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Column: Telescope donation reminder of contributions


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AS pieces of scientific equipment go, the telescope that will be donated to the Columbus East High School planetarium next month isn’t exactly high-tech. In fact, it’s homemade and is years behind most of the equipment in the planetarium.

What sets it apart is the man who made it and the family who will cede control of it to the school. The maker was Loren S. Noblitt, a legendary figure in Bartholomew County education who had a special affinity for the study of the stars.

His family — both siblings and descendants — can arguably be described as a dynasty.

His brother, Q.G. Noblitt, was co-founder of an air pump company in Indianapolis in 1919. Eventually that small operation would grow into a Fortune 500 corporation named Arvin Industries, an employer of thousands of Bartholomew County residents through much of the 20th century.

His son, Loren W. Noblitt, was an esteemed educator in his own right as well as a published writer. One of his books, “Basic Elements of the American Constitution,” later served as an incentive for a young Columbus resident, current Gov. Mike Pence, to become involved in a government career.

Dozens of other Noblitts are expected to gather for a private family reunion Sept.16 at Columbus East High School where Loren S. Noblitt’s grandson, Doug O’Dell of Fort Wayne, will present school officials a telescope made by his grandfather.

Telescopes were an integral element in Loren S. Noblitt’s life. They opened the skies to him, most frequently when he and his family lived at Harrison Lake and later near Grandview Lake.

He didn’t keep the spectacles he observed to himself. On countless summer nights he opened his home and grounds to hundreds of Bartholomew County students and the public. Through his telescopes they could observe what he saw – the beauty of the stars and planets.

Although those monthly public observations were open to anyone, his special audience was composed of students from various schools in the county.

Loren S. Noblitt was all about education from the time he began teaching in 1905, when he was only 17 years old. He spent his first five years as an educator in Bartholomew County schools but moved in 1910 to Indianapolis, where he taught at Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis) and later in New Jersey at a small Bible school named Alma White College.

He returned to Bartholomew County in 1937, taking a position as instructor of mathematics at Columbus High School. He continued in that role until his retirement in 1952. Through his years of teaching he continued his own education, studying at New York, Rutgers, Columbia and Indiana universities.

Although he was principally an educator, Noblitt was really a man for all seasons. He was an ordained Evangelical United Brethren minister and later a Methodist minister. He never stopped preaching, delivering sermons at Sandy Hook United Methodist Church in his late 90s. He loved music and played cornet in the Columbus City Band and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.

And he was a writer, penning several books, including “The Lost Song,” “Home in the Hills” and “Down the Centuries with the Noblitts.”

Fortunately he lived a long life and had time for his many pursuits. He died in 1993 at the age of 104.

He shared his special love of astronomy in a variety of ways. When he was on the Indiana Central College faculty, he headed the school’s astronomy department. Years later he and his brother, Q.G., provided the funding for the Noblitt Observatory on the campus.

In 1969 he donated the 6-inch infracting telescope he and hundreds of others had used during summer nights on Observatory Hill near Grandview Lake to Alma White College.

The latest donation is special in that it was created by his hands and also used on Grandview’s Observatory Hill.

The Sept. 16 ceremony in the planetarium has another special meaning. In 1974 the Bartholomew Consolidated School Board unanimously voted to give the newly opened facility a name — the Loren S. Noblitt Planetarium.

Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at harry@therepublic.com.

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