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Published: Thursday, 1/24/2008

Professor emeritus gives $1M to UT astronomy department


A professor emeritus at the University of Toledo is investing in the future of faculty in the astronomy department, where she started her career about 50 years ago and was the only astronomy professor for a number of years.

Helen Brooks has established a $1 million trust gift that will provide for the Helen Luedtke Brooks Endowed Professorship of Astronomy upon her death.

The endowed professorship will be given to an already senior professor at the university, offering financial support and recognition.

"She made this award from a deep understanding of the level of expertise and commitment astronomy faculty have here," Al Compaan, chairman of UT's physics and astronomy department, said.

"These are world-class scholars, and she felt it was important to recognize it."

The gift will be announced at an event at 11:30 a.m. today in the Brooks Observatory in the Ritter Planetarium.

"This gift is like a star shining in the sky," Yueh-Ting Lee, dean of the college of arts and sciences, said. "It's very meaningful for us."

Mrs. Brooks, 91, who asked not to be interviewed regarding her planned gift through the university foundation, was director of the planetarium for a number of years.

The observatory is named in honor of her and her late husband, Elgin Brooks.

She gave the university $25,000 for the observatory in 1987 and established in 1999 the Elgin C. Brooks Memorial Astronomy Scholarship.

Mrs. Brooks received bachelor's and master's degrees from the university and an honorary doctorate in 2003.

She retired from the university in 1972 after a 17-year teaching career with significant contributions to the astronomy department, her colleagues said.

UT Professor Emeritus Adolf Witt said when he joined the astronomy staff in the mid-1960s, Mrs. Brooks was the first astronomer in the department and remained its leader until her retirement.

Even after, he said, she would continue to be involved, attending weekly astronomy discussion sessions.

"For all these years every Tuesday she would be there so the graduate students would wonder who is this lady with white hair sitting in the first row showing up every week," he said with a laugh.

"That indicates her interest in astronomy is really all-consuming."

In past interviews with The Blade, Mrs. Brooks has said her love for astronomy started in elementary school and she received her first small telescope in eighth grade.

She later had a small observatory at her home.

"Astronomy has been my interest all my life and this is where I've been able to take advantage of that interest," Mrs. Brooks said in a statement.

Contact Meghan Gilbert at: mgilbert@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.

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