Dr. James Roy Orgren

Dr. James Roy Orgren1928-2014

by Paul J. Krupinski

First MAPS Secretary/Treasurer Passes After Stellar Career

The planetarium community has lost another shining star.

Dr. James Roy Orgren, our very own first secretary/treasurer, passed away Sunday, November 23, 2014 in Columbia, MO. Jim Orgren was 86.

Born on the summer solstice, Thursday, June 21, 1928 in Lansing, MI, he was destined to inspire those around him about the beauty and complexity of our amazing universe through the planetarium and the classroom. Early on in life he served as a Trappist monk in Holy Trinity Abbey for eight years.

From 1964 to 1966, at age 36, he served as planetarium director of the Earth and Space Science Laboratory, Frederick, MD. MAPS held its second of four meetings on Saturday, May 22, 1965. In an early interview, Orgren said membership increased three fold at the May meeting to 25 attendees! If we turn back the pages of time, the name Middle Atlantic Planetarium Society or MAPS was officially adopted at that May meeting in Frederick!

Later that year in Lancaster, PA, the fourth meeting of MAPS educators commenced in the North Museum Planetarium, Franklin & Marshall College — it was December 4, 1965 and the first MAPS officers were elected! Jim Orgren would become our region’s first secretary/treasurer.

Orgren departed ESSL in 1966 to join the Buffalo State College community in Western New York as an associate professor in the General Sciences Department and received continuing appointment in 1969. He also served as director of the Buffalo State College planetarium from 1966 to 1984. He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI; a master’s degree in education from Michigan State University; and another master’s degree from Cornell University in earth sciences. He completed his Ed.D. in science education at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

He quickly demonstrated his commitment to teaching, service, and scholarship. He was active in college and department affairs at Buff State and he chaired the Curriculum Committee and the Personnel Committee when the Geosciences Department was established. In the planetarium, he developed various devices, special effects, and software applications to enhance the use of the planetarium and to improve its value as a teaching tool. He also taught and advised graduate students. In 1977 Orgren received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and he was promoted to full professor.

After a fire destroyed the facility on November 17, 1978, the college decided to rebuild the planetarium and Dr. Orgren spearheaded efforts to build a new and improved star theater. He spent a sabbatical as an intern at the Strasenburgh Planetarium in Rochester to learn how to better operate the college’s new Whitworth Ferguson Planetarium, which became an important educational and community resource for Western New York. Its new public programs became popular, attracting thousands of visitors every year.

On a personal note, I meet Dr. Orgren for the first time while attending an introductory astronomy class at Buffalo State College…I was 18. He would become my professor, advisor, mentor and dear friend for many memorable years. I still remember this distinguished man, who at the time looked a lot like Abe Lincoln, walking down the stairs of the lecture hall, carrying his brief case, which held his text book, pens, pencils, chalk and astronomy notes. I still remember spending countless hours with him and other intrigued students under the dome on campus learning stars names, constellation positions, the control panel of the Spitz A3P, the Spindler & Saupe Director 24 controlling dozens of Kodak carousel projectors, as well as multiple special effects devices in and around the cove.

More importantly, we learned how to share our understanding of the night sky passionately with others. There was nothing more exciting than being with your astronomy professor, fellow astronomy club members (who would become lifelong friends) under the canopy of stars on a clear dark night, peering though telescopes and just sharing quality time together…now that’s truly priceless!

Dr. Orgren gave me a special gift shortly after graduating in December of 1989…a paid trip to Ogelbay in Wheeling, West Virginia — my first MAPS conference! And the rest, as they say, is history.

Dr. Orgren received a number of National Science Foundation awards and helped to both create and evaluate New York State’s high school earth sciences curriculum. He was a member of several professional organizations, including the National Science Teachers Association. He retired from teaching in 1991. Dr. Orgren is survived by his wife, Sally and six children.

May perpetual light shine upon Dr. James R. Orgren, like the unrelenting light that shines down on us from the thousands of stars every clear night and may he rest in peace. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of space and time with me and with countless others. You may be gone and truly missed by many, however you’ll certainly never be forgotten!