By Amelia Mack
This March marks the 50th anniversary of the Ward Beecher Planetarium at Youngstown State University.
Patrick Durrell, the director of the planetarium, said that over the last 50 years the planetarium has left a positive impact on the Mahoning Valley.
“I think the impact has been good. We’ve had many people come through the doors over the years, and it’s always been a free resource … We’re very excited about presenting science and science education,” Durrell said. “That’s always been the mission, to provide a learning environment of astronomy and earth science to people, not just in the valley, but any visitors … We want to excite people, not just with the science we’ve known about, but also the stuff that’s happening now.”
The planetarium has always been a free resource open to the public. It offers educational shows each weekend, while also serving as a classroom for YSU students during the day.
Durrell said the planetarium enjoys the large community involvement.
“We have thousands of visitors every year,” Durrell said. “Thousands of school children go through every year…”
Curt Spivey, the planetarium engineer, said there are many events planned for this year’s anniversary.
“We are really promoting our golden anniversary,” Spivey said. “Bringing back a lot of old favorite shows and adding a few new shows to the lineup and really making it a celebration of 50 years in the Mahoning Valley.”
Among the favorite shows returning is the laser weekend in January, and a new lecture series will also begin in the spring. The lecture series, which will be open to students and the public, will begin in January and last until May with four different astronomers coming to speak.
“We’ve got some good people coming in that I’m very much looking forward to,” Durrell said.
Warren Young was the planetarium director from the start in 1967 until 2004.
Young said that the early stages of the planetarium were greatly supported through some of Youngstown’s media sources like WKBN. He said that during the first few months of being open, WKBN would report their radio show from the planetarium to attract crowds.
He said that the opening of the planetarium seemed to be at a perfect time.
“The Kennedy Space Program was a big thing in the ‘60s and into the ‘70s,” Young said. “We had magnificent attendance [during that time] and a great deal of excitement.”
In March there will be an alumni weekend to celebrate the anniversary.
“We have a lot of fun stuff planned,” Spivey said. “We want to grow and let people know we’re here … That’s part of our charter, to be a resource to the Mahoning Valley.”
The planetarium’s upcoming events can be found on their website: wbplanetarium.org.