Joseph B. Field, 89, volunteered for 70 years at Md. Science Center

September 14, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Joseph B. Field, a volunteer for more than 70 years at the Maryland Science Center, died Tuesday from complications from a stroke at Charlestown, the Catonsville retirement community. He was 89.

After graduating from Forest Park High School, the Baltimore native worked for the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. as an electrical technician for 45 years and retired in 1976.

He had an even longer association with the Science Center - originally known as the Maryland Academy of Sciences - beginning in 1926 and spanning over a third of the agency's 200-year history.

As a teen-ager growing up in Forest Park with a burgeoning interest in science, it was only natural that he would make his way to the Maryland Academy of Sciences, then on Charles Street.

There, he was able to satisfy his scientific interests surrounded by the museum's collections of rocks, plants, antique weapons and other exhibits.

After an 8-inch Alvan Clark & Sons refracting telescope was installed on the academy's roof in 1927, Mr. Field turned his attention to finding stars, planets, comets and observing other astronomical phenomena.

In the 1930s, he used the telescope for astrophotography, taking several excellent photographs of Comet Peltier.

He later took over maintenance of the telescope and the observatory, helping museum visitors find planets and constellations. He conducted lectures on the planets and stars and, in 1957, helped teachers understand the significance of Russia's recently launched Sputnik satellite so they could explain it to their students.

"Since 1926, Mr. Field has been a janitor, carpenter, tour guide, teacher, librarian, welcomer of students and astronomer - all voluntary tasks - at the center," reported The Sun in 1997.

"I just kept puttering away," he told the newspaper. "There was always something to do. It's been the most interesting place to be except for my job."

When the Science Center moved to the Inner Harbor in 1976, Mr. Field assumed the role of Tuesday greeter, meeting busloads of students from kindergarten through high school.

A jolly-looking man with a beard and an easygoing personality, Mr. Field was the students' first contact with the museum.

"It was his wonderful spirit, and to think that someone at 85 had the patience of Job to handle a volume of students that could range from 800 to 2,500 on a Tuesday was simply remarkable," said Kelly L. Hawkins, manager of the Science Center's volunteer services.

"But Joe never had a problem. He'd meet them at Key Highway, climb on the bus and calm them down. And then he'd tell them what they'd be seeing and experiencing. He enjoyed what he did. He was extremely dedicated and devoted to the Science Center until his health wouldn't let him continue," she said.

"He was dedicated to helping kids get interested in science. He was a gem of a fellow," said Jim O'Leary, director of the Davis Planetarium and the IMAX Theater.

In 1997, Mr. Field was inducted into the Science Center's Volunteer Hall of Fame. He continued volunteering at the center until 1998.

The former longtime Columbia resident also was a ham radio operator, coin and stamp collector and avid reader. He also volunteered for more than 20 years with Meals On Wheels.

"That's all I do," he said of his many activities in an interview in Volunteer Voices, the newsletter of the Science Center Volunteer Association, of which he was a board member. "The rest of the time I just sit around the house and vegetate."

He was a member of the Baltimore Astronomical Society and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia.

Services are private.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, the former Phyllis Hambsch; two sons, P. Jonathan Field of Mount Airy and Michael E. Field of Watsonville, Calif.; a daughter, Janet F. Zerhusen of Columbia; five grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to the Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St., Baltimore 21230.

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