ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) – The longtime leader of RMSC’s Strasenburgh Planetarium is getting ready to enter a new phase: retirement.
News 8’s Natalie Kucko sat down with Steve Fentress for a look back on his decades-long career and the legacy he helped to build in Rochester.
Fentress was hired by RMSC in 1989 to handle music and sound for the planetarium’s shows. He would go on to spend nearly 30 more years leading operations there, making sure it remained a destination for generations.
“As I like to say, we’re the planetarium. We define what normal is,” said Fentress.
Defining normal — that’s how Fentress describes a 35-year run at the Strasenburgh Planetarium. In much of that time, he oversaw a little bit of everything.
“People have other places to go for information, but they’re still coming here because here, you’re in the real world with other people and there’s some real person you can talk to to kind of get some context and balance,” said Fentress, “The idea that the screens at home are going to wipe us out hasn’t materialized so far.”
Fentress says he grew up a ‘space kid.’ He spent his 20s working part-time for Griffith Observatory, a landmark near his home-base in southern California. He would go on to study music at Indiana University.
When Fentress got the call from RMSC in the late 80s, those elements would combine.
“In a planetarium, you’re putting all the arts and disciplines together in one package. We can create all kinds of different shows, try them out on people and see what works. That’s a lot of fun,” said Fentress.
He decided to stay in Rochester, spearheading programs for all different audiences from generation to generation.
While it’s time to move on, Fentress says he’s grateful to the Rochester community.
“The community keeps coming. There was this notion I had that this place could be really great as new technology came along. It’s not that I love management as my first favorite thing to do, but that was a way to have an effect on building this place up into a really modern and beautiful 21st century facility that we hope anybody could be proud to bring someone to,” said Fentress.
Fentress will step down as director of the Strasenburgh Planetarium November 11.
RMSC has hired a successor, and while it hasn’t been announced yet, Fentress says the planetarium will be in good hands moving forward.