The Astronomers

The Bethune Observers Group (BOG) in January 2009.  Left to right...Steve Foster, Thom Iwancio, Paul Webb, Gene Hunter, Frank Hinson, Hap Griffin, and Doug Lybrand.  Missing are John Hodge, Clive Lunn and Brian Peterson.



Gene Hunter -

MAC-Hunter property donator.  Gene Is a DBA for South State Bank in Columbia, SC.  His idea of a communal observing site was the catalyst for this project.

Gene has been interested in astronomy since he was 14 and bought his first telescope. He found Jupiter and Saturn and it seemed as though he had discovered them himself.  He was always in the library reading up on astronomy as a kid.

Gene is a native of SC and returned here permanently in 1999 to live on this remote site and build an observatory. He decided to share the site with others who do not have the privilege of living in dark skies. Gene also has property in Texas where he is building a second remote observing site and where he Vacations. That site is near Big Bend Terlingua, Texas.

Gene Lives on this property with his wife Christina. His daughter, Son in law and grandchildren live in an old plantation home on the property as well.

Click here to e-mail Gene

Hap Griffin (seen here with Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium, the History Channel's "The Universe" series, and PBS' NOVA Science Frontiers series) has been interested in astronomy his entire life.  When he was a toddler, his grandmother would sit on the front porch with him looking at the moon and stars.  In fact, his grandmother always said that his first spoken word was "moon".

Hap's primary interest is astronomical photography.  He has had photographs published in several books on DSLR imaging and has been a speaker at the Midwest Astro-Imaging Conference (MWAIC) in Chicago, the Northeast Astro-Imaging Conference (NEAIC) in New York, and the BobFest and Southern Star Astronomical Conferences in North Carolina.),Other hobbies and interests include dirt bikes and ATV's, high power rockets (with on-board video cameras and transmitters), ham radio, boating and fishing, and playing guitar.

Hap holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of South Carolina in Electrical Engineering and is a practicing registered Professional Engineer.  He retired as Vice-President for Engineering at the South Carolina Educational Television Network, where he was responsible for engineering planning and oversight for 11 TV and 8 radio stations, and a multi-channel digital satellite network. He is now back at the network doing consulting and project management.

Hap is married (Etna) and has two children, Courtney (29) and Collin (26). 

Hap owns a small business making specialized cables for use with Canon and Nikon Digital SLR cameras and modifying DSLR's for increased astronomical performance.  The details are at

Click here to e-mail Hap

Thom Iwancio was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and became yet another "displaced Yankee" when he relocated to South Carolina in the summer of '98. His interest in astronomy began a year or so before that while gazing at the dark West Virginia skies on a rock-climbing trip with some friends. It seems most of his climbing buddies worked at the Space Telescope Institute just outside of Baltimore. Shortly after relocating, he attended a star party with the Midlands Astronomy Club and promptly joined the club. Next was the purchase of an Orion 8" dob. The "midnight madness" didn't set in until he saw the MAC-Hunter site. He had stakes in the ground before leaving that first day.

Thom works as a systems engineer for a local plastic bottle manufacturer and enjoys SCUBA diving as well as playing the guitar (a passion of more than 25 years) when not at the observatory. He has four children who live in Pennsylvania, Tommy Jr, Tony, Mary and Michelle and lives with his wife Donna, in the small town of Elgin. Donna is also very much interested in astronomy and can usually be found at the observatory when Thom is there.

:John Hodge  became interested in observing the sky and in astronomy in third grade and has not stopped since.  He remembers seeing Comet Bennett in 1970, saw Skylab pass overhead trailing about five or six pieces the evening that it was launched, and feels lucky to have observed Jupiter during the days after Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacted the giant planet.  John enjoys observing and imaging deep sky objects and hopes to start an organized asteroid search soon.  In the early 70s he was a staff member at an astronomy camp, Camp Uraniborg (long defunct) which was located in the Mojave Desert and in the vicinity of Big Bear Lake, Ca.

John holds a BS Degree in Geology, MS in Marine Science/Geology, and a JD Degree. He is a registered professional geologist and practicing environmental attorney. He also pilots Boeing 757/767 aircraft for a major US Airline. He is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of South Carolina where he teaches a graduate level class in Environmental Regulations.

In addition to astronomy, John enjoys nature and the outdoors, various sports, and flies a 1946 antique aircraft.  He is married and has two children.
Paul Webb became interested in astronomy at the age of 12 when he looked through a classmate's 60MM refractor at Saturn.  From there it was his mother who encouraged him with his first scope, the classic Criterion RV-6 Dynascope she bought him in 1975. When he figured out how to polar align the RV-6, he thought he had discovered the secrets of the universe!

As time went on Paul moved to Shelby, N.C. in 1979, where shortly after the appearance of Halley's comet, he founded the Cleveland County Astronomical Society.  With their first meeting of 7 folks, he thought maybe he should forget about the whole idea.  Good thing he didn't.  The (CCAS) now has grown to twenty-five or so members and is affiliated with Gardner Webb University.  CCAS now hosts the annual BOBfest astronomical convention, usually held in January.  Paul is currently a member and past president of the Midlands Astronomy Club.

Paul's other interests include: travel, gardening and sports. He has been married to Sandy for 8 years. He has a daughter Katie age 20. (She observed Halley's comet with him in 1985 and will hopefully see it again).  Sandy has two children Chris age 30 and Suzie age 26. 

Doug Lybrand is a long time member of the Midlands Astronomy Club.  He has held every MAC office more than once and served as its President for several years.  He was instrumental in initiating the club's monthly observing sessions, the quarterly astrophoto contests, and social events like the cookouts and Christmas Party.  Doug enjoys visual astronomy and astrophotography, and has built his own telescope, an 8" f/6 equatorially mounted Newtonian, and Cookbook Camera CCD.  Along with several other club members, he has a collection of Halley's Comet pictures held at the Caroliniana Library.  He enjoys reading about astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, and space-flight.

Doug is an Asset/Liability Management Analyst within the Treasury
Department of AgFirst - Farm Credit Bank.  He holds two professional designations; Certified Cash Manager, CCM, and Chartered Financial Analyst, CFA.  He holds three degrees from the University of South Carolina; Masters of Business Administration - Finance, 1978; Bachelor of Science in Business Administration - Accounting, 1978; and Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Business Economics, 1976. 

Doug's other hobbies/interests include: Physical exercise, building and using computers, hunting and fishing, and fine arts.  He has been actively involved with Toastmasters International for about 7-years and has achieved the level of Competent Toastmaster.

Doug is married (Debra) and has one son.

Doug is shown here with his Dad, who is helping with his observatory construction.

Frank Hinson became interested in astronomy after his son, Josh wanted a telescope for Christmas. That was in 1990. Steve Foster, a friend for more than thirty years, helped him secure a telescope. Steve was already taking photos, and Frank wanted to do the same. They both joined the Midlands Astronomy Club in '92. With the help of the club (an Amateur Telescope Making class), Frank built a 12.5" f/5 reflector on a German Equatorial Mount.  Frank and Steve then teamed up and started taking astrophotos, several of which have been published in Astronomy magazine.
Frank works as a construction superintendent for a general contractor in the Greenville, SC area. He has two sons, Chad and Josh. He is rebuilding a 24' Raven sailboat, and hopes to learn to sail. He enjoys playing the guitar. He is also a member of Roper Mountain Astronomers.


Steve Foster
Brian Peterson
Clive Lunn