Posted by: COSI | September 25, 2008

Hurricane Ike, COSI’s Spectrum Tree, and Roy Shafer

The windstorm from Hurricane Ike’s remnants left pain and destruction in many ways—my home included. But I took the damage to our Science Spectrum sculpture at COSI even more personally.

Damaged Sprectrum TreeI check in every day with our late past president Roy Shafer through the “Spectrum Tree” as I enter and leave COSI. I’ll explain after I share a little about Roy.

Roy’s tenure as COSI President from 1983 to 1995 was a notable period of growth and stature for the organization. He was larger than life when I joined the science center field in 1987, the fabled passionate COSI leader who grew from a teen volunteer to CEO.

Under Roy’s leadership, COSI became widely known both for its innovative programs and exhibits (Camp-In, kidspace, COSI on Wheels, and traveling exhibits like Mission to Mars) and also for the extraordinary customer service that accompanied the experiences. As a result, Roy was regarded as an internationally respected science center leader sought after for public speaking, national and international museum board representation, and professional advice.

When I had the chance to interview at COSI for a VP position in 1990, I couldn’t skip the opportunity to get to know Roy better. I can still vividly remember the details of the 14 hour interview and the conversations before and after!

I ended up deciding to stay and help open the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh in 1991 as part of the management team, but Roy and I still became friends. Even though we were the same age, our friendship always had more of a mentor (him) / mentee (me) dynamic.

When Roy left COSI, he became an extraordinary “organizational coach” and assisted me for almost ten years as I worked on turnarounds at the Roberson Museum & Science Center and then the Buffalo Museum of Science. We grew even closer, sharing our pride in our daughters (3 for me, 2 for Roy) as much as science center philosophy.

During the summer of 2006, as I was being asked to consider the COSI CEO position as successor to Kathy Sullivan, I would talk about the possibility with Roy. We had a long chat about the decision right before I left for a July vacation. A few days into the vacation, I got a phone call informing me that Roy had died. His sudden death was devastating for everyone who was close to him, myself included. I still have trouble controlling my emotions when talking or writing about Roy, even now as I write this.

When I decided a few months later to accept the CEO opportunity at COSI, I knew that as one of my first gestures, I wanted to find some way to recognize Roy. It was suggested that we move the spectrum tree back out to the main COSI entrance. We were reminded that Roy had that sculpture commissioned with the support of The Limited, and I knew we had a fitting tribute.

1991 Science ParkWith the great work of our team and the generosity of many of Roy’s friends, we placed the Science Spectrum back in front of our guests as they enter COSI just as it had welcomed them at the 280 E. Broad location when originally dedicated in 1991.

We’re going to raise the money and get the striking work of art and science fixed again, and I’m going to continue to share my thoughts with Roy each day as I walk by the shimmering piece as I’ve done since the day we placed it there. The next time you come to COSI, I encourage you to take a few minutes to read the history of Roy at the base of the spectrum tree, from teenage volunteer to COSI CEO and noted science center leader. Enjoy the playful and engaging nature of the piece. It’s got the character that Roy helped the team build into all of COSI, a character that I’m trying to help the team sustain, keeping Roy in mind all the while.

Professional Photo of Spectrum Tree-Unique



  1. Hi David, I am sorry to hear that the tree was damaged. I will send you some good old american green fertilizer to help with the fix.


    PS I will be out of town for the next 6 months – keep up the good work, I will see you when I return.

  2. Thanks Tom! A little pruning and fertilizer and we’ll have the “spectrum tree” back to its full glory and worthy of being a tribute to Roy.

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