MANCHESTER — For years, the late Lu French looked up to the stars with the members of the Burr and Burton Academy Astronomy Club. Now, her name is forever in those stars.
In a ceremony Monday in which the school’s observatory was named for Lu French, a benefactor and former member of the Board of Trustees, BBA Headmaster Mark Tashjian announced the school had named a star for French through the International Star Registry.
Its coordinates in the Ursa Major constellation — better known as the Big Dipper — will be posted inside the observatory, and Tashjian presented a certificate bearing the coordinates to her husband, Clark French.
“Clark and Lu have been great friends to Burr and Burton and to my family since the moment we moved up here 15 years ago,” Tashjian told the gathered crowd. “One of their pet projects was to make sure the observatory was in working order. They helped us purchase telescopes, refurbish the observatory, and they were avid participants in the various star parties hosted by Bill Muench and Scott Clausen, two of our teachers.”
Muench, who advised the Astronomy Club until his retirement last year, recounted that Lu was “the best star hopper I know,” one who could find heavenly objects by memory and was eager to share her knowledge with students. He said her enthusiasm kept late-night star parties going, because there was always more to see as the night sky evolved and more stars appeared.
“She was a gentle dynamo,” Muench said. “Most people who have the diverse skills and knowledge that Lu had are in your face about it. Not Lu. She was in the trenches; a quiet leader; a gentle teacher.”
“Dedicating this observatory to someone who guided us as much as Lu French is absolutely appropriate,” he said. “Over the years, Lu’s spirit will continue to guide us and inspire us to look out, to look up and look beyond what we are, and see what we can truly be.”
French died after a long cancer fight on May 16 at the age of 59. The observatory was dedicated to her on 60th birthday, as well as the vernal equinox. After French’s passing last year, her family donated funds to name and refurbish the observatory.
The observatory was built in 1928 as a gift from Mary Harlan Lincoln, the widow of Hildene builder Robert Todd Lincoln, and originally housed Robert Todd Lincoln’s 8-foot equatorial telescope — considered one of the world’s finest when it was built. The school donated it back to Hildene, The Lincoln Family Home, in 1992.
The observatory houses a 12-foot computerized Meade LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on a fork mount, donated by the French family, as well as an 8-foot Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and a 12-foot Apertura Dobsonian telescope, both made possible by community support.