When Dave Pentecost ’72 decided to take a leave of absence from the University back in 1971, he went to the registrar’s office was told by a person there, “I envy you.” The sentiment stuck with Pentecost.
“I felt some regret at taking this leave, but he was envying me, so that was a little odd,” Pentecost says. “I felt like, in a way, I failed. But then I discovered that there were a number of other people I knew who took leave — some of them went back, some didn’t — so it was not all that unusual there then.”
Despite getting a high draft number, Pentecost was swayed by concern about the Vietnam War and on-campus protests, and he wanted to take a break to play more music. Though he thought it would just be a year off, Pentecost never went back. He later finished his studies at the State University of New York.
He played in blues and funk bands for a while; met his wife, Lyn, at a country, bluegrass, and blues showcase; traveled; and worked a series of odd jobs: at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Big Apple Circus, and a company that built planetariums. He went on to spend 25 years in the television industry as a producer and editor, but he came back to his planetarium work in an unlikely way.
In the mid-1990s, Lyn founded the Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York. The club would later grow into a 30,000-square-foot facility with a recording studio, art studio, biology lab, kitchen and cafe, and a planetarium. “We wanted to make the best possible facility for girls here in the neighborhood,” Pentecost says.
The planetarium was key to the vision in setting their facility apart from other similar organizations in the city. Though he had worked at the planetarium company in the ’80s, Pentecost had never actually built one — plus, the technology had changed since then — but he figured it out. The planetarium opened in 2012 and became a popular destination for several public and private schools within walking distance.
That success led Pentecost to work on an inflatable planetarium in Chiapas, Mexico, that should open this spring. He’s also working with the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens to build that borough’s first planetarium at their new facility that is opening in 2026.
“I’m not an astronomer, but I can run a planetarium because the hardest part of it is telling the story,” Pentecost says, noting that even big-budget planetarium productions need to find a way to tell a compelling story about the cosmic images that are being shown. Pentecost credits Princeton and all of the papers he had to write with helping him become a better storyteller.
“You can take people out to the edge of the observable universe and back, and it makes a difference in their lives, it affects them,” Pentecost says about the value of his work. “To be able to give that experience to all those kids was pretty special.”