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Casby family donates money for Afton observatory

The late Joseph J. Casby and his wife, Sylvia, of Hudson posed for a rare photograph on the 50th anniversary of their marriage. "Dad was very much a family-oriented guy," says Casby's son, Kurt. Submitted photo

The late Joseph John Casby would be pleased with the observatory that will bear his name, Casby's son, Kurt, believes.

"I don't think dad was ever a particularly great fan of astronomy, but he was a great fan of knowledge and learning - and that is what happens at these kinds of things," Kurt Casby said in an interview last Friday.

His mother, Sylvia Casby of Hudson, will donate the nearly $50,000 needed to build the Joseph J. Casby Observatory on Belwin Conservancy property in Afton, Minn.

The gift is to the Minnesota Astronomical Society, which will oversee construction of the domed observatory that will house a 10-inch refracting telescope donated earlier by a society member who wishes to remain anonymous.

Kurt Casby is an amateur astronomer and a member of the astronomical society.

He said the economy went into a skid at about the time the $70,000 telescope was donated, stalling fundraising efforts for the observatory.

Eager to use the new telescope that will provide views of far-off stars and planets, Kurt had been lamenting the lack of an observatory to house it when Sylvia suggested that she fund it and name it after her late husband.

"I think she thought this was kind of a two-fer," Kurt said. Not only would the gift honor Joseph, but provide joy to Kurt and his sons and grandchildren.

"Dad was very much a family-oriented guy," Kurt related.

He said his father would rather have his name on a functional structure than some kind of fancy edifice.

Joseph J. Casby worked for West Publishing Co. of St. Paul for 45 years and was manager of the credit order processing department at the time of his retirement in 1996.

He was born in La Crosse, the son of Joseph James Casby, a renowned candy-maker who, according to Kurt Casby, invented the Salted Nut Roll and Nut Goodie bars.

The younger Joseph Casby graduated from Winona State University and later earned a law degree from St. Paul College of Law, now William Mitchell College of Law.

He and Sylvia purchased and moved to a unique home on Northridge Drive in Hudson in 1995.

The home, overlooking the Willow River valley, has a beautifully landscaped garden named Sylvia's Garden.

Kurt said that he and his wife, Louise, and their sons - together with their spouses and children, and his sister, Camilia - have had many gatherings around the fire pit in Sylvia's Garden.

Joseph enjoyed fishing and hunting trips with his son and grandsons. They went to Canada for walleye and Lake Michigan for salmon and lake trout. Joseph joined them on deer and pheasant hunting expeditions for as long as his health would allow.

He died Oct. 17, 2005, at the age of 76.

Kurt said his father also would appreciate that the observatory bearing his name will be used for used for outreach programs.

About nine Twin Cities-area school districts currently use the 1,300-acre natural area as an outdoor laboratory. The goal is to make the observatory available to at least some of the students who come to the conservancy.

Belwin Conservancy is trying to raise money to pay for a video system and big-screen television that would allow groups to see the views from the telescope.

The observatory will be located near Belwin's education center off from Stagecoach Trail S. The groundbreaking for the building is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 22.

Kurt Casby, a St. Paul resident, is a retired computer software writer.

"I've always been a nature nut. It's just another kind of nature," he said when asked about his interest in astronomy.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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