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Seeing Stars


One small step from a generous donor, is a giant leap for students at College of the Desert.


Ivoj Kudrnac with the telescope (upper right) and base mounting unite (center) he donated to College of the Desert. The observatory, built at the Mecca/Thermal Campus in early summer 2017.

From about the age of 5 in his native Czech Republic, Ivoj Kudrnac marveled at the night sky and the planets that hovered in it.

The Palm Desert resident spent his career as a very successful chemical engineer, but astronomy continued to fascinate him.

"It was a dream throughout my life - at least for the past 70 years - to have a nice telescope," said Ivoj, now 91 and retired.

So the longtime Coachella Valley resident installed a Planewave 17-inch telescope in his backyard in 2014, allowing him to expand his universe.

"With the telescope, I was able to take pictures of nebulas and galaxies," said Ivoj, who has compiled many of his amazing photos into a book. "I have some great pictures of the moon and of nebulas like the Great Orion Nebula."

Shortly after installing the telescope, Ivoj started losing his eyesight.

"When I stopped seeing, the telescope became useless for me. So then I had the idea to donate it to someone who could see, who could appreciate it."

Ivoj decided to donate it to College of the Desert, just a few miles from his home. Beyond the 17-inch telescope, Ivoj also donated a 1-meter (40-inch) telescope, FLI Camera, software and computer, and paid for the creation of an observatory at the school, a total donation valued at $850,000.

"We are grateful to Mr. Kudrnac for his generous gift and hope it will inspire others to help us expand and sustain the observatory complex for future generations," said Superintendent/President Joel L. Kinnamon, Ed.D.


The observatory, built at the Mecca/Thermal Campus in early summer 2017, will benefit students in astronomy and STEM disciplines both in person and remotely in classrooms at all COD campuses. While the main function of the observatory will be teaching and learning, the College will also extend access to K-12 and community partners as well as to the public in future Observatory education events.

"It was very important to me to see the project come together," said Ivoj, who visited the campus to witness the dome's installation. "It's gratifying to know it's going to be useful for students for many years to come.”

The observatory will be dedicated in honor of Ivoj's late partner of 30 years, Mary Reagan, who died in October 2016. Ivoj hopes the younger generation will be able to pry themselves from video games and their phones long enough to appreciate more of life – much like he did.

He also hopes they'll spend some time looking to the stars.

"Perhaps, he said, the COD observatory will help spawn astrophysicists and inspire others who are simply fascinated with the same night sky that drew his lifelong interest in astronomy."