We are sad to announce the tragic loss of Steven Varlese on Nov. 29, 2008.

Steve was a young, healthy, enthusiastic member of the Gemini team, and his unexpected death was a shock to his family, the Gemini staff, and the many instrument teams around the world he worked with on a daily basis.

Steve was born in New York City, New York on October 10, 1953. Steve received a B.S. in Physics from the University of Rochester and started building and using instruments for infrared astronomy. He went to Ball Aerospace in Colorado and performed optical design, integration and test, calibration, and systems engineering for space instruments and systems such as IRAS and Gamma Ray Observatory. He managed several international programs including planet finder and solar coronagraphs, imagers, and spectrographs, and developed self-deploying composite optics for future space observatories.

Steve and his wife Suzanne moved to Hilo in January 2008, where he joined the Gemini instrument development team. For the past year, Steve served as the instrument program manager, where his vast experience of more than 30 years at Ball Aerospace building scientific instrumentation were quickly applied to the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) project. Steve’s keen engineering insight, intelligence, easy-going personality, and rigor in project management quickly earned him the respect of his Gemini colleagues and the many instrument teams involved in building GPI. Although his time at Gemini was short, his impact will be felt for many years, and we regret that he will not be with us when GPI discovers its first planets outside our solar system.

Steve loved his family above all. He also loved flying small planes and gliders; working on his car, building and sailing boats; taking, developing, and printing photographs; building telescopes; eating Italian food (and good food of all kinds); wood working; and building or fixing pretty much anything. Steve was a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and the Na Hoa Holomoku Yacht Club in Hilo.

Steve is survived by his wife Suzanne Frayser of Hilo; son Benjamin Varlese of Boulder, Colorado; daughter Anna Varlese of Clinton, New York; niece Amanda Varlese of Erie, Colorado; mother Kathryn Varlese of Boulder, Colorado; sisters Susanne Varlese of Boulder, Colorado and Joanne Varlese of Erie, Colorado; and numerous cousins, aunts and uncles.

Celebration of Life

The celebration of Steve’s life will take place on Friday, December 5, 2008 from 6pm – 8:30pm at Steve and Suzanne’s home.

The ritual of remembrance will begin promptly at 6:30pm. Please plan to arrive on time. Dress is casual/aloha wear. If you would like to bring something Friday evening, please bring a plant which can be planted in the yard in remembrance of Steve.

Memorial Service

A gathering to remember and honor Steve will take place in Boulder, Colorado on Sunday, Dec. 14 from noon to 3:00 p.m. at the A Spice of Life Event Center located at the Flatirons Golf Course, 5706 Arapahoe Avenue, Boulder, CO 80303. Telephone (808)974-2507.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Steve's name can be sent to Little Thompson Observatory at www.starkids.org and/or the University of Rochester’s C.E.K. Mees Observatory. Steve was closely associated with these observatories for many years, and they were also among his charities.