in a glider. Later at night the Soaring Society held picnic dinners and MVAS members would set up telescopes to look through.

"For those of us that had the privilege of knowing Rick, we will always remember his quiet smile. His willingness to teach astronomy to anyone so interested. His familiar and comforting planetarium presentations. His dedication to the Planetarium and to the MVAS. And most importantly, Rick’s friendship."

note on photo: Rick addressing the 1999 MVAS-OTAA meeting, reviewing the history
behind the 60th anniversary of MVAS. -- Photo by Bob Andress

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Renaissance man

Ernie Conover writes:
He is greatly missed. A great mind and true Renaissance man. Too young to die, but only the good die young.