It was with great sadness that I learned today of the passing of William A. Dando, Ph.D., former Chairman of the Geography, Geology and Anthropology Department at Indiana State University and a mentor to me during my tenure at ISU’s Hook Memorial Observatory.
I have been fortunate enough to have had 4 mentors who were crucial in shaping the man I am today.
My father was my most important mentor, for among the many things he taught me was the overwhelming value of good communication skills and how to use humor effectively with those skills.
Second was David Cassady, Director of Education at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, who was instrumental in shaping my skills and talents as an educator and mentor to youth.
Third is Chris Fitzgerald, President of Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc., who has continuously overseen my education in business matters, both in matters of what to do and more importantly, what not to do.
Dr. Dando helped me immensely by supporting my work as both undergraduate and graduate Student Director of the Hook Memorial Observatory at ISU. Although I was a Physics student, the observatory was operated by the Geography, Geology and Anthropology Department, which I nor Dr. Dando could ever figure out.
I first met him during my second semester as a Physics student when he took over as Chairman of the Geography, Geology and Anthropology Department. As Student Director of the observatory, he requested a meeting with me and Dr. Howe, the Faculty Director to determine where things stood with the observatory and how he might facilitate our success. Dr. Howe made it clear to Dr. Dando that he supported whatever I felt would serve the observatory’s mission. I explained my vision regarding public astronomy and I was instantly impressed with Dr. Dando’s eagerness to embrace my vision. He asked what I needed and I mentioned the need for a new deck since our visitor attendance was growing. 6 weeks later, I had a new deck. The following year, I asked for a new telescope and by the end of the semester, I had a new Meade 10” computerized telescope, which made my mission so much easier and successful. Not once did he ever question my needs other than to ask if whatever request I made would further my vision.
When I graduated and was looking into graduate programs around the nation, I found that none satisfied my desires in astronomy. Everything was theoretical and I was more of an applications kind of scientist. I explained that to Dr. Dando one day and he suggested I stay at ISU and consider transferring into his department. “Try Remote Sensing, James” he said to me. “The only difference is that you’ll be looking down instead of up… and you might find something to tweak your interest.”
How right he was. Soon, I was discovering Native American burial mounds that were astronomically aligned and making a name for myself in the Archaeology world.
The only thing Dr. Dando ever requested of me, as well as all his other graduate and undergraduate students, was to present our current research projects to any relevant conferences and to represent the department in doing so. As such, I got to present research at Argonne Labs in Illinois, CalTech University in California and I even presented at a conference on Computer Applications in Archaeology in Iasi, Romania. I was the only American in attendance. Of course, Dr. Dando saw to it that all of us were financially supported in order to make these appearances possible.
When I chose to accept a position at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis rather than pursue my Ph.D., Dr. Dando not only accepted my decision, he encouraged it.
When I ran for Mayor of Terre Haute, I went by the nickname of Jimmy the Wad. Dr. Dando asked me why I was running for Mayor and I explained to him my desire to bring awareness to why Terre Haute, with 3 major colleges, wasn’t embracing the college dollar like Bloomington, or other college towns. “But why Jimmy the Wad?” he asked. I explained to him that it was a funny nickname that he was responsible for. He didn’t understand, so I explained to him that his initials were W.A.D. and I liked the sound of it. He laughed for weeks over that one, but was glad when I dropped out of the race.
Were it not for Dr. Dando, I would be a far lesser man than I am today, and thanks to his lovely wife, Carolyn Dando, I also learned to love Borscht… Go figure!