Jim Benet (pronounced Ben-A) has been fascinated by the night sky most of his life, but fascination turned into a serious interest only in his fifties when his wife, Marguerite, bought him his first telescope.
A retired microwave engineer by profession, Jim joined the Orange County Astronomers in the mid 1990s and took over leadership of the club’s outreach program in 1998. He has continued as coordinator of the program for over 14 years. In that role he has shown the great impact that one person can have on the relationship between a local astronomy club and the community at large; and how enthusiastically the community will reach out for astronomy experiences.
Jim dramatically expanded the outreach program by recruiting more than 100 OCA members over the years to join him in setting up their telescopes at these events so that people could learn about and appreciate the wonders of the Universe. As the program expanded, Jim used his computer skills to develop spreadsheet macros to manage the outreach commitments; no one can recall a single time an outreach was missed because of a lack of volunteers or a coordination error.
As of this writing (early 2012), the OCA has conducted 700 Outreach programs at 168 schools, and many parks and libraries throughout Orange County and southern Los Angeles County under Jim’s leadership. Over 100,000 people have viewed planetary, stellar and deep sky objects through the telescopes of OCA members. Jim’s leadership of the OCA outreach program has demonstrated that a leader with vision, enthusiasm, and energy can use astronomy to change the lives of both today’s amateur astronomers and the next generation of citizens and scientists