In memoriam: Vic Winter

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Monday, March 05, 2007

Amateur astronomy lost one of its ambassadors Sunday, January 28, 2007. Vic Winter, just about the friendliest person you'll ever meet on an observing field, passed away in his sleep. He was 53.

I first met Vic January 28, 1989, 18 years to the day before his passing. I had just moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and that Saturday night I attended the monthly meeting of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City (ASKC). When I walked through the door, a guy of medium build with glasses, a moustache, and long hair greeted me. He introduced himself as Vic. We chatted for 20 minutes prior to the meeting's start about the club, observing, and what we did in "real life" to support our astronomy habits.

After the meeting, about 20 members invited me to accompany them to a local restaurant for their traditional after-meeting yak session. I sat next to Vic, and I remember how comfortable he made me — a first-time visitor — feel.

During the 9 years I spent in Kansas City, Vic and I observed together a lot. I remember bundling up in every piece of winter clothing I owned and observing with Vic and several other friends from the 12,000-plus-foot altitude at the top of Trail Ridge Road in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park. And that was in August! We'd traveled there from Kansas City to observe the Perseid meteor shower in 1991. Two of the three nights we encountered snow, but for the most part it was clear, and we saw lots of nice meteors.

Vic was always willing to help at observing sessions, and I called on him a lot. I was the planetarium director at the Kansas City Museum, and we hosted lots of public events. Vic would set up a solar telescope during days and a variety of scopes for our nighttime sessions. In fact, the first view I had of Comet Hale-Bopp's "water-sprinkler" appearance was through one of Vic's large reflectors.

Speaking of Hale-Bopp, Vic was at Powell Observatory April 1, 1997. Powell, located in Louisburg, Kansas, and operated by the ASKC, houses a 30-inch reflector. I was also there, presenting a series of talks about Comet C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp). I recall the night distinctly because of two things. First, Hale-Bopp was at perihelion (closest to the Sun); second, that night marked the first date with my wife, Holley. Between two of my talks, Holley and I stood in line to see the comet through the 30-inch telescope. I chatted with people and kept letting others cut in on us. Vic, standing nearby, said, "Michael, are you ever going to look at the comet?" I said, "Yes, in 7 minutes." Vic thought about this for a few seconds, and then let out one of his trademarks: "Ahhhhh!" Seven minutes later, Holley and I observed Hale-Bopp at the exact moment of its perihelion.

For me, one particular memory defines Vic Winter. During the summer of 1989, Vic and I set up to observe on the grounds of Powell Observatory. On this night, however, Vic and I plopped our scopes outside the main dome. Vic parked his truck nearby and had the tailgate open. Whenever he changed eyepieces, Vic would simply drop the one he removed from the focuser into a wooden crate in his truck's bed. Then, red light illuminated, he'd rummage around the crate for the eyepiece he wanted to use. When I asked him about this behavior — and, please note these were top-of-the-line Nagler eyepieces &mdash he looked at me and said, "I don't have the time to fool with boxes. I'd rather spend the time observing. If I have to replace an eyepiece eventually, that's money well spent."

Vic was one of a kind. I miss him.

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