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Jack Borde, 80, is photographed at the Mount Diablo Observatory warming room, which he was instrumental in building and is less than a mile from the Mount Diablo State Park summit in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Monday, July 23, 2012. Borde recently celebrated 70 years in Scouting and also has a love of astronomy. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Staff)

CONCORD -- A boyhood fascination about the night sky remains to this day.

Concord resident Jack Borde recalls his early days as a Cub Scout and the awe that arose the first time he looked through a telescope.

"I had an early burning desire for knowing why things work, to understand things," says the retired head of the optical and metrology departments at the UC Lawrence Berkeley Lab, where he produced optics for satellites and the Keck telescopes at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Waimea, Hawaii.

The ensuing 70-year commitment to Scouting -- now serving as a commissioner and merit badge counselor for the Muir District -- and his myriad astronomical pursuits have intertwined ever since.

Scouting and astronomy converged when he was earning his merit badge as he strove toward his Eagle rank, and when he served as a Scout leader in Newfoundland, while in the 27th Air Division with the U.S. Air Force. There, he read a book about building your own telescope in the barracks, and mentored a dozen boys who were part of the first chartered troop outside the continental United States.

He later joined an astronomical society and started grinding his own mirror and building his own telescope.

Borde is a founding member of the Mt. Diablo Astronomical Society, which started in 1957 as part of the nation's moon watch program, which sought amateur astronomers to track satellites, including Sputnik.


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He once tracked 30 separate passes of a satellite from the self-constructed 10-inch telescope in his backyard.

In the 1980s, Borde was among the core group of stargazers who lobbied for a telescope on Mount Diablo, with its higher elevation that is above what he calls the layer of "smaze," a melding of smog and haze.

The 14-inch, state-of-the-art telescope, with its requisite "wow" factor, has a magnification 20 times greater than the naked eye. It was built in Colorado, is mounted on a 14-foot platform and its driving mechanism is linked to a laptop that is "synchronized with the same coordinate system," Borde describes.

"Jack was like a kid in a candy store when the telescope arrived and we put it through its paces," says Jon Wilson, a fellow member of the Mt. Diablo Observatory Association.

He recalls the day a half-dozen association members spent digging holes for the foundation of the telescope and mixing 63 bags of cement -- each 60-pounders -- with Borde, then in his 70s, doing more than his share.

Local Boy Scouts hauled the cinder blocks from Pioneer Camp, the original site for the telescope, to the Lower Summit of Mount Diablo.

In 2006, Borde received the Joe Disch Award for his dedication to installing the telescope on the mountain, and the California State Parks issued him the California Golden Poppy Award for his leadership in fundraising and construction in 2008.

"It's his enthusiasm, his genuine desire to foster a knowledge that will evolve over time and is unbounded," adds Wilson, a Livermore resident, who once spent hours with Borde, photographing and tracking Pluto's place in the night's sky.

Today, Borde has a boyish delight when describing his seeing a similar spark ignite in young people, when they are gazing through a telescope, and the satisfaction he derives when describing what they are seeing through that lens.

"It's an awakening, an understanding of what's going on. I show them Saturn and they see the rings, all from that little smudge," says Borde, who received the coveted G. Bruce Blair Award for his advocacy for amateur astronomy. "I get excited about it and I try to project that. There are always those at a young age who do get it, that natural high."

Borde and his cohorts have an opportunity to inspire that sense of wonder during monthly public astronomy programs atop Mount Diablo, that are hosted by Mt. Diablo State Park, the Mt. Diablo Astronomical Society and the Mt. Diablo Observatory Association.

When Borde sets his sights on a goal -- whether it's getting a telescope onto Mount Diablo or his enduring allegiance to the Boy Scouts -- he remains steadfast.

"Once you make Eagle, I was told you should give back, and I guess I can say I've given back," says Borde, who earned the prestigious Silver Beaver Award and recently was honored by the national council for his seven decades of service.

if you go
What: Stargazing on top of Mount Diablo
When: 6:30-11 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 20
Where: Lower summit parking lot, Mt. Diablo State Park
Admission: Event free; $10 park entrance fee
Information: 925-837-2525, ext. 4, or visit www.mdas.net