Monday, March 15, 2004

Devotion to astronomy evident in this volunteer



By Janet Wetzel
Enquirer contributor

MOUNT LOOKOUT - John Ventre is not the least bit offended when someone calls him a lunatic.

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John Ventre is a volunteer at the Cincinnati Observatory Center in Mt. Lookout.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
But sometimes he'll point out that he prefers the term "lunartic," which he says means he enjoys studying the mysteries of the moon rather than the deep sky.

Knowing his love of astronomy, it came as no surprise when in 1997, after Ventre heard of plans to close the Cincinnati Observatory, he became a key player in a group of fellow astronomers, the Cincinnati Preservation Association and others, who worked to save the observatory.

Ventre, a self-taught astronomer, became an incorporating trustee and a board member as it was taken over by the private group and renamed the Cincinnati Observatory Center.

Ventre, 67, of Wyoming, retired from his engineering job at GE Aircraft Engines in 1998. The very next day, he became the observatory's volunteer administrator/director, working 40-60 hours a week. He established many of the programs and committees that continue today.

"It was an enormous opportunity for me, a real blast. It was like being allowed to go play in the sandbox without anyone laughing," said Ventre,

As the staff historian, Ventre works endless hours to clean, catalog and research items. He also has trained most of the center's volunteers and wrote tour and telescope operation manuals.

His extensive list of credentials includes 25 years as an astronomy instructor at the University of Cincinnati, current teacher of non-credit courses at UC Communiversity, and vice president of Friends of the Observatory.

Even after funds were available to hire a director, he remained one of the busiest volunteers.

Chuck Strubbe, observatory trustee, said Ventre's local contributions are invaluable and legendary, including in 1981 when he helped recover a valuable telescope lens stolen from the Cincinnati Astronomical Society.

"John has been highly active in the local astronomy scene for at least 30 years," Strubbe said. "He's been both a volunteer and an educator, taking on any job that needs to be done - administrator, tour guide, instructor, janitor, trustee, historian, etc. Thousands of people have followed him around on tours as he spins a fascinating history."

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Do you know a Hometown Hero - someone in your community dedicated to making it a better place to live and helping others? E-mail Janet Wetzel at jjwetzel@siscom.net, or fax to 513-755-4150.




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