Profiles of Parkland: Dave Leake
Staerkel Planetarium Director Dave Leake grew up on Water Street in Decatur, Ill.
“Some thought having a ‘Leake’ on Water Street was funny,” he said. “But, I guess I don’t get it.”
As a child, when he wasn’t busy playing baseball in high school or basketball in his driveway until 1 a.m., Leake had already taken a strong interest in our universe.
“I’m one of the very lucky ones who gets paid to do my hobby,” he said. “I love watching the sky and sharing it with people.”
Prior to coming to Parkland, Leake graduated from the University of Illinois with a major in Physics. After joining Parkland in 1989, Leake went on to earn his master’s.
“I started here…as a planetarium specialist,” he said. “I performed shows for field trips coming to the college and also worked the Friday night public shows. I went from that to planetarium coordinator, and then they made me director in 2000.”
In addition to running the Planetarium, Leake also teaches two classes in the department of natural sciences, typically physics and astronomy.
According to Leake, one of the best parts of his job is that things are always changing; no two semesters are ever the same.
“The big new show is Solar Superstorms, which we opened at the beginning of the semester,” Leake said. “It’s the latest show from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications on the University of Illinois campus and focuses on phenomena on and beneath the surface of the Sun.”
Spring semester is gearing up to be exciting as well, according to Leake.
“We will start gearing up for the August total solar eclipse,” he said. “This will be a huge event and people will flock to southern Illinois to check it out. The sky is a wonderful thing and you don’t need a ticket to enjoy it.”
Though Leake realizes that retirement awaits him one day, he is not focusing on it. While he loves his role as a Parkland educator, he has an equal passion for community interaction.
“Doing programs for school groups and the public is what keeps me coming back,” he said. “The universe is a pretty cool place and to be able to share some of its wonders with ‘kids’ from pre-school through grandparent-hood is probably the best part of my job. I’m hoping to still do that after retirement even if on a volunteer basis.”
For Leake, life at Parkland isn’t just about the job, but rather, it is about the lasting relationships that are formed.
“Sometimes, I see students from years back who told me they saw Venus the night before—that puts a smile on my face!” he said. “I’ve been here long enough now that I meet adults who tell me I did their field trip when they were in fifth grade.”
“I don’t know how many more years I have left here, but coming to Parkland in 1989 was the best decision I could have made. The friendships you make are priceless.”