Keck Observatory’s Ben Berkey Named Volunteer of the Year

Hale Pohaku, Mauna Kea (September 23rd, 2006) The Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station (VIS) annual Volunteer Appreciation Banquet took place at Hale Pohaku on September 23, 2006. Forty-four volunteers joined in the celebration.

Special awards were presented at the banquet. Keck Observatory employee Benjamin Berkey was named Volunteer of the Year with his amazing lifetime dedication of 1,218 hours of volunteer service. Mr. Berkey started volunteering as a UHH student, gaining excellent hands-on astronomy experience. Since then he has earned a position in the optics group at the W. M. Keck Observatory. Joshua Williams was named the Most Dedicated Volunteer, generously giving 458 volunteer hours last year alone. Mr. Williams is a senior astronomy student at UHH. Clifford Livermore received the Hoku award in recognition of his dedication of 1,014 lifetime volunteer hours. Mr. Livermore is a community volunteer/amateur astronomer from Waikoloa. He was one of the original 27 volunteers of the VIS back in 1999.

The volunteer program started on Mauna Kea in 1999 with a small but dedicated group of 27 volunteers. From this humble beginning, great things have grown. The volunteer program has multiplied more than six times that size with 171 active volunteers last year.

Volunteers assist on the mountain in a variety of ways. For those who are interested in the stars, they come and work as celestial guides during the free nightly stargazing program at the VIS from 6-10p. For those who are interested in the observatories, they come and work as tour guides during the free escorted summit tours every weekend. For those who are interested in the environment of the mountain, they come and work to maintain the hiking trails on the mountain. For those who are interested in the cultural aspects of Mauna Kea, they come and work as cultural guides at the VIS. Volunteers represent all facets of Mauna Kea and are a true reflection of the mountain.

“Volunteers love coming to the mountain. There’s something really special about this place. Volunteers serve a critical role in bringing the VIS programs to fruition but they also have a great time while they are here,” remarked Patti Gomas, Volunteer Coordinator at the VIS.

Volunteers at Mauna Kea come from all walks of life. University of Hawaii students contributed the majority (60%) of volunteer hours last year. Community volunteers (26%), retirees (11%), and astronomers (3%) made up the difference. Gomas went on to explain, “The university community has always been an important part of our volunteer audience. However, we have seen an interesting shift over the last year within the community. We have had record dedication by our community volunteers and retirees. More than ever the interest in Mauna Kea is thriving.”

This year’s banquet was dedicated to the memory of John Altonn. Mr. Altonn was an extremely active retiree volunteer who passed away this past year. He led hundreds of guests to the summit and freely shared his knowledge and passion for Mauna Kea. Phyllis Altonn joined in the celebration and was touched with a presentation of a memorial poster from the volunteers who worked with her husband.

Volunteers are always welcome. Applications to become a Mauna Kea volunteer can be obtained online at or in person at the Visitor Information Station.