A Celebration of the Life of Chris Highlen

Chris devoted his life to the work of The Fort Wayne Astronomical Society, TechVenture and its predecessor organizations for more than 3 decades.

He was one of the original group of people who had a dream for a Fort Wayne museum of electrical power generation and the science and engineering that made modern electrical power possible for all. That original group acquired the Fort Wayne power station, and physically, over many months, cleaned and prepped the facility, and laid the groundwork for what we now know as Science Central.

His interest in hands on learning for all ages in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math as well as plain old-fashioned “tinkering to learn” continued as a teacher, board member and “sweat equity donor” to TekVenture until his death.

A life long member of the Fort Wayne Astronomical Society and its Observatory Director, Chris was part of a small team presiding over the planning and moving of the Society’s Fox Island Observatory to Jefferson Township Park. In this roll, he was key in working with architects and contractors during several redesigns of the new observatory, first envisioned for Fox Island and then for the new site in Jefferson Township Park.

The move to JTP in 2012 and the work that continues today saw Chris working with park officials and preparing reports that ultimately went to the US National Park Service, which has supervisory jurisdiction for JTP and its land. Within the last 2 months, The Society broke ground for the new observatory and Chris was present and involved with the media events leading up to and including that day.

Since boyhood, planetariums fascinated Chris. He attended the Schouweiler with a school group, probably in the late 1970’s. The then, new black light zodiac mural, made a deep impression on him. So much so that when, as a High School student, he found himself in the Wayne High School planetarium for the first time, he was incensed that the school had repainted the walls and covered the mural. He really gave the teacher a hard time. When the Wayne staff finally figured out what was going on, they told him he must have visited the Saint Francis Planetarium, for that was the Fort Wayne planetarium with the black light mural. He loved to tell this story the last few years as our Planetarium Educator and Staff Artist Jackie Baughman was recreating the mural for thousands of school children of the future. He also told this story to remind the rest of us —staff, faculty and administration of the University— that many in county and beyond know there is a University of Saint Francis because they came to the Schouweiler Planetarium.

Before Chris joined the Schouweiler staff, he occasionally helped previous Schouweiler directors coax new life out of aged and failing special effects machines and other planetarium tech equipment as he did for the Northrop and Wayne High School Planetariums.

After I asked Chris to join me in producing a new Christmas Show, which would be informed by the latest Biblical, historical and astronomical information, and together we succeeded in that task (Star of Bethlehem 2000 and every year following), he agreed to join me as the Schouweiler’s first Technician.

Indeed, that Chris be hired was one of my two conditions for my acceptance of the offer to become the Director of the Schouweiler in the summer of 2001. The other was that we would begin hire a planetarium educator to do the weekly “school group shows” with the hope that eventually the “educators” would be USF students or former USF students, as has been the case since 2003.

It is not an exaggeration to say the Schouweiler would not have become what it has over the last 15 years, had Chris not been the other half of the team. Ours was a partnership for Astronomy Education. I continually checked with him as to the feasibility of my ideas for shows, upgrades, new needed capability and he was the one who “made those ideas so.”

Chris was not just the technician, but like all of our staff, a people and get it done person. He enjoyed teaching new volunteers how to sell tickets at the door, as much as he did tweaking equipment or problem solving. And as the Achatz Building family knows, he always had the time to help someone with a problem, or just stand and talk, engaged on just about any subject for as long as you needed.

Just a week before his death, one of our Campus Operations colleagues told me that when they got his work orders, sometimes on behalf of some other part of the building, they “read like a novel.” They appreciated his thoroughness. When they got a “Chris request” work order, they knew clearly what the problem was and usually had suggestions, often on target, making their job easier.

Our University family, indeed Fort Wayne has experienced a great loss. I have lost the closest friend I have had since coming to Fort Wayne in 1989, one of the few I could count on one hand during my life.

With the exception of an aunt in another part of the state, Chris had no living family. His family was those he worked with in The Fort Wayne Astronomical Society, TekVenture, our Planetarium and University community and the Great Lakes Planetarium Association. Countless others in our community will also miss him and his friendship and counsel on all things science-techno-geek.

I hope you will be able to join us for a “Celebration of the Life of Chris Highlen” Sunday, November 16, 2014 in Gunderson Auditorium Achatz Hall of Science and Schouweiler Planetarium, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46808.

For those wishing to experience a sample of Chris’ work with our planetarium “A Canticle Experience,” will be offered twice prior to the 4 PM Celebration. “A Canticle Experience” is a planetarium production normally used only for the University’s campus educational and inspirational programs.

The Celebration is 4:00 PM, in Gunderson Auditorium.

Optional seatings for “A Canticle Experience” in the planetarium: will be:

3:15 PM and 3:30 PM

Memorial Tributes to honor Chris may be made to one or more of the organizations that Chris gave his life to:

  • The Fort Wayne Astronomical Society
  • TekVenture
  • Restricted Fund of the Schouweiler Planetarium, University of Saint Francis
  • Scholarship Fund of the Great Lakes Planetarium Association (GLPA)

Please join me in giving prayers of thanks for this man who touched us all personally and who made such a difference for non-profit science and technical educational efforts in Fort Wayne.

Peace and All Good,

Alan V. Pareis
Edwin Clark Schouweiler Memorial Planetarium.