Eastwood Traditions: A Passion for Sharing the Stars Inspires a Legacy
By the time he was 16, Michael Bennett had gotten his first telescope, joined the Junior Academy, and started ushering at the Morrison Planetarium. “Imagine fulfilling your lifetime ambition at 16!” he says. Now Michael is perpetuating his passion for the stars through a planned gift.
Those early experiences cemented Bennett’s connection to the Academy. All through college and graduate school, he presented planetarium shows and even helped write and produce them. Later he worked in other planetariums and for a company that builds planetariums. After a stint in high-tech marketing, Bennett returned to astronomy education, primarily working on professional development programs for educators.
“It was the Academy that set me on my path,” Bennett says. “I grew up there, made lifelong friends there, and began a lifelong career there.” Of the thousands of planetarium shows he narrated, which stands out? “My personal favorite was ‘Puzzles at the Edge of the Universe,’ about quasars,” he says.
Today, Bennett and his wife, Leslie Larson, are Eastwood Associates, ensuring the future of the Academy through a planned gift from their estate. “When we asked ourselves how we wanted to share our resources with the next generation, the answer was a no-brainer: The Academy helped form me, and it has an incredible impact on the world,” he says.
Bennett is pleased that today’s Morrison Planetarium transcends pure astronomy to connect with the Academy’s sustainability mission — shedding light on our impact on this planet as well as the origins and future of the universe. But mostly, for Bennett, it’s about the kids. “I like to think of science education as an escalator. The trick is to get more kids onto the first step — and that’s where the Academy excels.” he says. Some, like Bennett, will ride that escalator all the way to the top, to a career in science that sparks the curiosity of others.