The founders of the club, Jim and Ginny Strogen, weren’t originally lake natives, but they have made the area their own. Coming to the area in 2004, they founded the club in 2007 to bring the stars down to earth.
Down an unassuming gravel road off of Route E in Montreal lie a few innocuous-looking sheds in the middle of a field. They’re not much to look at when you pull up, but they are the main hub of the Camden County Astronomy Club, hosting a 20-inch telescope and a 14-inch telescope.
The founders of the club, Jim and Ginny Strogen, weren’t originally lake natives, but they have made the area their own. Coming to the area in 2004, they founded the club in 2007 to bring the stars down to earth. They’ve had a passion for astronomy for decades, especially Jim.
“I’ve always been interested in astronomy,” he said. “I was an auto tech, but I wasn’t happy. I got tired of dealing with customers.”
So he quit and found himself a job at the Griffith Observatory on Mt. Wilson, doing pubic outreach events. It wasn’t until his new job that he realized why he had been so tired.
“I’m not a day person,” he said. “I have no problem staying up until 3 or 4 a.m. I’m retired, and this is normal to me.”
Ginny had a different path towards her passion. She only truly discovered how much she enjoyed it when she took a class in astronomy. It was in that class that she met Jim, who had tagged along during a trip to an observatory.
Together, they have built the Camden County Astronomy Club from the ground up. They are more than happy to go to schools and local events to show people just how fascinating astronomy can be.
Their efforts have even garnered national attention, earning them the G. Bruce Blair Medal. That medal is the highest honor which the Western Amateur Astronomers (WAA) bestows to an individual.
“There aren’t that many people who go out and buy a property in the middle of somewhere without a bunch of lights just to pursue a hobby,” said Jim. “This club is the answer to the question ‘Where can we go and do this that we won’t be hassled?’”
He and Ginny have purchased a great deal of the equipment, along with the construction materials for the buildings, with their own money. They are happy to accept donations, though they don’t actively solicit them.
One donation that stands out is the heart of the Clark and Susan VanScoyk Observatory: the 14-inch telescope, which is loaded with all manner of electronics.
“We got that telescope and mount after Clark passed away unexpectedly,” Jim explained. “It had always been his dream to build a telescope for students.”
So Jim carried his dream to fruition, and many local students come out to enjoy the night skies. They are able to track various heavenly bodies, and do some astrophotography. Some students even take it a step further.
“We’ve mentored a few high school seniors,” said Jim. “One of them is now a student in his third year at Stanford. He’s getting a doctorate in astrophysics.”
The students also sometimes take the pair in unexpected directions.
“We had one student come ask about growing algae in complete darkness, using sunlight piped in with fiber optics,” said Jim. “I helped him build a solar collector that could follow the sun, and his project worked.”
Future plans include getting a spectrograph and photometer for the 14-inch telescope, as well as constructing a large building for the club. They hope to have running water and a kitchen to support big events.
This follows their core goal of bringing the science and the stars to the area. They continue their efforts tirelessly, having just returned from a seminar on the upcoming solar eclipse, which is their next plan. They will be in Ashland, but some of their group will be in Jefferson City.
“After the seminar, I was grabbing every pamphlet about solar eclipse events in Missouri,” said Ginny. “You have to have a backup plan!”
Jim agreed, saying that amateur astronomers must always be prepared to move depending upon the weather. But if you can’t make the solar eclipse, Jim says you’re always welcome at the observatory.
“I would like the public to know that we’re here,” he said. “We don’t charge dues, and you’re welcome to come on out if you’re interested.”
He said the club meets on the third Friday of every month except December at Central Bank Lake of the Ozarks in Camdenton. Interested parties can contact the Strogens at 573-374-4144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim and Ginny Strogen have been active amateur astronomers for over 25 years.
Jim worked at the Griffith Observatory as a telescope demonstrator and at the Mount Wilson Observatory on the 60” and 100” as the Night Assistant. Ginny worked at Mount Wilson on the 16” telescope in the public outreach program and the 60” telescope as a telescope operator.
Jim and Ginny were long time members of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society. They served as President and Vice- President and spent many additional years on the Board of Directors. They were also very active with the LAAS public outreach events. Both volunteered at RTMC for many years.
In 2003 they were recognized with asteroids MP 27706Strogen and MP19173Virginiaterese as a thank you for their work with preservation and archiving of the POSS photographic plates at Cal Tech.
Background information has been provided.