Tag Archives: Spanel planetarium

Senators and astronomy

We’re not in the habit of running obituaries on Seattle Astronomy—this, in fact, is our first one—but the recent passing of former state Sen. Harriet Spanel at age 77 merits mention here for a couple of reasons.

Harriet Spanel

Former state Sen. Harriet Spanel passed away Feb. 2, 2016 in Bellingham. Washington State Senate photo.

The first is personal. Your correspondent served on the staff of the Washington State Senate during the 1990s, overlapping with Spanel’s first seven years as a member of that body. I found her to be a kind person and a pleasure to work with.

The second reason is more relevant to our usual subject matter. Spanel’s family has suggested a number of causes to which people could make contributions in memory of the late senator. One of them is the Dr. Leslie E. Spanel Memorial Planetarium Endowment at Western Washington University.

Les and Harriet Spanel met at Iowa State University when she was earning her degree in mathematics and he was completing a Ph.D. in physics. They married in 1961, moved to Bellevue in 1964 and to Bellingham in 1968 when Les began his teaching career at Western, where he was a member and sometime chair of the Physics Department and also was director for the planetarium. Les Spanel passed away in 2002. The planetarium, which was built in 1959, was named for him after Harriet made contributions in support of some major equipment upgrades in 2013. The planetarium is available for school groups, private shows, and also offers public presentations several times each month.

Harriet Spanel served three terms in the state House and four in the Senate before retiring from public office in 2009. She was chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus for a decade. A celebration of her life and a funeral mass are planned for 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 20 at the Church of the Assumption in Bellingham.

Please consider a contribution in memory of Harriet Spanel in support of astronomy outreach and education at Western. Contributions can be made online through the Western Washington University Foundation. Be sure to make a note that your gift is for the Spanel Planetarium fund.

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