Apr 5, 2014 2:47 PM by Rachel Warren
SCHRIEVER, La. (AP) - For Ken Stage, life is looking up - up at the moon, stars and planets.
The 70-year-old and his wife, Faye, built and run the St. George Observatory behind their home on St. George Road in Schriever.
They recently received one of five 2014 awards from the AstronomyOutreach network, which honors work in outreach and public education.
For Ken, the recognition was a long time coming.
Ken first fell in love with astronomy and science more than 50 years ago while working as a master mariner in the U.S. Coast Guard in the 1960s.
"There were no street signs and no GPS," he said, "but by using the sun, moon, planets and stars, you could deduce your geographic location."
He studied the universe and continued to learn about astronomy. Once he retired, he wanted to share his knowledge with the community.
Ken began inviting small groups to his home to use his telescopes and learn about the stars in 1999. Visitors encouraged him to expand.
"Everybody kept telling me to make it bigger," he said.
In 2002, Ken built a lab, lecture hall and mobile laboratory on his property. The new and improved observatory opened to the public on Jan. 27, 2003.
"The one thing I realized when kids started coming out was that when I asked them questions, there was a blank look on all of their faces," he said. "And I thought 'Well, this can't be right.'"
He quickly discovered that many of the children didn't share his enthusiasm for science.
"If I have 200 kids show up, probably only one of them has ever looked through a telescope," he said. "I grew up in a time when the Apollo astronauts were my heroes. Those were exciting times."
Ken began searching for ways to encourage students and make learning fun. He's developed more than 300 experiments using household objects to demonstrate scientific facts and theories.
"We're not limited to astronomy," he said. "We do mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics. We do it all."
The observatory doesn't receive any money from the state or federal government. Ken charges admission to pay for the facility's several large telescopes and lab equipment.
Visits cost $9 for students and seniors, $10 for adults and $15 for overnight campers.
Ken also invites groups to his home or uses his mobile science lab to bring experiments to schools and clubs.
Just recently, he visited a Boy Scouts STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Camp in Evangeline Parish.
Camp Director Jackie Nell said she wanted to offer the Scouts a fun, educational presentation and knew Ken was the right man for the job.
"We've been coming here with the Scouts and our local home school group for a while," she said. "The kids just love it."
Nell said it's important for children to become interested in science at an early age, and programs like the ones at the St. George Observatory make it possible.
"For me, science has always been fun," she said. "We want the kids to learn more about how the world works."
Ken said he enjoys sharing his work with others and encourages them to pass it on.
"I tell them, 'Now that you've got this knowledge, spread it around,' " he said. "Never stop trying to learn."
His hard work hasn't gone unnoticed.
Last year, Astronomy Magazine ranked 450 observatories from across the country that focus on public outreach. The St. George Observatory was one of the magazine's top six.
But for Ken, the real joy comes from watching children grow to love the stars as much as he does.
"I enjoy educating people about the universe," he said. "It's not work for me. It's fun."
Information from: The Courier