I'm 48 and from Marcellus, NY. Like most guys my age with a 40+ year interest in astronomy, growing up during the Apollo missions and those leading up to it helped fuel my interest. Getting H.A. Rey's book from my local library and using it to locate constellations and the Saturn from my front porch with a Montgomery Ward 60mm refractor my parents got for me as a gift when I was in 6th grade are pretty typical stories that you'll hear from others like me, but my most memorable experience came when I began 8th grade. My math teacher, who had just moved to the tiny town of Marcellus from his hometown of Rochester NY (Where he was a U of R graduate), told us on the first day of class that he "loved looking at the stars." He then started an astronomy club at our school, something that had never been done before.
I joined, not knowing what to expect. He had an orange-tube C8 that seemed like the most enormous telescope I could ever imagine. (He later sold it to me, my first "real scope"). If that wasn't enough, he was constructing a 20-inch Newtonian in his backyard observatory, with a massive drive from Ed Byers. He also has a slew of other scopes such as Jaegers 6-inch refractors and such. He taught us what professional astronomers did and how they worked, how to use professional equipment, and how to work like a professional researcher, taking notes, calculating current positions of asteroids, comets, and stars, from out-of-date charts. He taught us optics design and fabrication, eyepiece selections, and astrophotography. He showed us Uranus, Neptune, and even Pluto. All of this just overwhelmed (and thrilled) me, a 13-year-old kid. I became great friends with my 8th-grade math/astronomy teacher, and remained in the club for 2 years, until he moved away to Jupiter, FL., where he lives today.
My teacher's name was Mike Palermiti. THE Mike Palermiti, who designed the Paramount ME for Software Bisque, and who founded ITE, and who developed a whole host of other firsts for amateur and professional astronomy. People know Mike today for these accomplishments, yet I got to know him as a mentor, 8th-grade teacher, friend, and father figure. As far as I know, I'm the only one from that little club today who is still enamored with astronomy, and I'm the only one today who had that very early relationship with Mike before he became "famous".
Today I continue my love of astronomy as a professional educator, hosting public programs for local nature centers and writing books about telescope optics. I would not be where I am if it weren't for the influence of Mike Palermiti long ago in the tiny, hidden town of Marcellus, NY.