The years 1975 to 1977 were years of major changes in my life. It seemed like I was always struggling to find work and I went from one minimum wage job to another. In 1975 I got a job at what they used to call a “five and dime.” I swept floors and moved merchandise around at the Ben Franklin store in the Winrock shopping center.
While not a glamorous endeavor, it paid just enough for me to eke out a subsistence. It was 8 hours a day of nothing but manual labor. The big payoff from that job was obviously not the money, but that I dropped every ounce of extra weight that I had carried around with me for as far back as I could remember. For the first (and probably last) time in my life, I was skinny. Really skinny. This was a milestone for me, and I consider it the beginning of some of the best years of my life. Alpha represents a major turning point in my life and the weight loss was one reason for that.
Sometime in late 1975 or early 1976, I was watching Star Trek reruns on our local TV and saw an ad about a new club (I think they referred to themselves “officially” as a “group” rather than a “club”) that was starting up. Carol, the girl I would eventually marry, was in the group from the very beginning.
She told me that when the TV ad ran they probably had not decided on a name yet. In an early Journal article on the club, Mary Beth Pringle, the club secretary at the time said the same things about the name. But the club would soon be called Alpha Centura. And yes, that name is correct; it is “Centura,” not “Centauri” as you might think (and as it is often misspelled in articles about the club). Alpha Centura is still in existence today, although it promotes itself as a general interest sci-fi group now. Originally, however, it started out as a Star Trek-centric “group.” I loved Star Trek (I still do), and of course I had to go check this new club out.
I don’t know if I was there for the very first general meeting or not, but I don’t think they had held more than 1 or 2 meetings before I started attending. And there were a lot of people who were interested in this new club that was focused on our favorite TV show. Carol said they had a huge turnout for the first meeting that they were not expecting (260 people according to an article in the Monday, January 19, 1976 edition of UNM’s Daily Lobo paper).
The first meetings were held the second Saturday of every month in the El Matador Room of the Holiday Inn East on Central near the I-25 exit. Carol said that proved to be too expensive for the group to keep using, so they moved to the gym at Tomasita Elementary school and eventually wound up meeting regularly at the Albuquerque Garden Center in Los Altos Park. The garden center is the facility I most remember being in.
Back then the only way to see an episode of Star Trek was if and when a local TV station chose to run it as a rerun in syndication. You couldn’t just go buy a Star Trek videotape or DVD, and you couldn’t stream shows from the web anytime you wanted to. To be able to have a meeting once a month with a lot of other people who had the same interest in Star Trek that you did was irresistible.
I don’t remember a lot of details about the first meeting I was at, but I do remember it was the most fun I think I’d ever had. In the mid-70s you could not buy ready-made Star Trek props and costumes, you had to make all that by hand. And there were plenty of fan-made props and uniforms on display every month at the meetings. Many people became quite good at creating these things themselves. Some fan-produced items were as good as what were used on the show, and sometimes even better (as in the case of props like phasers and tricorders).
Oh yes, in addition to gainful employment, I was also searching for gainful companionship. What better place to find a steady girlfriend than at one of these Star Trek meetings? I remember seeing this one cute girl in particular at that first meeting I attended, and I knew she was the one I wanted to ask out. As it turned out, she would not only become my steady girlfriend, she later became my fiancé and then wife, and we are still together to this very day. But it wouldn’t be until the next meeting that I would talk to her for the first time. Asking her out at that next meeting was all I could talk about at work in the intervening weeks!
Before Alpha came along, I had been interested in photography and taking and developing my own pictures for quite a while. I had a Canon FT 35mm camera and had taken a lot of photos with it. I also had a full black and white darkroom setup to process the photos. I usually shot b/w because color was too expensive for me, and having full control over the print process was a big plus. But cost is the main reason why I took a lot more b/w Alpha photos than color.
One of the things the fans did back then was to copy photos of the Star Trek cast and resell them to eager fans. Yes, I know that would be a big problem today, but remember, back in 1976, photos like that were almost impossible to find and Paramount had little interest in the series then and was ignoring it. So, fandom came to the rescue. Since I had a camera, I was able to copy Star Trek cast photos and make prints for other fans.
By the time the second meeting came around, I had made some prints of the Star Trek cast to sell at a table that was set up at the meeting. That’s when “that girl” I had noticed at the previous meeting came up to the table to look at all the items displayed there. I was no longer interested in my prints. When a cute blonde girl in a bright red Lt. Uhura uniform is standing there in front of you, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else! I found out her name was Carol Keeney, and I got her phone number that night.
Carol remembers that too, but with a funny twist. She checked around to make sure I was old enough to go out with her. Being so thin at the time I guess I did look pretty young. But our ages matched up and everything was just fine.
Later that week I worked up the courage to call Carol and ask her out. She said she had a Tupperware party to go to that night. I was devastated! Thinking it was just an excuse to get rid of me, I said what about the next night? To my surprise she said OK. I hung up the phone and quickly realized I had no idea where she lived. So I had to work up the nerve to call her back again to find out where she lived. She still laughs about that.
In a nutshell, that is how I started with the Alpha Centura group, and how my life with Carol began.
The “Long Lost” Alpha Archives
I’d heard for years that the club had some historical scrapbook archives and that these passed through a number of hands where they finally wound up with Eleen Haas. According to Craig Chrissenger, the scrapbooks had been ruined by a pet cat or cats that Eleen had.
Well, turns out Eleen had passed the scrapbooks on and they are now with Mary Collins, the head of the current Alpha group. She was nice enough to dig one out for me to look at.
In it are quite a few 5×7 b/w prints that I’d made for the club back then. And on the back of the photos someone added some information on who was in the picture.
I always assumed these were where all the prints I was making for the club were going. I finally found out I was correct!Alpha Centura Star Trek Group: 1976—1977