Leonard James Ashby was born on December 1, 1891 in Oldham, Lancashire, England and later moved to Southsea, Portsmouth. In his youth he apprenticed himself to a textile mill operator, and from 1903 to 1913 he studied nights and in his free time at the Oldham Technical School. In 1911 he won a scholarship to Manchester University and continued between terms his studies at the Oldham Technical School. In 1912 he won a medal, one of 20 so honored in an empire contest, called in English phraseology the Whitworth Exhibition. His Bachelor of Science degree, with honors, in engineering was obtained from Manchester University in 1915.
Enlisting in the British army in 1915, Mr. Ashby later became a lieutenant of the Royal Corps of Signals with service in France. While on leave, one of his former professors at Manchester University suggested he transfer to the Royal Navy as the school of mines was looking for someone with his training. From then until the end of World War I and in fact until 1920, Ashby designed mines, and supervised manufacturing operations when the industrial concerns got into difficulties.
Mr. Ashby married Nona Gwendoline Wormald, of Oldham, in Crowborough, Sussex on January 15, 1916. Perhaps their mutual interest in the same sport brought them together. Both were Olympic-class fencers. Apparently, they even qualified for the Olympic Games, but Mr. Ashby was wounded (stabbed) during practice and unable to compete.
The happy couple immigrated to the United States in June 1920. Settling in Kalamazoo, Mr. Ashby applied and obtained an appointment to the faculty of Kalamazoo College in 1921, where an engineering department was contemplated. That failed to develop, and he taught physics for three years. While at K-College, Mr. Ashby built and operated the first broadcasting station in the city. The radio station, WOAP, opened on January 3, 1923. Mr. Ashby left Kalamazoo College in 1924, which brought about the end of WOAP. With his teaching career now behind him, Ashby decided to start his own refrigeration installation business.
Like most amateur astronomers of his time, Mr. Ashby was also an amateur telescope maker (ATM) by necessity. Commercially made telescopes were quite expensive during this period. It should come as no surprise that Mr. Ashby, with his degree in engineering, had a completely equipped workshop in his basement. Even though telescope making was the rule of the day, Ashby shared his thoughts on the hobby in an interview with the "Kalamazoo Gazette" that would resonate with any ATMer active today: That’s the fun of it. Anyone can buy the things he wants to use, but to see them grow under his hands, that’s the real kick in it. Then when he puts the machine together and it works, it’s the thrill of a lifetime, repeated every time he does it.
Mr. Ashby also constructed an observatory in the top of his garage. A section of the garage’s roof slid back on rails to expose his telescope on the sky. Many of the earliest gatherings of the Kalamazoo Amateur Astronomical Association (KAAA) were held in “Ashby Observatory.” Ashby founded the KAAA in 1936 and served as its first president. The organization still thrives today as the Kalamazoo Astronomical Society, the oldest astronomy club in Michigan.
In 1940, the Ashby’s moved to Ann Arbor where Mr. Ashby became a student at the University of Michigan. Mr. Ashby worked as a Special Instructor of Physics from 1943 – 1944. He died unexpectedly on June 12, 1945 at the age of 53
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