Albert Heppe never grew tired of looking up at the night sky and
traveling the world with his wife, Phyllis, in search of open
pastures that offered clear views of the stars.
Heppe, who in some ways brought the wonders of astronomy
to Sonoma Valley, died March 5 in his Glen Ellen home, with his
wife and daughter Barbara of Napa at his side. He had suffered
a stroke earlier this year. He was 83.
Heppe, who was the acting president of the Valley of the Moon
Astronomical Society, was instrumental in the creation of the
Robert Ferguson Observatory, a facility in the hills near Kenwood,
inside Sugar Loaf Ridge State Park.
Nate Miron, a friend and astronomy “disciple” of Heppe’s, said
the former high school and college educator successfully brought
together various groups and state officials to get the observatory
built. “He was sort of the hub of the astronomical community in
the valley,” Miron said.
Born in Oakland, Heppe was a World War II veteran, serving in
Burma, where he helped set up radio communications systems.
After the war, Heppe earned a master’s degree in physics.
He taught chemistry and physics at Sonoma Valley High School
in the 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s, Heppe was an astronomy
professor and also assistant dean of instruction at the College of
Marin in Kentfield.
“He loved to teach,” said Phyllis Heppe, his wife of 28 years.
“The kids loved him. He was a very witty, fun guy.”
She said her husband had the chance to work for an oil company
after graduating from college, “but he turned it down. He didn’t
care about the money. All he cared about was his love of
The Valley of the Moon Astronomical Society would meet once
a month at Heppe’s house, where they talked about the stars,
built telescopes and ground mirrors.
“He wasn’t an everyday person,” Phyllis Heppe said. “He was
very intelligent. He loved life. He love traveling, meeting
different people, and people loved talking to him.”
Memorial donations may be made to the Hospice of Marin,
Valley of the Moon Team, 190 W. Napa St., Sonoma 95467.
[from Sonoma Skies, April 2005]