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Bruce Hanna, the Pretlow Planetarium Director and Astronomy Instructor, Dies

Donald Bruce Hanna, the recently retired astronomy instructor who served for more than three decades as director of Old Dominion University's Mary D. Pretlow Planetarium, has died. He was 60.

Gail Dodge, the chair of the Department of Physics in which Hanna worked until his retirement in December, said a relative of Hanna's called the department on Friday to say that he had died in his sleep.

"Bruce was a wonderful colleague and friend," Dodge said. "He was also a very popular professor, introducing thousands of students to the wonders of science, particularly astronomy, in his many years at ODU. He was a legend and he will be greatly missed."

Mark Havey, an ODU eminent scholar and professor of physics, added, "Bruce has been for many years a mainstay of the department and one of its most public and respected figures in the Tidewater area. With his knowledge and enthusiasm for astronomy and education, he was a major face of the department. He will be sorely missed by us all."

Astronomy students in Physics 104 got the news from Declan De Paor, the research professor of geophysics who succeeded Hanna in the classroom and as director of the planetarium. "Many of you knew him, of course, as your Physics 103 instructor," De Paor wrote in an e-mail to the students. "He was not in good health, but we had all hoped that he would enjoy years of restful retirement after so many years of service to ODU."

Dodge noted Hanna's popularity as the planetarium director. "He gave lots of planetarium shows to university, civic and school groups every year. We would routinely see thank-you notes from school children on his office door. People of all ages were fascinated by his shows."

Hanna came to ODU in the early 1970s to pursue a master's degree in science education. Previously, he had served as director of a planetarium at the Des Moines Center of Science and Industry in Iowa. In 1974, as an ODU teaching assistant, Hanna took the reins of the Pretlow Planetarium from the late C. S. Sherwood, professor of geophysical sciences. Hanna joined the faculty in 1976.

In a 2005 interview, Hanna said, "I think the reason I was hired (at ODU) was I knew how to operate a planetarium. When I started as a graduate student, C.S. Sherwood was running the Pretlow Planetarium, which had opened in 1966. I overlapped with him for two years" before Sherwood retired.

When asked to explain his popularity as a teacher, Hanna pointed in the 2005 interview to his training in education. "I have a master's in science education. I also taught public school for four years early on. I sometimes think students like me because I served time in the trenches teaching public school."

One of his fondest memories was being invited in 1985 by a former student to supervise an observation program in the Caribbean for Haley's Comet. "Some Navy folks at Guantanamo Bay station wanted to observe the comet, and they were wondering who they could get to help them. One of my former students was a lieutenant down there and he recommended me. So I got this call from Cuba, and they flew me down with my telescopes to show them Haley's Comet. I couldn't believe it. They had 600 people lined up to look at it."

Funeral arrangements were pending at the time this was written.

This article was posted on: April 25, 2009

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