Dedicated volunteer loved Mauna Kea
JOHN ALTONN / 1923-2005
JOHN ALTONN wanted to shout out Mauna Kea's majesty to the world.
So well into his retirement, at a time in his life when he was expected to relax, he decided to volunteer at the Mauna Kea visitor information center. Before long, his passion for sharing the wonders of the globe's tallest mountain endeared him to visitors and astronomers alike.
"I think the mountain called to him," said Gary Fujihara, science education and public outreach officer for the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy. "It was his passion."
Altonn, who spent much of his career as a Star-Bulletin circulation manager and then went on to receive accolades for his work on Mauna Kea, died Nov. 17 at his Hilo home. He was 82.
Altonn was born in San Francisco on May 29, 1923, and was in the Navy during World War II.
He moved to Honolulu and joined the Star-Bulletin's circulation department. For 25 years, he was a district circulation agent in Pearl City and was known throughout the area as "Skipper."
After retirement, he moved to Hilo and joined the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station in the mid-1990s. He volunteered hundreds of hours a year at the center, guiding summit and stargazing tours. Shortly after starting at the center, he received the station's first volunteer-of-the-year award.
"This was a man who was in his late 70s and had the energy of a teenager," Fujihara said. "I have never met anyone who was that serious or dedicated."
Altonn was forced to stop volunteering earlier this year after falling ill.
But his friends on the mountain kept in touch with him.
And three days before he died, a group of volunteers showed up at his home and presented him with a poster, made up of photos of him, his friends at the visitor center and Mauna Kea.
"When we were there, he was just beaming," Fujihara said. "It was just so wonderful to see him in those spirits. He certainly will be missed."
Altonn is survived by wife Phyllis, daughters Kirsten and Paige, of Honolulu; and sister Elva. Friends may call at the Altonn home, 101 Lukia Place in Hilo, today from 2 to 6 p.m. for a celebration of life gathering. Flowers and lei are welcome.