The 100th Birthday of Cosmosphere Founder, Patty Carey
June 9, 2021
On June 9, 1921, Patricia Brooks was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. That baby girl was truly destined for the stars.
Patty attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY. While there, she became fast friends with Katherine Ann Hall, who hailed from Hutchinson, KS. Over a semester break, Katherine brought Patty home to visit Hutchinson and introduced to her Emerson “Jake” Carey. Patty and Jake, who was the grandson of Carey Salt Founder Emerson Carey, fell in love and married in September of 1941. Hutchinson became Patty’s home.
Patty had a passion for civic involvement and a phenomenal talent for recruiting volunteers and raising money. Several who still volunteer at the Cosmosphere today remember when Patty first approached them, whether at church, in the supermarket or a casual conversation in which she brought up the opportunity to participate in her cause. Very few succeeded in telling Patty no.
Remembering his 30-year friendship with Patty, Peter Macdonald of Hutchinson, now deceased, shared this with the Hutchinson News in 1986.
“What makes Patty Carey tick,” he said, “is an above average intelligence, an insatiable curiosity and an unbounded enthusiasm. When you couple those with the ability to dream of what might be, and dogged determination not to be sidetracked, you have the ingredients that make a successful fundraiser. It’s harder to say no when the salesman is smarter than you are.”
In 1962, Patty’s “dogged determination” combined with her lifelong interest in science led her to take a leap and launch her dream. The rest is Cosmosphere history. She raised the money to purchase a used Spitz A-1 Stargazer planetarium projector and a planetarium dome. She rented folding chairs and opened “Hutchinson's Theatre of the Skies” in the poultry building on the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson.
The planetarium immediately became a destination for area school fieldtrips and more science-themed exhibits were added. In 1980, the Planetarium was offered a more permanent home, a dome, and some office space in the science building on the campus of Hutchinson Community College became the Hutchinson Planetarium. Today, you’ll still find a planetarium on that corner of the campus, but it has expanded as has the building around it. Patty nurtured her vision and helped it grow to more than 105,000 square feet of museum galleries, theaters, and education space. Today, it is known as the Cosmosphere, an international science education center and space museum.
The Cosmosphere features the largest combined collection of U.S. and Soviet-era space artifacts in the world enabling it to tell the most compelling story of the Space Race. It uses that collection of artifacts and the theme of space exploration as the backdrop for its world-class education camps and programming that served more than 17,000 students in 2019.
Visitors from 44 countries and 52 U.S. States and Territories journeyed to Hutchinson in 2019 to see the Cosmosphere. Free community programming delivered both virtually and in person connects audiences to a broad range of experts through its programming. From middle school students and community members conversing via video with astronauts on board the International Space Station, to Coffee at the Cosmo with experts from the Smithsonian and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Cosmosphere has become the leading source for student and community STEM education in the greater Kansas Region. Thus, Cosmosphere works to fulfill its mission: “Inspiring Innovation Through Science Education and Honoring the History of Space Exploration.”
More important, the Cosmosphere, and those of us honored to work here, continue to fulfill one woman’s vision. Thank you Patty. Happy birthday and Ad Astra.
Join us in celebrating Patty’s vision by donating to the Patty Carey Education Endowment in honor of her 100th birthday here.