Astronomy professor Kaufmanis dies in Florida

Kārlis Kaufmanis, a retired astronomy professor whose “Star of Bethlehem” lecture was a Christmastime favorite of many, died June 21 in Clearwater, Fla., the University of Minnesota has announced. He was 93.

Born Feb. 21, 1910, in Rīga, Latvia, Kaufmanis was educated at the State Teachers Institute, Latvia, and the University of Latvia. After holding positions at the University of Latvia (1936-40), French Lyceum (1940-44) and Essingler Gymnasium, Germany (1945-48), he moved to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., as an associate professor in 1949.

Kaufmanis joined the University of Minnesota as a visiting lecturer in 1961 and became an associate professor in 1963. He held the rank of full professor from 1970 until his retirement in 1978. Kaufmanis taught the introductory astronomy course to more than 26,000 students during his years at the university.

Outside the classroom, Kaufmanis became known for his public lectures, especially the one in which he suggested that the biblical Star of Bethlehem was the result of three close pairings of Jupiter and Saturn that took place in 7 B.C. For many fans, going to the “Star of Bethlehem” lecture became a holiday tradition.

Kaufmanis published several textbooks dealing with astronomy, mathematics and cosmology. He was a member of the American Astronomical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Mathematical Association of America and the Royal Astronomical Society.

The University of Minnesota astronomy department honors Kaufmanis with its Kaufmanis Public Lecture Series, which brings well-known scientists to campus. Kaufmanis also received an All-University Award for his teaching.

His other honors include the Katie Award for best performance on Minnesota Educational Television; the Kaufmanis Scholarship, established by Gustavus Adolphus students; and the naming of Kaufmanis Way, a street in Eagan, Minn.

Kaufmanis is survived by his wife, Rita, of Clearwater, Fla., and nephew Andris Pulkis and family of Rīga, Latvia. A memorial service was held July 11 in Lakewood Cemetery chapel, 3600 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. In lieu of flowers, donations are preferred to the Astronomy Department, University of Minnesota, 116 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455, to help support the Kaufmanis Public Lecture Series; or to Christ Latvian Lutheran Church, in care of the church treasurer, Andris Sprūds, 3800 Pierce St. N.E., Minneapolis, MN 55421.

Kārlis Kaufmanis

Kārlis Kaufmanis is remembered as a popular astronomy professor. (Photo by Tom Foley, University of Minnesota)

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

3 thoughts on “Astronomy professor Kaufmanis dies in Florida

  1. I was one of his students in the 70s, he was a kind and sweet person, I managed two As. His teaching was fascinating, I was always on the edge of my chair, couldn’t wait to get to class.G OD bless you dr. We all Loved you and respected you unconditionally! I had to wait 3 semesters to get into his class, it was that popular!

  2. Mark Anderson
    Outstanding professor and person … he looked his best, acted his best, and performed at his best … 3 recollections
    1. His lecture hall classroom was always packed and he would stop his lecture to help someone find a seat
    2. A girl in the first seat in the second row on the right side of the hall was taking notes as he spoke … he stopped and asked her if she was in the orchestra concert the previous evening … she said yes she was … he said it was an excellent concert … 55,000 students attended the U of M
    3. As a first year science teacher in Hutchinson, Mn, I had the honor of introducing him to student body of the high school … he presented his Star of Bethlehem presentation to them … a new teacher usually does not get a chance for such a great honor of introducing such a great guest but the evening before, I had prayed for the opportunity to do so … it was granted to me
    God’s blessings upon any one who reads this remembrance

  3. What about his wife Wilamina from Latvia who taught Russian at Mankato state in Mankato Mn , about 1959- 1963

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