Amid a solar eclipse, a friendship shines through

Friends Andy Sajor, left, and Dennis Cassia, who bonded over their interest in astronomy, in photos from 2024 and 1970. The picture of this year's solar eclipse was taken by Cassia's wife, Kim.

Dennis Cassia, 72, who now lives in Monroe, and Andy Sajor were self-described astronomy nerds in high school growing up in New York. The duo even built their own aluminum domed observatory in the backyard of Cassia’s Westchester home, according to a story by Monica Sandreczki for NPR News.

The friends trekked 600 miles to Kinston, N.C., with their families to see their first solar eclipse in 1970, and they watched this year’s eclipse at Clinton Community College together during a weekend trip, when Cassia and his wife, Kim, visited Sajor at his home in Plattsburgh, N.Y., on Lake Champlain.

Though Cassia and Sajor kept in touch via texts and phone calls over the years, it was the first time they met in person in 47 years.

Cassia, who is a retired science teacher, said he saw six solar eclipses in his lifetime, including Cap-Chat, Canada in 1972, in the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, Africa, in 1973, on a cruise ship in the Caribbean in 1998, and on an Alaska Airlines flight over the Pacific Ocean in 2017.

Seeing the eclipse from the flight and the cruise ship were made possible by Cassia’s friend, Joe Rao.

“This was before solar eclipses became popular, so it wasn’t crowded, and the skies were crystal clear that day. It was beautiful. The first solar eclipse we saw was perfect.” — Dennis Cassia, on seeing an eclipse in 1970

“He’s a professional meteorologist and an amateur astronomer who writes articles for big time publications,” Cassia said. “He was in charge of that cruise and got us to a clear patch of sky.”

Cassia has been friends with Rao for 50 years and he and his family were at this year’s reunion in Plattsburgh.

During his career in teaching, Cassia became a volunteer firefighter, embarking on a 48-year-career in public safety. He is a member of the Connecticut State Firefighters Association Hall of Fame. His wife, Kim, is well known in town as Monroe’s director of Community and Social Services.

Sajor had worked for the power company as a lineman in Plattsburgh, before retiring and becoming an earth science teacher.

The biggest thrill

Dennis Cassia sets up his telescope to see the solar eclipse.

In the fall of 1969, Cassia and Sajor learned the moon was going to move in front of the sun for a total solar eclipse on the eastern seaboard the following spring. They mapped out the best location to see it and decided what equipment to bring.

In 1970, Cassia saw and photographed the solar eclipse on an open field on the campus of Lenoir Community College — with his friend by his side — after traveling 600 miles to Kinston, N.C. They went with their families, friends and two teachers.

“This was before solar eclipses became popular, so it wasn’t crowded, and the skies were crystal clear that day,” Cassia recalled. “It was beautiful. The first solar eclipse we saw was perfect.”

Sajor’s father interviewed people during the event, recording it all on a cassette recorder. Sajor has since digitized it, giving Cassia a copy. NPR used it in its report.

Cassia said the experience from 54 years ago was one of his biggest thrills, especially because his family was a part of it.

“It was really cool. I get to hear my mom’s voice again,” Cassia said of the recording. “She passed away a long time ago — and my little sister was there. I’ve got to thank Andy for digitizing it.”

Enjoying the moment

Kim Cassia relaxes in a chair while waiting to see the solar eclipse.

Cassia said the equipment he used this year was a lot different than what he brought to North Carolina 54 years ago, when he took photos through a six inch reflecting telescope and a telephoto lens on his camera.

“This time I brought a small telescope to look at the sun during the eclipse,” he said. “The only photos were from my camera and another telephoto lens. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time taking photos, because you’d miss the eclipse. I wanted to enjoy it with my friends and my wife instead of fooling around with equipment.”

“This was my third eclipse with Dennis,” Kim Cassia said of her husband. “Each one has had its own story. Believe it or not, this was the first land one I’ve seen. Our experience was breathtaking and it was amazing to share with friends — old and new.”

Dennis Cassia said it was a special moment having his friends, Sajor and Rao, and their grandkids with them to watch the eclipse together.

“We got lucky. The skies cleared up enough that we got to see it,” he said. “If it was cloudy, we still would have had a reunion, but it worked out perfectly this time.”

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