Since the 1940s, Alarico “Rico” Verticchio has been looking at the skies.
An amateur stargazer, he fell in love with the stars as a child. He would stop in at a local eyeglass store to buy lenses to build into his custom telescopes. He hosted “star parties” in the Bronx to show guests the moon and planets.
When he moved to the North Fork, meeting with the volunteers at the Custer Institute & Observatory in Southold was a natural fit. They were his people, the kind that listed the observatory’s latitude and longitude in directions.
But those days have since passed.
Mr. Verticchio, a mainstay of the North Fork stargazing scene, fell ill last fall and had to give up his frequent trips to Custer.
“I’m bedridden,” he told The Suffolk Times, his speech slowed by a stroke.
But while Mr. Verticchio can’t leave the house, he and his wife, Anna, found one way to help make sure others can still go stargazing: they donated his giant, twin-lensed telescope to the institute.
“He’s left this for future people to use and see through and look at the planets,” said Custer president William Bogardus. “This will be an enduring testament to him.”
Mr. Verticchio’s telescope — basically a pair of huge spyglasses built in 1997 — uses two 10-inch-wide refracting lenses to focus on stellar objects. He built a mounting system to hold the two lenses together and focus their views into a set of eyepieces.
“It makes one monster pair of binoculars,” Mr. Bogardus said. “It’s an impressive pair of telescopes.”
The telescope is best used for looking at planets and the moon, he said. It’s an even more comfortable viewing experience to use this telescope compared to the others at Custer because stargazers can look through both eyes.
The telescope has already been in use at Custer for years, Mr. Bogardus said. A small metal sign on the side of the telescope explains in elegant lettering that the device is “on loan.”
That loan was made permanent this spring.
“This is something he’s passing on for future generations,” Mr. Bogardus said.
To look through Mr. Verticchio’s refracting telescope, visit the Custer Institute & Observatory on Saturday nights beginning at dusk for their weekly stargazing.
Before he got sick, Mr. Verticchio was a member of the nonprofit’s board of directors and had volunteered at Custer for nearly 30 years. He was a constant sight at the observatory, coming in most Saturdays to help visitors.
Ms. Verticchio also served as secretary to the institute.
“We were very happy to donate it to Custer,” she said. “Custer is such a wonderful organization.”
Despite being unable to leave home, Mr. Verticchio’s place on the board had remained; the nonprofit had decided not to replace him mid-year out of respect.
His term officially ended Sunday. That same weekend, the board of directors installed a new plaque on his telescope, dedicating it to Mr. Verticchio.
The Verticchios said they’re just happy the telescope will still be used, even if Mr. Verticchio can’t be the one to use it.
“We want to share it,” Ms. Verticchio said. “At least it’s being used in a very productive way for people to enjoy the universe.”