The Astrology Podcast
Transcript of Episode 75, titled:
With Chris Brennan and guests Laura Nalbandian and Gary Lorentzen
Episode originally released on
Note: This is a transcript of an audio podcast. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio version, which includes inflections that may not translate well when written out. Transcripts are created by using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and the text probably contains some errors and differences from the audio version. Please submit any corrections to Chris Brennan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transcribed by Mary Sharon
Transcription released June 14, 2021
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CHRIS BRENNAN: Hi. My name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. This episode is recorded on Wednesday, April 27th 2016 starting at about 5:50 p.m, in Denver, Colorado. And this will be the 75th episode of the show. For more information about how to subscribe to the podcast and help support the production of future episodes by becoming a patron, please visit theastrologypodcast.com/subscribe. In this episode I’m gonna be talking with Laura Nalbandian and Gary Lorentzen about the life and career of the late astrologer Maggie Nalbandian who is known for running a popular astrology bookstore in Seattle, organizing the Northwest Astrological Conference starting in the 1980s, and as the founder of Kepler College in the early 1990s. So, let’s go ahead and get started with the show. Laura and Gary, welcome to the show.
LAURA NALBANDIAN: Thanks for having me on. Thanks for taking this on. It means a lot to me to talk about Mom.
GARY LORENTZEN: Thanks for me, too. Laura as a longtime friend, I think it’s great to do this kind of tribute to her.
CB: Yeah, there’s a lot of great stories and a lot of great history that I wanted to do a series like this to be able to capture some of that especially for people either talking to astrologers directly or in some instances when I can’t do that, talking to people that knew them closely in order to reconstruct and really record some of that history. So, I thought that we would do that today. And for the listeners of course, Laura is Maggie’s daughter and Gary is a local colleague that was around and participated with and interacted with Maggie for many years in the astrological community. So I thought you would both give great perspectives on different aspects of her life in her career in the field of astrology. So, why don’t we start just from the beginning in terms of her background and place of origin and growing up and everything else? Laura, where was Maggie from? And what was her sort of starting point in life?
LN: She was born in a small town in Texas called Plainview, Texas. Was in Hale County. There’s interestingly enough three Plainviews in Texas, but it is Hale County. And that’s where she was born. She was the the first of her father’s though she had two step sisters, and she has a younger sister who is the only one surviving in the immediate family. And so she was born in 1937. And probably when she was around 10, they moved to Hobbs, New Mexico. And that’s where she went to school through high school with a break going to live in Mexico for a bit while her father worked down there. And then from Hobbs, New Mexico the family moved to Southeast Washington because my grandfather had a job working for Hanford. And this would have been in 1950 1954 ’55, somewhere in there.
CB: Okay, so mid 1950s?
LN: Yeah, that’s when they moved to southeast Washington. And she would have been in her last year of high school, so I’m thinking that’s something like 1955. And so she graduated high school, and she met my father who was from the East Coast. He was in the army. And this would have been the Korean War era. And so he was stationed in Southeast Washington at a military base called Camp Hanford. And they met at a dance, and he was actually dancing with my mother’s older sister, Pat. And they ended up being introduced and falling in love and getting married in 1956, and so there’s a bunch of moving around. They went to Boston. They came back. I was born in Southeast Washington in Kennewick in ’59, and then they moved to Seattle. And that’s where everything begins to change as Mom’s now moving from a fairly traditional–I wouldn’t say conservative upbringing because they weren’t conservative, but they were southern conservative. They were probably conservative Democrats, in that sense. But I think moving to Seattle really opened everything up. My mother was probably more liberal than her environment in our upbringing as a good Aquarius Moon, I think. And so they moved to Seattle in 1960, and she meets a friend by the name of Donna Hagen. And they become very good friends cuz her husband is a co-worker of my father’s at it was either Boeing or Honeywell or something like that. And Donna begins to get interested in astrology in probably ’63 ’64 somewhere in there.
LN: Yeah, Mom’s horrified by her friend’s endeavor and her friend’s curiosity. But Mom being who Mom is and was, she felt that the only way to dissuade her friend from her folly was to study astrology enough to be able to intellectually dissuade her and tear it down enough so that her friend would see that it wasn’t worth the effort and time. And so Mom the deeper she got–And actually it didn’t take her very long to realize that there was something to it. And the more she got into it, the more she was enamored of it herself and began to study with Dorothy Hughes Dorothy B. Hughes who was the founder of the Seattle astrological association. And so she studied with her in the mid ’60s.
CB: Okay. And Gary, you had actually made a post on Facebook last fall where you actually talked about I think how Dorothy B. Hughes was like a major pivotal figure in the northwest sort of astrological scene in the 1960s and ’70s, right?
GL: Correct. Yeah. And Dorothy B. Hughes, we called her the grande dame of astrology in Seattle in those days. And she had a bookstore, and she taught classes. And she was the driving force behind the establishment of the Seattle astrological association at that point. Yeah.
CB: Okay. And then let’s say like 1960s?
GL: Yes, that would have been in the mid ’60s. And she became more or less the go-to bookstore, the go-to place to get classes. And other places were starting to spring up at the same time. There was the Astrology Center of the Northwest way up on the north end of Seattle. But the–
LN: When did they open, Gary?
GL: I wanna say they opened in around ’68 or ’69.
GL: June Marston opened that store.
GL: And that’s when Joanne Wickenburg and Marc Robertson got involved. Because I know already in the very early ’70s they were a going concern on the north end, and I know that Marc and Joanne were both working there as early as–Gosh, I know for sure in 1972.
GL: But it was just Dorothy B. Hughes and her bookstore and classes. And then the Astrology Center of the Northwest bookstore and those classes were pretty much the two places that people went for astrology at the time.
CB: Okay, and it sounds like there was eventually a lot of different bookstores or metaphysical stores that opened up and that each of these had like in-house astrologers. And that became, it seemed, like a lot of people’s access points either for taking classes or getting consultations in that period, right?
GL: That’s exactly the way it was.
CB: Okay. And–
LN: Do you remember the name of Dorothy’s bookstore?
GL: No, everybody just called it Dorothy Hughes. I think that was the name of it. [unintelligible 00:08:55.16]
GL: But then I know that when Maggie started her first store was what, ’74?
LN: 5 ’75.
LN: April of ’75.
CB: Okay, so backing up just a little bit. So, she studies under Dorothy B. Hughes. And is that her first and sort of primary teacher?
LN: Yeah. Yes, that was her first teacher.
CB: Did she study around? Obviously, she would have read a lot of books. But did she have other sort of major teachers or was that the main one?
LN: At the time I would have been six and seven years old.
LN: And to be honest with you, I do not recall anybody else only because I don’t recall her speaking of anyone. Particularly as a teacher going to formal classes, she would have started going to–I know she went to conferences early, going to the big one the AFA conferences. And those would have been in the early ’70s.
GL: Well, I know she was going to AFA conferences as far as I know as early as ’74. But I don’t know about that.
LN: Okay. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Okay. So eventually this is something she becomes very passionate in by the late ’60s and early ’70s.
CB: And she actually decides to open her first bookstore that’s dedicated to astrology books in 1974?
LN: As early as I can remember probably in my early teens, I remember Mom talking about wanting a bookstore. She was working at a doctor’s office. She was the office manager and bookkeeper for a pair of doctors and their office upon Capitol Hill. And she’s worked there in the ’60s and into the ’70s. Eventually, she quits there. So the bookstore opens in ’75, April of ’75. And she didn’t leave her job cuz we couldn’t afford it her family for her to leave the job, so I was working part time after school and then during summers. And Dad was there, and we have one bookshelf. Yeah, so she leaves. I think she left her job in ’76 when the shop moved from Roosevelt to the University District. And that was in ’76.
CB: Okay. And was it called the Astrology et al Bookstore from the start? Or was that–
LN: Yes. Yes. Yes, always.
CB: Okay. And so was that unique at the time to have a bookstore that’s kind of dedicated to astrology books, or were there others that were more specialized like that as well?
LN: Well, It started out as dedicated to astrology books. But her goal because it was astrology et all and the world and everything was eventually to have a well-rounded astrological metaphysical bookstore which we did have with classes not only in astrology but classes in tarot and any number of topics that would have fit into our business. So it started out with one bookcase or one bookshelf of just astrology books, but eventually it grows. And again, she opens up the bookstore to her original intention which was to have a wide variety of books. But we eventually had over like 1200 titles in astrology. I never went to Astrology Center of the Northwest, so I don’t know what they had. Gary, what did they have? They had to have plenty of astrology books. That was their business, too.
GL: Yeah, they were a huge operation.
GL: They had very large space, very large bookstore. And they had like, I believe, three different counseling rooms. And they had different classroom settings, and it was quite large. But there were also others. There was the Magus bookstore on I wanna say 42nd, maybe 43rd.
GL: After University Way.
LN: 42nd, yeah. Mhm.
GL: Yeah. Then there was on the north end at 50th and University Way was a bookstore called Beltane Books which was packed with astrological material as well as other metaphysical stuff. And yes, every one of those bookstores had an in-house astrologer.
CB: And so there’s classes being taught there, and there was astrologers that were giving consultations. One of the sort of interesting things is that there were different sort of prominent astrologers that worked there or sort of passed through there over the years. And one of the most prominent I guess would have been Jeffrey Wolf Green doing readings during some of his formative years, right?
LN: Oh yeah. He walks into the bookstore on a Sunday, actually tapped on the door on a Sunday. I can’t remember whether Mom was open or not. ’76, actually the day of the Saturn return. And Mom and Jeff hit it off immediately. And he just kind of takes his natural place in the order of things in the bookstore, and he’s teaching along with Mom. And you see in the original bookstore–Well, I count the one on the University District after we moved a couple of times cuz buildings were taken over and so on. But in ’76 ’77 we were at our 4728 location, and that was the one we were the longest at. And it had two classrooms and 1 2 3 meeting rooms and the big bookstore. And we had speakers coming in on a regular basis to teach workshops, classes along with the classes that Mom taught and that Jeff taught.
GL: Lucy and David Pond were also on University Avenue then.
LN: That’s right.
GL: They were down closer to Magus, and I was working out of Beltane. I was the house astrologer out of Beltane Books. Rick Miller owned that place. And I conducted my classes there as well as did my readings and all of that. It was strange, all of us made a living during that period.
LN: Yeah, it was the–
CB: So despite the competition, there was that much interest in astrology at that point in time that–
LN: It was–
GL: Yes, I think there was also a lot of interest at that moment in time.
LN: And the University District was just a hopping place for that kind of thing, students. And it was always a very avant-garde location and area in Seattle with students from the University of Washington always around, so it was very busy. At least from my side and my position, I don’t recall any of that kind of sticky competition or the fear-based competition. There wasn’t any of that, right?
GL: No, we were all cooperative.
GL: I used to sit in on Jeff’s classes, Jeff would come up and sit on my classes. Of course, Maggie kind of requested that we did that.
GL: And Maggie was [unintelligible 00:16:34.28] those things. She did not want any kind of sort of competitive feeling around any of–
GL: And we shared clients. I would send people who I thought maybe would click better with Jeff. I would send them to Jeff, and I know Jeff sent me a couple of his. One of his clients, I remember her name was Dodd. She came and she said, “Jeff sent me to you.” So, there was that kind of sort of esprit de corps among the astrologers.
LN: Yeah. Yeah.
GL: See, I knew at the time.
GL: We cooperated and had a great time with each other, and we were all very friendly. We went to dinner at each other’s houses.
GL: And it was a very heady time.
CB: And it sounded like from something you wrote before that there was something that Maggie was specifically interested in facilitating that kind of interchange and friendliness between the different astrologers that were otherwise technically like competitors in some sense.
GL: And that’s what really impressed me about Maggie when I first met her in 1975 at the Roosevelt location. And then she moved to the University Avenue, the 4700 building on University Avenue and which was obviously like three blocks from where I worked at the time. So–[Laura laughs]
GL: Right. Now we were directly “in competition”. But we had a conversation about that and she said, “I don’t want that achievement. I don’t want that. So, let’s just cooperate and do the best we can.” And she got David and Lucy Pond a little bit involved in that too although they were a little more standoffish than I was in regards to that. But, they certainly appreciated the fact that–
LN: Yeah, I think David really did. I haven’t had any real conversation with Lucy around that, but David definitely has communicated to me that.
CB: Sure. And so also during this period there’s also astrological groups going on. And so there’s a Seattle group that you were the president of around this time right, Gary?
GL: Yeah. I moved to Seattle in June of 1975. And I had been an astrologer in Olympia at the time between ’72 and ’75 and then moved in ’75 to Seattle and became involved right away with the Seattle astrological association. And someone told me, “Well, I’m gonna nominate you to run for office.” And I said, “Oh, okay. I’mma do that.” [Laura laughs] And so anyway, my name got put up and the next thing I knew I had been elected president of the Seattle astrological association. And that was in 1976. And I had a good time with that. It was difficult, it was time consuming, and I think in our time we had almost 300 active members in that Seattle group.
GL: And it was so big that we had to rent Seattle community college lecture halls–
GL: –to accomodate everybody for our lectures. We would literally have more than 100 people at every lecture every month. Amazing. I went to Maggie and said, “Maggie, I really want Jeff to get involved with me in this.” And she goes, “Oh, I don’t know. He’s pretty shy.” [laughs] So we tried to get Jeff Green to get involved, and he simply wouldn’t do it. Maggie got involved with the SAA. That year ’76 ’77 is when I suggested that we really needed to change from the Seattle astrological association to the Washington State Astrological Association which we did which officially changed that year. But Maggie wanted to get involved and specifically wanted to get involved because she wanted to sort of have conferences.
GL: I thought that, “Maggie, that’s a great idea. But let’s figure one out.” And so with our first one was a little mini conference we did over at, what did they call it, the Saint Edward Seminary thing over at–
LN: Oh, I remember that. Yeah.
GL: And that’s when I took Maggie aside and said, “Look, I want Jeff to speak.” And she goes, “I don’t think we can get him to speak.” [laughs] And so I said, “Well, you push him. I want him to give a lecture.” And we literally had to push him out on the stage and into the little podium.
GL: He was a nervous wreck. Me being a Leo with Aries rising, that was sort of natural to me to just get out there and do that sort of thing. [Laura laughs] But for Jeff, it wasn’t. And Maggie agreed with me. She said, “Yeah, he’s gotta do this. He’s gotta do this.” And so she really pushed him.
CB: Gary had written at one point that by the mid 1970s that Maggie had started to travel to conferences like the AFA conference and stuff like that. And so perhaps just like seeing other people organizing these little conferences combined with the numbers that you guys were getting for the local groups is perhaps part of what led to the idea to do that mini conference in 1977? Or was it more just an outgrowth of having so many people that you felt like it was time to do something like that?
GL: I think she thought that Seattle was a hotbed of astrology at that moment, and she thought that we didn’t have any kind of conferencing going on. And maybe it was. I never heard her specifically link it to like an AFA conference or wanting to–
LN: No, here’s what she linked it to. I’m not exactly sure when she met Roxana Muise, but Roxana Muise was running the South West Astrology Conference SWAC.
LN: And I’d have to look it up and see if I can find any information, but she ran that for quite a number of years. And I think Mom probably would have met her at a conference in California somewhere.
GL: Yeah, I would agree. Cuz when Roxanna moved up, then she moved up to Seattle. And it was instrumental a lot up there in Seattle. Well, the little mini conference hall in ’77 turned into a larger regional conference.
GL: If I remember right, it was in the spring of ’79. And it was held out at Ocean Shores.
LN: Yeah, we held it at Ocean Shores. And there was the one prior to that in Renton at the Sheraton or the Red Lion. I remember Marc Robertson being there. Do you remember that one that was right there in Renton 405 on Highway 167 right at that interchange?
GL: Yeah, I–
LN: And then I think it was the following year that there was the–
GL: The Ocean Shores?
LN: The one at Ocean Shores. We had Tracey Marks.
GL: Yes, Tracey Marks was the keynote speaker at that one on Ocean Shores. I’m not sure, Laura. But I think you might have that backwards that the Ocean Shores [unintelligible 00:24:06.10]
LN: Is it? Is it?
GL: So, yeah. The Ocean Shores was the first one because I had–
LN: I thought it was the last one.
GL: No, I had moved–
LN: Oh, okay. Yeah. You’re better at remembering, so I trust you.
GN: I had moved to Atlanta in ’78, and I had been completely involved in the WSAA through that whole period.
GN: And there were no conferences other than the mini conference out at the Saint Edward’s Seminary.
GN: And then until ’79 two years later is when the WSAA put that all together, and Maggie was very instrumental in organizing them.
LN: Okay, cuz there was another one also at The Edgewater. So there were two more that must have happened. Because I remember the one at Renton, and I remember the one at The Edgewater. And then she did one, and she was frustrated because she wasn’t getting a lot of help from the WSAA. They were kind of just relying on her to make it happen, and she got a bit frustrated and decided to do her own.
LN: And that’s when NORWAC happened in ’84. So she was planning NORWAC in ’83 or something like that.
GN: Right. I remember having a conversation with her and she was saying that, well, in any local organization like the WSAA or any like the Oregon Astrological Association, your leadership changes at least every other year if not every year. And it’s really hard to get the new leadership on board with any ongoing projects. And I had a conversation with Maggie about that, and she said, “It’s really difficult because the last board was awesome, and they really helped me out. And now this one doesn’t want anything to do with it. I’m just gonna organize my own.” [laughs]
CB: So she sets to work doing that by the early 1980s. And then the first official Northwest astrology conference or NORWAC takes place in Seattle in 1984?
CB: And that’s a big sort of regional conference. It must have had what, like a dozen speakers or something like that?
LN: The dates for the first NORWAC was March 23rd, 24th, and 25th 1984. It was at the Red Lion, SeaTac. We had Donna Cunningham, James Eshelman, Jeff Green, Sandy Hughes, Charles Jayne, Marion March, Joan McEvers, Neil Michelson, Shirley Moynagh, Maggie, Alan Oken, Shara Reiner a local, Suzanna Rolan, Erin Sullivan, Batya Stark, Diana Stone, Noel Tyl, [Grace Graham] and Don Weston and Joanne Wickenburg.
CB: Wow, that’s a pretty decent lineup for a first-time conference. And so–
LN: She wanted to make a splash. [laughs]
CB: Right. So and Gary you were saying that it was really unique because this was really a regional, this was a big conference. It wasn’t just a tiny little sort of local thing anymore?
GL: Right. From the very first conference I realized, “Wow , this is much bigger than just what I imagined a regional conference would look like.”
GL: Obviously, there were more than a dozen presenters. And it was a large facility, and it drew people from all over the country not just locally.
CB: Okay. So, yeah. And so there’s probably what, like a few 100 people in attendance? Like 200? Maybe more?
LN: Probably something like that. I can’t tell you that it was 200. She did not make money the first year. And I think she came in at a break-even. But it was encouraging enough to keep going. And we did it again, and just the number of speakers that came here and those that have passed away and have been through NORWAC events is pretty phenomenal.
GL: Yeah. True.
CB: Yeah, so it became an annual conference that you did every year. I think this coming one at the end of the next month in May of 2016 is gonna be your 32nd annual NORWAC. Is that correct?
LN: Yeah. Yeah. It’ll be the 32nd for sure.
CB: One of the things that’s unique about NORWAC you’ve been doing it for over 30 years now. It’s just that your family has been doing it cuz it really is a family–And it seems like that’s been something that’s unique not just about NORWAC and the conferences that Maggie organized but also about astrology et al, about the bookstore and other things is that the entire family sort of had a hand oftentimes in organizing or running things, right? [Gary chuckles]
LN: Yes. [laughs]
CB: And how was that for you growing up? Cuz initially you grew up not necessarily as an astrologer, right?
CB: But just as somebody who’s helping to run the family business.
LN: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So, I started working right from the beginning in the bookstore. So I was 16 in the summer of ’75, and I worked off and on in the bookstore through high school. And then after high school I dabbled a bit in further education and really was finding my way and what my life was gonna look like. I really had no idea. And my dad decided to fire me from the bookstore so that I would not have the dependency of the bookstore. He said, “As long as you’ve got comfortability of here, you’re not gonna figure out what it is you’re doing in the world. So you’re fired. Go out. Go. Go figure out what you’re doing.” And eventually I found my way back. But working with your family, some people would say just never ever ever do that. And there were plenty of days where I thought that that was probably the wisest thing anybody could ever say was don’t work with your family.
LN: [laughs] Because we’re all cardinal. We’re all cardinal with fire ascendants. Mom Aries, Leo rising. Dad Libra, Aries rising. Me Capricorn, Leo rising. And my brother, Libra with Sag rising. So, just a tremendous amount of energy always directed it at everything we did. And so when we disagreed with one another, it was voluble. And everybody got to hear about it. So those times I always thought it wasn’t at its best, but we were just crazy enough to keep it going, I think. And Mom was the glue. She was the glue that kept it all together.
CB: Sure. So at some point–
LN: She had–Yeah.
CB: So at some point you got more into astrology as an actual practitioner as somebody that had an interest in actually using it or practicing it by what, like the late 1980s or early ’90s?
LN: I would say by ’83 I had come back to the bookstore. I had been away from the bookstore for three or four years, and I come back to the bookstore in ’83 as a manager. And I realized that not having any knowledge about astrology was not gonna help me as a manager of a bookstore of this nature. I knew enough about metaphysics. I’d read a lot of the books in there but knew nothing about astrology really. And so my intention was to learn enough to be the casual student to learn enough that I could recommend books and run a bookstore that was based in astrology. So, never did I have any intention of being a professional astrologer or being a teacher. Those were just not things that were on the horizon for me. [unintelligible 00:32.24.12] And so I started taking classes, and I always joke with my students when they tell me it’s so hard. I said, “Look, I quit three times.” Because, frankly, learning astrology isn’t easy. It’s hard, and it took probably about the third time for it really to catch for me and to become really interested in it beyond having some practical purpose in nothing. So it became a love, and it became an enjoyment. And it became an obsession for me to learn, and I really did. And thanks to my mother and the environment I was in, I was able to immerse myself in classes and books. They were all there. By the way, as an aside, I looked up Roxana Muise and SWAC. The South Western Astrology Conference was run from 1974 to ’85, and I know that Mom named her conference the Northwest Astrological Conference in counterpoint to Roxana’s South Western Astrology Conference. And they were in conversation about it, so it was sort of a kind of a tandem element.
CB: Sure. That seems like a pretty natural handing over at least in terms of the timeline.
LN: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, so they had only two years of overlap. She was just done, and she moved from Southern California. And she moved north to Seattle.
CB: Okay, and she’ll actually come up later once we get to Kepler. So, by this point by the mid to late 1980s I think Gary that you said that Maggie had sort of become like the queen pin of the astrological community in Seattle in some sense, sort of stepping into the role that that earlier astrologer that we mentioned Dorothy B. Hughes had played in the 1960s and 1970s up until her death, right?
GL: That’s my view of it.
LN: And I would say that there were a couple that were in tandem, and I know that that would be Joanne Wickenburg. Cuz Joanne Wickenburg and Mom worked together on WSAA. They worked together as president and vice president and sort of switched roles. They worked on testing that WSAA did for–just to receive a certificate of testing from the WSAA. But Mom was much more in, I would say, a leadership position. Then Joanne was I think which is more natural to Mom. Wouldn’t you say, Gary?
GL: Absolutely. There’s no doubt the influence that Joanne Wickenburg had in the Seattle astrological community.
GL: But she was always sort of this behind the scenes roll up the sleeves go to work person.
LN: Of course.
GL: But Maggie always fronted everything.
GL: Maggie was the face of astrology in Seattle, I think more so than Joanne was at the time.
LN: Yeah, I agree.
CB: And it’s interesting that you mentioned Joanne also just because Demetra who I interviewed yesterday about her life and career says that she completely spaced out and forgotten what she had mentioned that she’d taken Joanne’s correspondence course sometimes early in her astrological studies, and so that was one of her early teachers. But perhaps that just sort of underlies your point in terms of maybe Joanne sort of teaching students and having some of that direct one on one connection with people versus playing more of a leadership role in the community.
CB: Okay. So at this point, one of the things that’s interesting because I actually did an interview with Maggie about 10 years ago in the summer of 2005 when I lived in Seattle. And I’d moved out there for Kepler, and I came into the bookstore one day and just did an interview with her largely about Kepler. But one of the things that I didn’t know in doing that interview that she really emphasized was that in the 1980s there was some anti astrology legislation that came about that started being a cause for concern within the astrological community and that this somehow became part of the later motivation eventually for starting Kepler College. Gary, do you have any recollection of that? Or was that like a community concern, or was it something maybe that Maggie was paying attention to more? How do you feel about that?
GL: We were all paying attention to it when it happened. And I had had a number of conversations with Maggie as well as other astrologers about it, and we were all very concerned about it. But on the one hand, although we were concerned, we also understood the concern because we had seen it. We had seen sort of I guess fly-by-night astrologers who basically did just Sun sign astrology and not much else and set themselves up as astrologers and psychics and palm readers. And who knows what they were saying to people, right? And who knows how much astrology they actually knew? And out of those conversations, I know that already as early as I wanna say 1987 ’88 Maggie was talking to me about starting the school of astrology that actually offered some sort of credentials and would establish itself as a school that would produce a new generation of astrologers where we wouldn’t have to worry about these sort of false counselors, people calling themselves counselors when they really weren’t.
CB: Sure. So there was a separate concern about standards within the community and having sort of credentials in order to distinguish between like who’s actually a legitimate astrologer versus who’s maybe just pretending to be or doesn’t know very much about the subject?
CB: Okay. And that’s some of the background. And then the other piece in terms of the laws was just that from what she said that there was some legislation that was proposed in Washington saying that in order for a person to provide counseling services that you have to have a degree in psychology and that this is an issue because a lot of astrologers were calling themselves counselors in the 1970s and ’80s and that eventually the astrologers were able to defeat the bill. But this ended up acting as sort of a precursor to some of that discussion about credentials and regulation and education because one of the laws that I guess she said did make it on the books said that if an astrologer runs afoul of the law, that they could be brought in front of a panel of their peers before being brought in front of the state.
CB: And this becomes evidently then part of the impetus for Kepler is because you can’t have the panel of peers unless you have some sort of accrediting body or some sort of standardization within the field. So the point of Kepler was to create almost the equivalent of something eventually that would act almost like the the American Medical Association but within the astrological community to set up the criteria for what a professional astrologer is and what qualifies that as a person.
LN: That’s exactly what happened. And those were exactly the conversations that Maggie had with a number of astrologers in Seattle at the time.
CB: Okay. Yeah. And some of the quotes I had from her that I wrote down verbatim was one where she said that her position was on regulation that if we don’t do it, then the government will do it for us. And then that the idea was by setting up the school that Kepler graduates were ideally going to be the people who would be going on to the overseeing board or the accreditation board because they would be well versed in all the necessary areas in traditions of astrology. So in order to get an accrediting board, you had to have a school that taught everybody everything they needed to know about astrology and not just one approach but all of the different traditions. And so this leads to the impetus or this leads to the formation of Kepler College in the early 1990s. So from what you said and what other people have said. it sounds like Maggie has been talking about a college for years. But then something started happening by 1990 1991 that really pushes that forward even more where this becomes like a personal mission of hers in some sense, right?
LN: Mhm. Yeah, but there’s a lovely anecdote by Diana Stone that she wrote about. It was a WSAA event, and it was being held at Sand Point naval base some building there because they needed a bigger building for dinner or something. And they were all sitting around. They’d had chicken. And Diana was saying, “Let me read the chicken bones for you, Margaret.” And so she grabs Mom’s dinner, the chicken bones and throws them on the table and proceeds to tell her–This was a number of years before Kepler. Proceeds to tell Mom that she would open up or she would be instrumental in starting a college, a school. And so yeah, it had been talked about. She’d been talking about it for years, and it had been on the mind. And so I think as Mom said often enough back then, she was just tired of talking by about ’90 somewhere in there. She was just tired of talking, she wanted to do something. She was trying to create a coalition of people through going to conferences and people would talk about education. There were always different points of view from having a school that was an umbrella under somebody else versus having our own school, and so she was just eventually tired of talking about it and decided to do something about it. And she kind of dragged me along with her. [laughs]
CB: Right. So you were actually there. So the first official meeting about Kepler College took place in September 3rd 1991 in Seattle. And from what she said, the people in attendance were herself Maggie Nalbandian, Laura Nalbandian, Michael Munkasey, Joanne Wickenburg, Roxana Muise, Rick Levine, Jeffrey Wolf Green, Martha Taub, Steven James, and David Pond. And it was at that first meeting that Rick Levine proposed calling it Kepler College after Johannes Kepler. Do you remember that meeting? Or that meeting was a very–
LN: Oh, sure. But the lead up to that was always interesting too because she had talked to a woman, and I can’t remember her name, who had written a thesis paper for some program. I don’t know what her degree was in, but she had written this paper on the creation of an astrological curriculum. She had written an AA, BA, MA, and a PhD program in astrology. And she had interviewed a number of top astrologers in the process. So she had gotten hold of this paper and this woman’s name. And for the life of me, I can’t even begin to tell you what her name was. And we went off to the Chicago NCGR conference in July of 1991 to meet this woman and talk to her. So, off we went. And in a conversation with this woman, she was very clear that she did not want to get involved. But she was happy that she could be any help with her paper and give us a starting point for our curriculum. So Maggie spent the rest of the time at the conference talking to other people. Again, it was pretty much the same kind of conversation. People were interested, but they really didn’t wanna do anything about it or just talk about it. So when we got home, she was done. That would have been July, August of ’91. And that’s when she picked up the phone and called people and said, “Are you interested? If you are, be at our vehicle bookstore at this date.” We all gathered. She laid out the premise. And she asked us, “Are you in?” And everybody said, almost everybody said yes. David Pond didn’t and Jeff. Though they were on board, they weren’t interested in participating at the level that everybody else was gonna participate. And–
GL: Maggie called me in early August of ’91.
GL: Maggie called.
GL: I had moved to Portland in June of ’90.
GL: And she called in early August of ’91 and asked me if I wanted to participate. And I said, “Absolutely.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the September 3rd meeting, I wouldn’t be able to come until October, so I started then in October.
CB: And you ended up actually playing a really pivotal role because many of the initial proponents of the school didn’t have much experience or background with college or what was involved in like setting up a college or an academic degree. And you actually ended up being like the architect in some ways of a large part of the curriculum and the instructional design. Right, Gary?
GL: I had actually studied a curriculum in instructional design at the University of Washington. So, when I sat with this group and they more or less–I was just listening to the conversation and listening to Maggie’s vision advisor that I met at the board meeting in October. And I won’t say I was horrified, but I was just a little–[Laura and Gary laugh]
LN: I think it’s a good word.
GL: I was a little bit stunned at their [unintelligible 00:46:43.08]
GL: –and what they wanted to do. And I just kind of said, “Well, you know guys, in order to do this or in order to get this by the state, you’re gonna have to have some kind of credential people developing this curriculum for you. And there are steps that you have to go through, and you can’t just throw an astrological curriculum together and say you wanna start a college.” [Laura and Gary laugh] Yeah.
CB: Sure. So you might say that there’s a little bit more enthusiasm and sort of idealism surrounding it, more than actual practical sort of plans in terms of like what it was gonna take and what the specific steps would be in order to accomplish what they wanted to at that point.
GL: Right. And so then I said, “Okay. Look, I will happily volunteer. I’m loving the idea, but–” And then the other thing I brought up at the time was you understand that if the way you’re imagining this with you’re going to take classes in astrological math, setting up charts and we’re gonna take classes in this and the history of astrology and all these things. And I said, “You realize you’re gonna end up having to have departments if you do it that way and you’re going to have to have separate faculties for each one of these departments? And the way you’re talking about it, it’s going to cost an incredible amount of money to put something like this together. Let me think about developing a curriculum instructional design that might meet your needs but mighty alternative enough that we don’t have to go down that traditional sort of college structure with faculty and departments and department heads and all of that stuff. Let me figure that out.” And so then, I’d had enough experience with alternative educational formats. I graduated from The Evergreen State College which doesn’t have any traditional structure to it and realized that that would be a sort of a modified model. Using The Evergreen State College as a modified model for Kepler might work. And so I worked out through developed a potential curriculum to show them that, “Hey, we don’t have to spend a lot of money if we do an integrated curriculum and if we do it this way.” And then I ran it by Enid Newberg who has a master’s degree in systems design and took a look at what I had, and then she created a graphic of it which was just perfect. And so then I made that proposal to the board. And then we started actually working on the basic curriculum within that instructional design for a bachelor’s degree.
CB: So, you guys all announced eventually by May of 1982 at that NORWAC. There was an announcement of the intention to create Kepler College, and then later that year Kepler was actually incorporated as an entity on November 27th 1982. The chart usually given is around noon. But I’m guessing that’s just a noon chart in Olympia, Washington, right?
LN: Mhm. Probably. Although I’m not sure that we didn’t elect that.
CB: Okay. Yeah, it’s really interesting. Great chart just in and of itself. That’s–
LN: Yeah. I know Mom would have wanted that, and that’s what she would have worked for. So that’s a chart that was the note says noon, she may target that. She would have gone down there in person to do it.
GL: [unintelligible 00:50:43.01] if I remember.
LN: Was it?
GL: Yeah, we did the paperwork and–
LN: They should have done it.
GL: –sent in, and we got the notice back with the date on it as November 27th 1992. But we really don’t know at what point in time–
GL: –they actually stamped that and said, “You are incorporated.”
CB: Okay, so that might be the time it was sent in?
GL: No, I think that’s the date. I’m not sure when we actually sent it in, but that’s the date that’s in the notification from the state that we were incorporated.
CB: Okay, got it. All right. And one of the things that’s always been fascinating to me is just that this is all occurring around the Uranus-Neptune conjunction in the early ’90s. And you go back and you look at some of the articles that were being written about what does this mean, what is this about. And there’s just a few really interesting fundamental formative things that were happening in the astrological community at that time, and that was one of them. And then of course Project Hindsight was being founded at the same time which would later come to have some interrelation with Kepler once some of that material started being taught there. And also the Indian astrologers were forming–I think the American Council of Vedic Astrology was created sometime around the same time which also is interesting in terms of how that connects in a little bit later. But that actually brings up I guess the next point which is that it seems like there was this desire to create a curriculum right from the start that had breadth and depth to it where you wanted to present the history in the philosophy as well as the techniques and a desire to cover all of the different traditions in some sense but not necessarily in the sense of a trade school but instead more as a well-rounded liberal arts college. Was that part of your goal? Or how did you sort of approach that, Gary?
GL: That was my goal. Yes. Because I knew from the get-go that in order to get this approved by the state to have to offer a bachelor’s degree, that we had to include the history of astrology. We would have to include the different schools of astrological thought. So, Vedic, sidereal, traditional, all of it had to be covered in order to get this past the higher education control board in Olympia. It had to have academic teeth to it. There’s no way this was going to be approved without that. And so I tried to convince them that we had to move in that direction, and that was sort of a stumbling block for them. They didn’t realize that that’s really what was going to be needed in order to be approved by the state. But I talked to the coordinator in Olympia, and his name was Mr. Ball at that time. And–
LN: Well, there was originally a woman. And then it became Mike Ball. Mike Ball came in after.
GL: You’re right. Well, he was already there. He just wasn’t the–
LN: Ah. Okay. I see what you’re saying.
GL: –coordinator. He was someone else.
GL: But he is the one who conversed with me initially and sent me the material on what the state would be looking for in terms of a curriculum instructional design. And although what we created wasn’t exactly in line with what they were expecting, I could prove by showing The Evergreen State College curriculum [unintelligible 00:54:24.11] that although it wasn’t identical, it was sort of in the same ballpark. And when Mike called me over, he actually liked what we were doing .
LN: Yeah, he did.
GL: He really did.
CB: Okay. So you got some… There was some sort of support or at least you found yourself in a relatively decent situation, relative to what you’re attempting to do in terms of the receptiveness of the people you’re working with in the authorizing board.
GL: Correct. But only because we included all of the history, all of the math, with the ideal also of leaving it open in the curriculum instructional design to include Greek and Latin studies and for the traditional astrology. And so all of that was built into that curriculum instructional design. Now the specific coursework, that was not what my job was, my job on the board was to create the curriculum instructional design and get it through the state and approved by the state. When it comes to the actual curriculum content of any given program, then that curriculum has to be done by the faculty. But they have to do it within the framework of the curriculum instructional design that was previously approved by the state. And so that’s what I did, was create the architecture for it, move it through the state and get it approved. We hired the faculty and then they [inaudible 1.33] specifics within the individual classes that would be taught [inaudible 1.39]
CB: Okay, got it. Okay, so moving on, so Kepler it seems like became kind of like a community effort at this point, although it sounded like maybe there was some pushback and some skepticism from the broader community. On the one hand, with skepticism over the plausibility of creating an actual recognized college, but also on some level of resistance to the idea of what would essentially be community-wide certification, which was the kind of the end game on some level of Kepler. Although Maggie said that many people who were initially skeptical later came around to the idea, but what was you guys’ perception of that in terms of pushback or skepticism to the program initially?
LN: You’re right, there were many different elements of it. There were folks like, and I don’t know if you want to put his name in there, Antero Alli, who’s a very fine astrologer, but would be considered very radical in his approach. And he was very anti establishment and accreditation and overseeing and having standards. Instead it would lose the… Astrology would lose its radical sort of individualism. And then there were those that were like, “Well, if you do Kepler College, what will it mean for my school? Will it put my school out of business?” Then there were those who were wondering who the heck this group of astrologers in Seattle were and who we thought we were to decide to do a college, and what did we know about that anyway. So there was a lot of pushback from a lot of different areas. And when mom and I went to UAC in ’92 in Washington, DC, there was a tremendous amount of pushback from the establishment in trying to basically shut mom down wherever they could. And each year, ’92 ’95, ’98, so ’92 in Washington DC, ’95 in Monterey, ’98 in Atlanta, each of those times where mom is trying to push Kepler forward or get a booth for capital or find something for Kepler, a lot of those folks were basically not interested in letting mom have a voice. And I think it was the, I can’t remember exactly which conference it was, ’92, ’95 or ’98, where there was a free speech room and mom put her name on the list, and they weren’t going to let her speak about Kepler. And eventually somebody behind the scenes that was a friend of mom’s convinced others that to give mom a chance to speak about Kepler. And so, yeah, there was definite resistance from a number of different quarters for a number of different reasons.
GL: And I think most of that was complete misunderstanding of what Kepler college mission was. The reality is that Kepler was never set up within its academic structure to be in it, to create anything like a certification process. One thing that the state made very clear that we could not issue certificates of any kind of skill that was not something that they would approve. But it had to be strictly academic, nothing vocational about it, that if it became a bachelor’s degree, then we could not aim for any kind of professional certification. But it was really difficult to get people to understand that. That we were not in competition with other schools of astrology, that we were not in competition with NCGR or AFA in terms of their certification process. We were not in competition with any other sort of astrological educational organization out there.
CB: How much of that though was by necessity in terms of going through the necessary hoops in order to get the authorization from the state to issue degrees versus how much of it was still wanting to set some sort of standard like that would still act as a practical standard or raise the bar within–
GL: I had.. Go ahead, I’m sorry.
CB: No, I mean, that was it. How much of that was just by necessity? Where it couldn’t be that because you were trying to give academic degrees, but in reality, you still wanted some element of that to be the part of the program really.
GL: I had to dissuade the board, the Kepler College board, from going down that path, and saying, “Look, if you want a college and you want it to offer a bachelor’s and master’s degrees, you have to abandon this idea that you are going to create a certification process of any kind or that you are going to be setting up any kind of professional organization that’s going to set standards. That is not the job of a college, that’s not the job of academia.” So I had to really push back on that with them initially. And once everybody on the board understood that, then it became perfectly clear. It was like the light bulb went on, and said, “Oh, we don’t have to do it. We can leave certification to NCGR and AFA. Students can go through Kepler College, get their bachelor’s degree. And then if they want to, they can sit for the exams with the AFA or NCGR.” And in that sense, I wanted to let those organizations know, and let UAC know that we were going to be cooperating with them, that we were not in competition, and this was really something quite academic in nature. The board, the Kepler board, and Maggie in particular, she got that right away once I explained it to her. She understood it completely. And I think everybody else did too, and it made perfect sense. In that sense then, like Joanne Wickenburg and I and Maggie and [inaudible 8.15] would go out to the different conferences and just speak about Kepler. Then in a way that would put us in an academic light and not a vocational one and not [inaudible 8.29] what they were doing in their schools. And a student from their school could do their certification process and become a professionally certified as an astrologer. But what they would get from Kepler would be something [inaudible 8.42]
LN: Yeah, but even once that became sort of communicated, we got pushback from those who had an academic training. [unintelligible 8.55]
GL: Right, they didn’t see us, but at the time I don’t think anyone… I mean, I know my name was out there, people knew who I was, but I don’t think they knew my background and they didn’t seem to understand that I was the one who had sort of created the architecture for the curriculum in the school and that I knew what I was doing. The only people who really understood me on that level were Louise and Bruno Huber from Switzerland. And they invited me in 1995, I think it was ’95 at the World Congress in Lucerne, Switzerland, and I went and did presentation on Kepler. Because they had their school in Switzerland which was a huge success. And they wanted to see what we were proposing. So I went to Lucerne and presented the curriculum and instructional design to the Huber’s, and they were completely excited about it. They weren’t necessarily academically-oriented in their own school, it was really much more of a training center for astrology, and that’s in their way of doing things, in their little system that the Huber’s had. But even they understood what it was we were trying to do, and it made no sense to me that other American astrologers didn’t seem to grasp it.
CB: And how much of that was simply you having to convince the board and the people involved in Kepler that it just wasn’t possible and it wasn’t plausible to be able to give like accredited college degrees in the practice of astrology? I mean, was that the main point?
GL: Well, yes, once I explained it to them, then they understood it, and they still wanted to be involved, they still wanted to create it, and they actually got more excited. Maggie got more excited when she really understood what that meant.
CB: Okay. So moving on, it seems like eventually one of the biggest recurring problems was money and that a lot of early expenses came out of Maggie’s pocket but also there were, and she used her mailing list in order to raise money through donations, but there was other fundraising and other donation efforts that were undertaken by different people at different points throughout the nineties, right?
LN: Yes, yeah. I did all the paperwork for the non profit, the 501(c)(3). I did all filing on that. I can’t remember exactly when we got that done, but it was a lot of paperwork with the federal government and IRS filing for that. Once we had that, then we were sending out information and asking for donations and trying to come up with ideas for eventually the founders circle. And yeah, money was always a big problem, and it derailed a lot. I mean, certainly if we’d had the funding from the very beginning, a lot of things may have been different. But money was never going to change the fact state. And we’ve talked about this before Chris money was never going to change the fact that the state put in a law, the state legislature enacted a law that required all authorized degree programs to become accredited in five years.
CB: Sure, let’s save that because that’ll be the end of our story in terms of this. Because we’re at the opening point. We get to 2000 basically, and somehow despite all the odds, somehow you guys pull this off. And I still have no idea how, but there was a little bit of luck involved in that, right? In 2000?
LN: Yes. [crosstalk] Go ahead.
GL: You could probably call it luck. But the reality is that I and Joanne… I think it was Joanne and I, and then later Enid Newberg got involved with negotiating with the state. She had an academic background in systems, so she knew the language. Joanne came along with me to those meetings with Mike Ball in Olympia. And we more or less convinced him that this was a workable thing. And the reality is that we did have some money, enough money for the state to actually approve the initial opening, but it was a probationary status.
CB: Okay. So in 2000, you’re able to get the state to authorize the school to issue bachelor’s degrees in whatever you’re teaching, which is loosely astrological studies essentially. And Kepler opens its doors and has its first class begins July 20th of 2000. So this was a big deal, there was a decent-sized initial class, and there’s also even look looking back and even now, there’s a lot of media coverage and outrage, it seemed like from various quarters that Kepler got authorized and was opened. And there was both academics and skeptics who you can still find articles out there that were sort of criticizing the state for allowing it it seems like, right?
GL: Yeah, absolutely. Both from academia and the religious community, we got it from both sides.
CB: All right. And the–
LN: And they got their knickers in it for sure.
CB: Yeah. I mean, you can still find some articles, and they’re very, very strongly worded, just mixture of like outrage and shock and disgust. And on some level, I mean, I thought I had heard that there was somebody in the authorizing board that was sort of like on their way out and that was one of their last things that they did in 2000, was authorize Kepler. Is that true?
GL: Well, Mike Ball, he got a lot of flack from the state over this.
LN: Well, it was a woman, it was a woman before him who was actually the head of the headboard, and she authorizes it on her way out. And Mike who had been involved in it, as you say, he becomes the head of the headboard. And luckily enough in that way, he was already on board with what Kepler was doing. He was familiar with the curriculum.
GL: We never had any conversations with that original woman.
LN: I thought Joanne… I was pretty sure Joanne did because it was through her that I learned about this. She was telling me about it years ago, I just remember it.
GL: Well, we had not negotiations, it was simply info coming from her. And then when we sent the packet in everything that we needed for them to review the curriculum, instructional design, she left it sitting on the desk and she didn’t do anything with it and walked away and she never came back, and then Mike Ball had to come in. But luckily, he knew what we were about. And so Joanne and I ended up having to negotiate with Mike Ball. We never did negotiate with that original woman, we only talked to her for information reasons, to get what to do and get the paperwork and all that sort of thing.
LN: I didn’t think the was an understanding of that, but that’s okay. I mean, you were there.
CB: Okay. So Kepler opens, you guys get it authorized. And at this point, Maggie steps back from organizing the school for the most part once it’s off and running because that was one of the things that she said that she always tried to repeat to people and to emphasize to people that this was not supposed to be just her school or it was not supposed to be this school that was just organized by this small group of Northwest astrologers, and that her intention with creating it wasn’t to create a career to be a teacher because she knew that she wasn’t qualified, but she instead just wanted to get it going because she believed in like the purpose or the underlying reason why they were doing it. Is that right? Did she kind of step back in terms of day-to-day organizing at that point?
LN: Yes, definitely. Absolutely. She steps back from being president of the board and Joanne Wickenburg stepped forward to be the president of the board. And Joanne worked. She really did just her work in terms of most of the funding that actually got Kepler really off the ground to actually have its first year.
GL: Joanne and I went to Chicago to the AFA convention in Chicago, I don’t remember anymore what year, to negotiate with the AFA board to see if they would put any money into Kepler. And so we did a whole presentation to the AFA and explained to them that this was in their best interest that they supported us, then we would actually encourage our students to go to the AFA, and we didn’t say also, we were encouraging them to go to NCGR to sit certification exam. But in the end, no matter what we said to the AFA, they just were not interested, they wouldn’t put a dime into it. And they had so much money that they could have if they wanted to.
CB: But you guys did have, it seemed like there were some decent donations from other astrologers like Kelly Fox, who had just made a bunch of money off of the.com not bubble, but the explosion in selling astrology.com that she ended up being one of the people in the Founders’ Circle, and there were other people that it seemed like put a lot of money in it. Maybe not relative to a university budget or something like that, but in terms of the astrological community, it seems like there’s a lot of people that did pour a lot of time and money into it, right?
GL: Yes, there were many who backed us and many who put money into it. If they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have been able to offer the degrees for the 10 years that we did.
CB: Right, because there’s just huge, I’m sure, operational expenses and paying for faculty and paying for, having accountants and other people working in the office in order to run things and everything else. So Maggie steps back at that point, I know she was working, it seems like at the bookstore. So earlier in the nineties, she had handed over half of the bookstore to her son, Gregory Nalbandian, and he was the one running the bookstore full-time since like the mid-nineties, right?
LN: That would have been about… We moved to the [unintelligible 21.22] in ’89, he took over managing the bookstore probably in there somewhere, probably the early nineties. And so then, yeah, it was somewhere in the early to mid nineties that he gets half the bookstore and I get half of NORWAC.
CB: Right. So he’s running the bookstore, you’re running NORWAC and also going on to run other bigger conferences like UAC in 2002, which is just hilarious to me, because you guys are really like a power family in the astrological community. Where it’s like you have Gregory running this amazing bookstore that when I saw it for the first time in 2004, I was just blown away at how many astrology books you guys had and how many titles you guys had in a single actual location. And then you’re running these big national conferences, and then Maggie is spearheading Kepler during the course of the 1990s. So it’s like all three of you in your family are really doing major roles in the astrological community. And so Maggie sort of goes back to working on the bookstore at this point by the mid 2000s or what was she doing at that time?
LN: Well, she was always doing the bookstore even while trying to get Kepler going. At some point in there, she stopped teaching nearly as much and stopped doing as many readings and really focuses on the bookstore. Just quite frankly, she was also as gracious and loving and big hearted as she always is and was, she was helping me build my practice. And so I was the one that was taking over the classes and teaching as many as I could, frankly, to help survive as the breadwinner of my family. So she gave me all of that and, it was really just who she is and who she was. And so she focused on the bookstore with Greg and focused on NORWAC with me. And so that’s what she did.
CB: Okay. And so Kepler launched, it graduated several classes of students and had about a 10-year run in giving out state-authorized degrees, bachelor’s and master’s and associate’s degrees, and there was an actual program despite how unlikely it might’ve seemed even early on, especially I’m sure to you Gary, came to fruition and all of that work that Maggie put into it and that you put into it and Gary that you put into it in designing the curriculum actually came about for that period of time. And I’m sure there must have been something about that that was very fulfilling to all of you that were involved in it, right?
GL: Well, we were blown away that it actually–
LN: That it actually happened. I mean, as nutty as we all worked and think we could get it done, there was another part in my brain that was like, “Really? You’re going to do this?”
GL: Yeah, I know. And yet I stayed with it for 12 years through that whole time. And yes, it really was spearheaded by Maggie. But as you said, there came a point when Maggie actually said at a board meeting, “I am over my head. I have no idea now what’s happening. And so I’m really going to have to step back, and you guys are going to have to take the ball and run with this because when it comes to this academic stuff, I have no idea.”
LN: She knew her limits, she was smart that way. And she was really smart that way, she knew what she could do and what she couldn’t. She knew what her strengths were, and I stayed on the board. I can’t remember when… We have this conversation in Michigan, whenever Rob came on board is when I left. I mean, I left for… There was a period of time where I was gone from the board and then came back, and that was right around 2000. Well, that’s the other thing. See, that’s the other thing, mom probably stepped back around that time too because dad was ill. Dad was ill from ’99 through and he died in 2001. And I remember stepping back from a lot of things around that time, and then I was coordinating UAC because dad really wanted me to do it. And eventually, I came back to the board and stuck with the board until Rob Hand took over as president and the other faculty members came on the board.
CB: It was probably 2007, 2008, maybe give or take.
LN: Yes. Yeah. So I stayed on it a long time.
GL: And I stayed from ’91 until 2003. I was having a Jupiter return and I decided it was time to go.
CB: Yeah, 12 years is a pretty good… You put in a lot of work during that time?
GL: Exactly. Jupiter was back to where it was in ’91, and the school was up and running, their curriculum design and instructional designs were working, the faculty was in place, and they were making it happen, and we had students, and I thought I’d done my job. I really need to move on and do other things.
CB: And so one of the sort of last points as we get towards the end of this just in my interview with her in 2005, is Maggie just really emphasized… One of the points she wanted to get across from the main points was just that there was no one person that made it happen, but it really was a group effort, and there was many different people who had specific skills that really came in handy at different points in the process. And then finally, she also said that even as early as 1991, that Kepler would be the first college but it would not be the last, and that any other school that started would be supported or that Kepler was supposed to be sort of like the prototype but not necessarily the end. And I thought that was really interesting even back then in 2005.
GL: I think that’s right. We’ve had conversations like that. Because once we had all of everything in place and once we had our model for this combined online and then week-long symposium every quarter, whatever it was at that time, it was so exciting. And it was such an interesting way to go to college. It was such an interesting way to learn astrology and everything about it in this program called astrological studies. And so Maggie mentioned of the fact that it doesn’t matter anymore, it’s all here. If we don’t make it because of finances or if we don’t make it because the state turns us down or whatever, it’s all in place. Anyone can take this and it’s public domain, and they can try to recreate it in their own way in another place. And it made perfect sense to me when Maggie said that.
LN: Yeah. She also said even if one way or the other Kepler makes it or does it, but even if it makes it, then it’s a prototype for other colleges or other people to start something in their own state, and we’ll have something to point to and say, “See, it is approved in this state. They proved it this way.” It becomes a model to replicate. And that was, I think, exciting for her as well, she liked that pioneering element. And she was absolutely right, it wasn’t just one person. She may have brought everybody together and sort of acted like the spark plug, but it took everybody in their own parts and their own ways to make this happen. And as–
GL: The initial faculty that we brought on board, they were so amazing. And without their input in creating the curriculum for the courses they taught, the actual content of the courses they taught, and when they did it within the framework of the curriculum instructional design, those first two years were phenomenal. I remember going to that first symposium, and I was just… It was so intense, it was so beautiful, it was so great the way the faculty interacted with the students and what the students got out of that symposium. It was really heavy stuff. It was amazing.
CB: Yeah. I mean, you really… In those first few years of Kepler, you had this astrological dream team together that were all people that had different specialties, but we’re all sort of at the top of their respective fields within the astrological community. And they just put together this amazing programs that it all seemed to fall into place, everyone seemed to be in the right place at the right time. And that’s what I talked about in the previous episode with Demetra was just her getting her master’s degree in classics and sort of finishing that at the perfect time in the spring of 2000 so that she could be a part of that when the first class started in July, but then being able to fill in sort of the broad outlines of the framework that you guys had created, and especially that you had authored Gary. Yeah, that’s pretty, pretty special. So the school went on for about 10 years eventually. So now we can circle back around to the point you were bringing up earlier Laura, where eventually the school was sort of authorized on a provisional basis, but eventually the state changed the law or something in order to specifically kind of get rid of Kepler in some sense, right?
LN: Right. It was my understanding that the actual accreditation was something that we would seek, but it was more open-ended. There wasn’t a hyper-specific timeline put on Kepler, and the authorized programs could continue to go on. Though I think the intention was always accreditation. The board had the intention toward that. But as we moved on, and I was on the board, it became increasingly clear, particularly when a more right leaning, more conservative leaning legislature put in a law specifically targeting Kepler, but it was meant for everyone. They couldn’t do it just to get Kepler, but they had to do it broad enough and cast the net so that Kepler would be caught in it. And that was require all authorized programs to achieve accreditation within a five-year window.
CB: And that’s because the sticking point was that even though you guys got the state to authorize Kepler to grant degrees in the year 2000, in order to have the degree be fully recognized by different colleges, you needed to get regional accreditation from a regional accrediting board. And that was something that you guys weren’t ever able to get through. That was like the final stumbling block that you couldn’t pass.
GL: For one, you had to have a minimum of a million dollars behind you in reserve in order to get that accreditation. Two, it’s crazy. The law that the legislature passed is insane because very, very few even state schools get their accreditation within a five-year period. New state schools, it takes them sometimes five to seven years to get accreditation. And any private school definitely always took longer than five years to get accreditation. Because you have to go through an accreditation review, and they have to give you time in order to get your school going and get the students involved and get the curriculum off the ground and make adjustments to that curriculum because you had to report to the state heck every year on what was happening with both finance, student dropout rates, all that data had to be reported. It’s impossible to get accreditation within a five-year period.
LN: Yeah, and Mike kept saying, “As long as you guys are trying,” and this was when I was on the board and actually when I was the short stint as the president of the, chairman of the board, he said, “Look, I know you’re trying, I know you’re putting a lot of effort into this. So we’re just going to keep counting that.” And so they actually graced us more time than the law required, but it just became very, very clear that it wasn’t going to happen. There were just too… I mean, even if we had a million dollars, the necessary elements to have the program reviewed by the region and who was going to have any kind of expertise in any kind of way to do that, these were all things that were likely to fall through anyway. So yeah, that was…
GL: Okay. Yes, and it became clear… And I know even before I left the board in 2003, Mike Ball was very concerned about the fact that other astrological organizations in the country wouldn’t back us. Because that is being an accreditation, that has to be part of it, that your peers actually have to approve of who you are and whether that’s financial or in any other way. And Mike Ball was very concerned that we couldn’t get any financial backing from AFA or…
CB: Well, and it seems like the final sticking point though is ultimately that if you guys had achieved regional accreditation, that would mean that credits from Kepler College, for a student that goes to Kepler College, their credits would be transferable to any other college in the country. Like you could transfer Kepler credits from Kepler to Harvard or to Yale or something like that. And ultimately, there’s something about that that having gone through the program seemed implausible at the end that you guys could have achieved accreditation, because it was ultimately teaching courses on astrology as if it was a valid phenomenon. And that’s something that seems implausible to have ultimately gotten through. And it was almost surprising how far you guys got with the program as it was, but that ultimately getting national accreditation where the Kepler credits would be transferable to any college in the country was the final stopping point. I mean, is that true? Do you feel like that’s true or is that not a good interpretation of it?
GL: I don’t know if that’s actually true. What about you, Laura?
CB: I mean, in what way? Or, I mean, since you designed it and you were the original one that was kind of skeptical about how they were first framing it, in what way do you feel like that’s not true or in what way do you feel like it could have actually worked?
GL: Yeah. If they had actually stuck to the original curriculum instructional design and if they had actually stuck to the original headboard…
LN: Yeah, well, that’s a whole another story.
GL: Right, if they had stuck to that, not all credits would have been able to be transferred, but that’s true from any college to college. But certainly the credits in history and intellectual history and perhaps even some of the mathematics and the writing that students were doing, a lot of that writing was initially was getting students to actually write academically, was a little tough, once that happened and I know I saw some of the work that was being done by students, a lot of it was really good college-level writing. So a lot of those credits could have transferred.
CB: Sure. I guess it’s just that it’s like that wasn’t the majority of the program, and definitely the majority of the students because they were coming from the astrological community into this program, did have the intention to learn astrology. And a lot of us were interested in doing it in academic context and also getting the academic and the historical and philosophical and writing skills. But that ultimately the sticking point was that it was still a school for astrology, where people were learning how to practice the subject. And that maybe was a stumbling block when it came to having the government approve those.
GL: Right, Chris, that became a stumbling block. I was very clear in the very beginning that that couldn’t happen, that the school would have to be a school of astrological studies that was interdisciplinary with philosophy and history and writing and intellectual history and all of that stuff. And that it couldn’t be about training students to actually practice astrology.
LN: Well, they were never going to let us do that anyway even if we had the intention. Mike Ball was very clear about that. They were never going to let that happen. That’s why they were able to approve as it stood. Because Kepler wasn’t in its design, wasn’t going to try to teach people to be astrologists. It’s just the theory or philosophy and the history of it. Mike Ball was very clear with me on the phone that it was never going to happen, that we were going to be able to do astrology labs, where students came in and worked on charts. Like anybody in any other college would go into a lab setting and do actual hands-on work to whatever their degree was. He was very clear when I asked him what’s the difference between the University of Washington and if I were an accountant, a CPA student getting my CPA or name any program, and I was going into the lab to do practicum and practical work. And he said, “Well, the difference is that subject matter. Because it’s astrological, you don’t get to do it.”
GL: And that was from the very, very first time we talked at the headquarter. That was rule number one, that we weren’t allowed to do that. And thus the curriculum instructional design was the way it was. Now I know it shifted and changed. And I think that in large part was sort of the beginning of the end, when they moved in that direction to actually teaching you how to do astrology, where I think students should have been doing that and the students should have been sort of deconstructing the current scientific way of thinking and getting inside a pre-Newtonian sort of way of looking at the world, but you couldn’t have the instructors actually teaching students how to do that.
CB: Sure. But anyways, the end result was for that 10 years it had this really interesting and beautiful balance, when in all reality, it was both. You had a purely academic sort of treatment of astrology, but then you also had the practical component as well. And they were relatively well balanced, at least during the time that I was there towards the very middle from 2003 through 2007 or 2008 or so. And then things did shift at some point and there started being more pressure about removing the practical content. And so there were attempts to just treat the astrology as an academic thing and not necessarily teach the techniques as much, but by then it seemed like it was too late and the authorization was soon lost just a few years later. But bringing things back around sort of to our main topic, so Maggie had those three sort of main things that it seems like she really influenced the community through, through the bookstore and the various things that that influenced locally, through NORWAC and through organizing that conference and that being the starting point for many young speakers, I know you guys always brought in and tried to give a very good sort of mixed sort of speaker list, and then finally through starting Kepler and sort of spearheading that, but then kind of letting it go and turning into its own thing at a certain point. So in that, I mean, it seems like she had a pretty major impact on the astrological community.
LN: Oh, I would agree. I think she definitely had the impact in just bringing directly as you say, directly with the bookstore, directly with NORWAC, those were hers, and then the influence she had in bringing everybody together for Kepler. She would never want to take more credit than she had due for Kepler. And her vision certainly and her energy to bring it together was what she would want to be remembered for. And I know that my mother would want those who were instrumental in making it happen such as Gary and Joanne, who sort of may not have received the recognition certainly that you’ve deserved, and I hope that gets rectified and is being rectified even as I speak, because in many ways a lot of us got our names swept under the carpet. And this doesn’t have to go on on the podcast. And it was nice to have that reclaimed in 2012, I just don’t think everybody was nearly recognized for the efforts that they put up. Certainly mom got hers, and I was really thrilled because she was beginning to really not really know what was going on in the world, so it was nice to have it happen while she could have that sense.
CB: Sure. So we had the final Kepler College graduation in 2012, in May of 2012 at UAC, the final class of people graduated, and we were able to recognize her. And it was really great that she was in the audience at that time. All right. All right. Well, I think that brings us towards the end here. So yeah, so Maggie passed away just last year in June. Right, Laura?
LN: June 29th, 2015 at probably about 4:20 in the morning, 4:15, 4:20. And there was a flash of lightning and a crush of thunder and my phone rang with my sister calling to say that mom had passed. She went out on a flash, man.
CB: Right. And you guys had a memorial service for her, like a remembrance service not too long after that or later in the year, right?
LN: We put it off because my niece was getting married and there were other things happening. So I’d already had plans to travel to Southeast Asia to lecture with Alan. And so we did it when we came back in September of last year. And then this year at NORWAC, Friday night of the conference, we will do a tribute to mom.
CB: Okay, excellent. So this’ll be the first NORWAC since she passed away. So you guys will be remembering her at the conference next month in Seattle?
LN: Yes, definitely.
CB: Excellent. Okay, great. Well, yeah, I think we were able to go over a lot of the history, and I hope we were able to… Obviously there’s so many people that were involved that it’ll still take a long time of collecting stories like these before everybody’s sort of contributions are recognized, but I hope that we were able to do a decent bit of that here by going over the history and both highlighting Maggie’s role in initiating many of these things, but also recognizing the people that she worked with in order to bring some of it about.
LN: Absolutely. I’m just so grateful for having Gary and Gary being here, because there was just a lot of stuff that happened in the early days I was just not even connected to, and you were friends with mom, and you guys interacted as colleagues and friends and so it was great to have your voice added to this.
GL: Oh, I’m glad you guys asked me to come and do this because I mean, I met Maggie in 1975, and we’d been friends from the moment we met. And everything that she did, she changed astrology in the United States. She absolutely flipped things around in a way that in one way or another, she made a huge impact on the astrological community in this country. And there’s no getting around that. She was a mover and a shaker and she made things happen.
LN: Yeah. Thanks Chris for doing this.
CB: Yeah, thank you. This was awesome. I think that’s a great note to end on, so thank you both for joining me today.
GL: Thank you, Chris.
LN: All right, take care.
CB: All right. Thanks everyone for listening, and we’ll see you next time.