YSU’s star of the stars remembered
Late astronomy educator recalled as philanthropist and local entrepreneur
YOUNGSTOWN — Warren Young passionately recalled when he and Ted Pedas had witnessed a total solar eclipse nearly 50 years ago. At no time since then had anything gotten in the way of their longtime friendship.
“He was a guy who took his job very seriously,” said Young, a retired Youngstown State University professor who was the university’s original Ward Beecher Planetarium director from 1967 to 2004.
Seeing the rare celestial event with Pedas in July 1972 aboard a cruise ship off the coast of Africa is one of many fond memories Young has of his relationship with Pedas, an astronomy educator, philanthropist and entrepreneur who died March 11 of sudden cardiac arrest at his winter home in Sanibel Island, Fla. He was 82.
Young, who also served as chairman of YSU’s physics department, remembered having met on the ship Neil Armstrong, who was the first person to walk on the moon, along with several well-known science writers.
“One of the things (Pedas) had me do was introduce Neil Armstrong. I talked to him about the moon, and it was like talking to Columbus after he discovered the New World,” Young said, adding that Pedas loved conducting astronomy-related lectures aboard cruise ships.
Pedas, whom Young hired at the planetarium in the late 1960s after Pedas had earned a degree from Michigan State University, also had a gift for interesting people in astronomy largely by meeting them at their age levels. For example, he had young children learn the basics about meteorites while allowing them to touch the bits of space material, Young said, adding Pedas ran astronomy shows for people of all ages, as well as school groups, several times weekly.
In 1993, after several decades at the Ward Beecher Planetarium, he was designated planetarium administrator emeritus. Pedas also was one of the International Planetarium Society’s founding members in 1968.
The IPS is a global association of astronomers and other planetarium professionals. Its nearly 500 members from 50 countries represent schools, museums, universities and public facilities, including planetariums, the organization’s website states.
Pedas earned degrees in planetarium science and science education from YSU, Michigan State and the University of California at Berkeley.
His entrepreneurship was evident in many ways, including donating money to, and conducting shows at, Farrell High School’s planetarium, which was renamed the Ted Pedas Planetarium largely because of his benevolence and donations to the Farrell Area School District. He also gave money for awards students were to receive, Young continued.
SPACE AGE INTEREST
“Ted’s education and subsequent interests initially began with the start of the Space Age in the mid-1950s,” Kaoru Kimura, who lives in Tokyo and is president of the International Planetarium Society, said in a statement. “He combined a talent for business with a passion for teaching, particularly astronomy and space science in his hometown of Farrell, Pennsylvania.”
Anthony F. “Tony” Aveni, an astronomy and anthropology professor at Russell Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., recalled that about 50 years ago, Pedas called to ask him to conduct lectures about astronomy on a cruise ship. That led to Aveni and his wife, Lorraine, spending winters in that pursuit until the pandemic began last year, he remembered.
“Anyone who lives within a light year of Youngstown is well aware of Ted’s generosity,” said Aveni, who’s also a lecturer as well as editor and author of more than 20 books on ancient astronomy.
In addition, Aveni helped develop the field of archeoastronomy, the study of how ancient people came to understand astronomical events, as well as how they used and interpreted such phenomena in their cultures.
Pedas’ great knowledge and stellar love for his subject reverberated not only in the classroom or aboard large cruise ships, but to newspaper readers and a large segment of the public, said Sharon Shanks, who met Pedas in 1990 before succeeding him as a Ward Beecher Planetarium lecturer until she retired in 2015.
“Not only did I follow him as a lecturer, but also as author of The Cosmos for The Vindicator from 1996 to 2002,” Shanks remembered. “He educated hundreds of thousands of people about astronomy and promoted the planetarium through that weekly column, which he wrote out by hand on yellow legal pads. He realized there was a thirst for knowledge about space and astronomy among people, and that many enjoyed learning regardless of their age.”
Shanks, who retired last December after having worked 14 years as editor of “Planetarian,” the International Planetarium Society’s journal, added that she enjoyed assisting Pedas with his cruise endeavors. In addition, Shanks lectured on two such journeys and for several years, taught once per week at the Farrell High School Planetarium for Pedas.
The 146-seat planetarium at YSU, which opened in 1967, is the first in the U.S. that’s also set up as a classroom. It has undergone four major renovations, including one in 2017 to upgrade its video system, Curtis Spivey, planetarium engineer, noted.
In 2019, an estimated 20,000 people attended a variety of shows before the pandemic began last March and it had to close to the public, Spivey said, adding he hopes the facility will be able to fully reopen by fall. Now it’s being used in a limited capacity for students taking a basic astronomy class, he continued.
For more information about the Ward Beecher Planetarium, go to www.wbplanetarium.org., or visit its Facebook page.