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Ball State set to open state's largest planetarium

October 23, 2014

The new Charles W. Brown Planetarium not only projects scenes of the night sky, stars and planets, it takes you into space instead of just looking at it — and it's accurate.

It's also a movie theater with surround sound. Four shows will be presented during the grand opening on Nov. 8, including one narrated by Tim Allen chronicling teams competing for a $30 million prize by landing a robotic spacecraft on the moon for the first time in more than 40 years.

"We can leave the Earth, fly you through Saturn's rings and take you to the moon and back," Ron Kaitchuck, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy at Ball State University, told The Star Press before a dedication ceremony for the new $5 million facility.

It's the largest planetarium in the state, one of the largest in the Midwest and one of the 10 largest university-based planetariums in the country.

"Ball State is beginning to build a beautiful array of cultural and scientific opportunities that sets us apart ...," Ball State President Paul Ferguson said at the ceremony also attended by former Presidents Jo Ann Gora and John Worthen.

The planetarium stands between the new Rinard Orchid Greenhouse, the Glick Center for Glass, the Owsley Museum of Art, Sursa Performance Hall and Emens Auditorium.

Brown, who earned a degree in business administration from BSU in 1971, made his wealth in the fast-food business, building a chain of dozens of Taco Bells, KFCs and other franchises.

In 2013, Brown sold Indianapolis-based Southern Bells, which operated 76 regional fast-food restaurants, to San Francisco-based Apple American Group, the largest franchisee of Applebee's restaurants. Terms of the deal weren't announced, but Southern Bells meant nearly $100 million in annual revenue to Apple American.

He asked Gora to fly back to Muncie for the ceremony because she is the one who persuaded him to make the big donation that made the planetarium possible. "She's hard to say no to," Brown said.

"My name's on the building, but I guarantee you the heart and pulse of the facility is Ron Kaitchuck," Brown said. Kaitchuck is director of the planetarium.

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