ANN ARBOR, MI – Matt Linke was a teenager in Alpena when he volunteered at the Besser Museum Planetarium. He went there every Sunday to learn, specifically about the Apollo mission, and learned how to use the dome when the manager wanted to go on vacation.
Linke turned his passion into a career spanning more than 40 years, including 32 as the planetarium manager at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History. However, he put his laser pointer down for the last time on June 30 and is looking forward to to enjoying retirement.
“I’ve had a lot of fun doing a lot of different things, but it’s time for me to do some other things,” Linke said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic and the down time here, my original plan of retiring probably in 2024 just didn’t work – it was just time.”
Yes, Linke was the manager of the planetarium, but he did several other things at the museum, too, including training incoming students on fossil preservation. Because there’s a lot of equipment at the planetarium, Linke also would run much of the technology needed to put on a show.
“I think that’s what keeps me focused because if I do one thing too long, I start thinking about other stuff and then it just gets in the way,” Linke said.
Linke has seen a number of changes with the museum and the planetarium over the years. In 2007, he led the planetarium when it went digital, and he also led the design and installation process of the new Planetarium & Dome Theater when the museum moved to its new building in 2019.
During that time, Linke created a time lapse video by taking pictures of the new dome’s construction process with a fisheye lens.
“We ran that for quite a few of our public shows just to show them all the beams and scaffolding,” Linke said. “That was a fun one I just decided on a whim, but it’s very cool.”
One of the most important things to Linke was mentoring students who visit the planetarium. Over the years, he worked with more than 100 UM students who operated the planetarium, some of whom are running planetariums across the country now and keeps in contact with.
“I’m so proud of them when I go to a planetarium and it’s one they are running,” Linke said. “They are people who are not just my former students, they’re my kids. That’s kind of how I think about them, and it’s very touching to have them contact me.”
While he will miss seeing people inside the planetarium and being at the museum for all of its various events, Linke said he’s looking forward to retirement, where he will work in his garden, serve as a Tecumseh District Library trustee and spend time with his cats and his wife, Lori.
He will still be involved with planetariums, though, as he plans to volunteer at the Robinson Planetarium at Adrian College, and he encourages everyone to visit the UM Museum of Natural History.
“It’s state-of-the-art and absolutely wonderful, so I hope people will come and visit the museum as a whole, it’s absolutely amazing,” Linke said.