Rest in peace, Anita
‘Keep looking up in wonder’ It saddens me greatly to write that one of the best people I’ve met while living in Chico, Anita Ingrao, the “Queen of the Chico Community Observatory,” died last Thursday, Nov. 13, of breast cancer. She was 51 years old.
Ingrao had been a volunteer at the observatory since it opened, and helped run it with founder/director Kris Koenig for the past 14 years. The pair, who were engaged, also worked together on several film projects—Ingrao as a production assistant and Koenig as writer/director—including 400 Years of the Telescope, a 2009 PBS documentary on astronomy that was narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Ingrao also won a Los Angeles regional Emmy Award (along with Koenig, and her ex-husband, local videographer/musician Peter Berkow) for her work on a 2005 astronomy telecourse, Astronomy: Observations and Theories.
This time last year, I related in this space about how 20 or so years ago Ingrao (she went by Anita Berkow back then), while on assignment for the weekly Synthesis, showed up to interview my band with a bag of Doritos and a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in hand. It was, of course, a completely badass move, and was one of my first clues to her generous spirit. Cut to a decade later, and the shoe was on the other foot. I was writing a feature on her and her volunteer work at the observatory for the CN&R’s annual Local Heroes issue, and I visited the observatory one night to see her in action (and, no, I didn’t bring any beer or treats—and I really regret that now).
It was 2003, and everyone was excited about Mars being the closest to Earth it had been in 60,000 years, and the place was buzzing with little kids, seniors and one reporter. And, while Ingrao did have one telescope trained on the little red planet, she was also doing her best to get everyone equally excited about what the other scope was looking at, a dying star know as the Ring Nebula: “It looks like a glowing green Cheerio,” she said, and the crowd pushed its way to get in line for a look. I wrote then: “[She] is about as pleasant and inspiring to be around as one human can be. Friendly, energetic and genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say, she’s the perfect guide.”
The observatory’s mission is “to provide access to our universe,” and for years, Ingrao was the one opening the door and showing Chico in. She was our outer-space docent, inspiring kids and making kids out of adults, inviting us with her big, infectious smile to be curious about what is beyond our tiny pale-blue dot, and, as she put it in a note posted to the observatory’s Facebook page during her final days: “Keep looking up in wonder.”
A charity benefiting the Chico Community Observatory has been set up in Ingrao’s name through the North Valley Community Foundation. Donations to the Anita Ingrao Memorial Fund can be made online at www.nvcf.org or mailed to 3120 Cohasset Road, Ste. 8, Chico, CA 95973.
• Benefit for the Blue Room Theatre: Get gussied up and head to the Blue Room Empire casino night at the Arc Pavilion, Saturday, Nov. 22, 6:30 p.m., for “fun, food, booze, casino games and live music.” Tix: $65/advance (www.blueroomtheatre.com); $85/door.
• Let’s get weird, Chico: The submission period for the CN&R’s Keep Chico Weird Talent Show & Art Show is now open. Like “Keep Chico Weird” on Facebook and get all the deets.
• The Dude arrives: Chico Performances has just added a big show to its season schedule. Saturday, Jan. 24, actor Jeff Bridges and his band The Abiders will bring their country-rock stylings to the Laxson stage. Season subscribers can pick up their tickets through Nov. 21, and general sales kick off Nov. 24, at 10 a.m. Visit www.chicoperformances.com or call the box office at 898-6333.