Passing of an SJAA Legend – Jim Van Nuland

jim van nulandOn the eve of the American annular eclipse of October 2023, the members of SJAA were provided with some sad news. We learned that long time SJAA member Jim Van Nuland passed away earlier in the month.

Jim joined up with the SJAA in the mid-1970s, maybe earlier. He served many roles on the board and in officer positions, but most notably he was the incredible energy of the School Star Party program. Indeed, for decades Jim *was* the School Star Party program. During the school year Jim and his crew were out on some elementary, middle school or high school campus showing the wonders of the night sky to every next generation. He would schedule so many SSPs, sometimes three a week, sometimes seven. It kept him busy and he loved it. His only breaks were around the full moon when he was able to convince eager parents and administrators that they really don’t want to look at a 98% lit moon through a telescope. Sometimes he couldn’t convince them and so out he went. Jim kept at it until he was physically unable to carry it on any longer and finally retired in 2018.

The family posted this obituary online, but we have pasted it below as well.

James “Jim” Henry Van Nuland, 87, of Little Chute, and Tigerton Wisconsin, passed away on September 30, 2023, in Folsom, California. Born on September 14, 1936, Jim was the eldest son of the late Jacob and Verna Van Nuland.

Jim had a fulfilling life and left behind a loving family. He is survived by his sons Patrick, Raymond, Thomas, and Michael, and his “Favorite Daughter,” Barbara. His sisters Joan and Rosemary are also blessedly still with us.

Jim was gifted with 16 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, and countless fans and friends who gravitated toward his kindness, and some would say, innocence. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 44 years, Florence-Anna, who passed away in 2004.

After completing high school in 1954, Jim proudly served in the US Navy for 3 years, completing 2 scientific tours to Antarctica, and mapping the ocean floor east of Florida, over which all of NASA’s rockets would eventually take off.

Following his military service, Jim enrolled at Marquette University to study Electrical Engineering but was in the end, “drafted” by IBM to become a Programmer where he dedicated 25 years of his life, earning a 30-year credited early retirement. His expertise and hard work made a significant impact on the company, even to this day.

He was one of the first “civilians” with a personal computer during the ‘70s, and instilled the “tech-bug” in his kids as early as he could.

It was early in college when he double-dated with his sister, and her date and met Florence, -whom he was then forever enamored with, married, and had 5 children. 2 born in Wisconsin, 2 in Southern California, and saving the “best” one, born last in San Jose California, where he lived since 1966.

In his free time, Jim pursued his passion for astronomy and spent many hours sharing his knowledge as a 40-year member of the San Jose Amateur Astronomy Association, with over an estimated 100,000 children over the decades. He was a curious man who found joy in exploring the wonders of the universe and sharing it with everyone.He claimed he was “Paid with wows” when asked about any compensation for his tireless efforts. He was paid well. May he rest in peace, and his skies be always clear.

Jim’s faith played an important role in his life, sending his children to Catholic schools, and was a long-time member of Saint Lucy’s Catholic Church.

Services for Jim Van Nuland will be announced at a later date. His legacy will live on through his family, friends, and all those whose lives he touched.

Jay Reynolds Freeman, upon hearing about Jim’s demise, wrote the following.
I remember Jim well — he and his eight-inch equatorially-mounted Newtonian were regular fixtures at SJAA events during the several decades in which I was an active local member.
Astronomy folks may be less familiar with his experiences in computer science, which he occasionally mentioned while waiting for sunset or for transient clouds to pass. I remember a time in the late 1990s, when Jim told of the scorn with which IBM management greeted his mid-1960s suggestion that it would be unwise to use only two digits for years in text strings representing dates, because some day the calendar would roll through a century year, the digits would wrap around, and confusion might arise thereby. It did, and the “Y2K” problem was the result. Jim also convinced computer operators that yes, it was indeed possible for a programmer to cause serious physical damage to a mainframe computer, supposedly safe in its isolated room, merely by running code: His program used the track-seek function on a large, heavy, early disk drive to slam the read-write head between its radial limits at a varying rate. When that rate matched the resonant frequency for lateral oscillations of the entire drive unit, cabinet and all, that unit started walking across the floor of the computer room and eventually tipped over.
Rest in peace, Jim …
— Jay Reynolds Freeman

The family thought it would be appropriate to hold a celebration of Jim’s life at Houge Park, the SJAA basecamp for so many years (and club lore has it that Jim had a hand in securing the park for the club sometime in the 1990s). Of course it was most appropriate, and several current club members helped to host the event there, which was very well attended. Marianne Damon, the SJAA refreshments lead, was able to attend both the funeral and the life celebration. These are her words.

The funeral mass was held on Monday, October 23 at his parish church, St. Lucy’s. Several SJAA members attended in support of the family. The urn chosen was of a nebular design and made us smile, knowing he would have approved of the choice. The organist who played did so lovingly, as Jim would always go up and thank her and the choir after each mass.
The family asked to have the post-funeral gathering at Houge Park, and SJAA was able to host this event. We opened the hall and set up tables with the family before the funeral. They had requested that, if possible, they be able to see the two telescopes they had donated, and we were able to oblige. Two of Jim’s sons brought them out from behind the curtain and set them up. JVN’s daughter Barbara recalled how the big white 8″ dob got its name: “When the big 8” stood in the backyard all those years, wrapped up in layers protected from the elements, it reminded Mom of Ruth Buzzi’s bag lady character from the Laugh-In TV show: Gladys.” After the funeral, family and friends gathered at Houge Hall and reminisced about our adventures with Jim. The family had set up a memorial table to which we added the trophy given by the City of San Jose for service to the community, mostly for his years of providing school star parties. The family provided Jim’s favorite snacks and lunch items. We concluded the gathering with thoughts of a fond farewell to our astronomy friend and mentor, JVN.

As the SJAA’s sole two-time recipient of the Gregory Award (1984 and 2007), the club’s highest honor, Jim was held in high regard and he will continue to be. With his passing the club turns a chapter in its history, moving from an organization started in the mid-twentieth century with the awe inspired by the launch of Sputnik and the myriad NASA programs, to the twenty-first century where professional space science (and computer science!) continues. The SJAA will carry on as Jim would want, to provide a space for like minded individuals to gather as well as to provide a place where the next generation of enthusiasts (and hopefully scientists and engineers) can find a foothold.
Thank you for everything you did, Jim.

award from city of san jose


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