Reaching For The Stars

Reaching For The Stars

My Heavens! For $40 You Can Be Part Of The Firmament

February 28, 1993|By Chris Wierzbik

If you’re looking for a star to help guide you through your mortal journey, the International Star Registry in Ingleside has one with your name on it. In fact, it has 18 million stars from which you can choose.

Since 1979 more than 400,000 stars have been “given” to people for special occasions. Even though you can’t wrap it up and take it home, having a star named after you is a unique gift.

Phyllis Mosele of Northfield recognized that uniqueness 12 years ago when she was looking for something different as a birthday gift for husband John. A friend mentioned hearing about a new Canadian star-registry company, and the whole idea sounded like entirely too much fun for Mosele to pass up.

What started out as a novelty gift idea for John turned into an international business in eight countries for Phyllis. Today she and a staff of 12 transact star business from their pleasant country office setting in Ingleside. They catalog the stars of the heavens and, for a price, name each one of them after a designated person. Outside the United States, the Star Registry has operations in Paris, London, Sydney, Hamburg, Tokyo, Prague and Kuala Lumpur.

Phyllis took on the U.S. operation of the company in 1980 because she could see tremendous marketing possibilities. Just imagine putting a multitude of stars on the shopping market. She started the U.S. operation as a franchise, obtaining materials and registry rights from Ivor Downie, who founded the Canadian registry. Daughter Elaine Stolpe, vice president of marketing, said startup costs were virtually nonexistent because the U.S. operation simply paid as needed for materials from the Canadian operation.

Mosele’s instincts turned out to be right on target. The new U.S. company took off instantly. Wally Phillips of WGN radio was one of the first to spotlight the company’s offbeat appeal. Rob Weller’s “A.M. Chicago” television show and The Reader weekly paper were also quick to pick up on the story.

As for husband John, who got that initial star gift: “I thought it was marvelous, so creative,” said the man whose star is in the Draco, or dragon, constellation. “I never did find out what Phyllis meant by that,” selecting a star from that particular constellation.

In 1981 Mosele (a mother of 12 ranging in age from 20 to 39), purchased sole ownership of International Star Registry after its founder, Downie, passed on to his own special place in the heavens. She opened an office in Northfield and built the business from there until the company moved to Ingleside last year, leaving rented space for ownership of its own office.

When Mom needs a little help, the family can be counted on to pitch in for packaging, data entry, shipping and phone work, especially when holiday orders pour in. Stolpe joined the staff full time as vice president of marketing in 1986.

Son Tad Mosele of Deerfield recalled that he was in high school during the company’s first Christmas season and that he took over the shipping duties for the fledgling operation. “We shipped some 300 to 400 star registrations that year, and I thought, `That’s great,’ ” he said. “But Mom kept telling all of us, `Just wait. This is just the beginning.’ And she was so right.”

Tad said he now understands that his mother had the foresight to see the company’s vast potential and possessed the people skills necessary to make the registry so successful. “I figure a woman who could raise such a large family and run such a big company, well, she can do anything,” he said. Tad still helps out on occasion.

Key staff members have several years of service and feel like part of the company’s extended family. Mary Ellen Motyka serves as office manager, Barbara Sanchez is in charge of computer operations and billing for corporate sales, and Jane Johnson-Nelson’s handiwork with the calligraphy pen has been put to good use on numerous gift certificates.

“Phyllis is a great boss,” said Sanchez, who has worked with the company for seven years. In all the years I’ve been here, she’s always been a warm and caring person. She’s built a friendly atmosphere for customers and the staff. Phyllis raised 12 children, and she understands you have a family, too. I wouldn’t drive 80 miles a day commuting from Chicago if it wasn’t such a congenial place.”

After 12 years of running the International Star Registry, Mosele has discovered there is a built-in bonus: The star business may well be recession-proof. So far she has found that economic swings haven’t been a big factor.

“Our sales volume,” Mosele noted, “hasn’t changed during the recession. Roughly one third of our business is reorders (people coming back for more), and we get a lot of customer referrals. People are so enthusiastic when they discover us, they want to tell everyone.”

The rate for a star is $40 each. Now we all know you can’t actually buy a star. And even if you could, it would be impossible to check out your new piece of real estate firsthand. But what you can do is name a flickering speck in the universe after someone special. Even corporations are getting into the act.

The business ethics here are pretty straightforward. To do an honest job, it requires you to seek out a multitude of stars, accurately pinpoint their galactic locations, help customers select stars in an appropriate constellation and retire the stars from further renaming after someone chooses them.

Stolpe said other companies have tried to sell the same service but failed. “What they did was open an office, take the money and close their doors,” she said, adding that the International Star Registry has a solid reputation more than a decade old.

At International Star Registry, selection of stars is done with great attention to celestial detail and with a high degree of personal interest.

Beginning with the technicalities, a computer scans telescope photos of new star locations, sorting them out by constellation. Each new star is mapped on an individual chart and stored, again by constellation. This way star shoppers can choose the constellation that best fits their situation, and the registry staff can pick out the newest twinkle in that particular part of the heavens.

When a star is selected, the registry records its name and coordinates in the company’s official registry, Your Place in the Cosmos. This master registry, published every three years, is copyrighted in the United States and Britain. Copies are on deposit at the Library of Congress and the British Library, and another set is stored in Switzerland.

Over the years the International Star Registry has continued to add new star coordinates to its list, using the results of increasingly sophisticated tracking systems operated by NASA. The company originally turned to a Czechoslovak star chart but quickly outgrew this visual method of identification. The registry went on to use the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Catalogue, which added a quarter of a million stars to the charts.

Now, according to Stolpe, the company uses a system that can be purchased in most computer software stores. Originally designed by NASA, it is loaded into the registry’s computer and catalogs the star coordinates it receives from NASA. Stolpe, whose college studies mixed astronomy and marketing, pointed out that using the NASA Star Guide gives the registry the opportunity to locate stars all the way through the 16th magnitude, generally smaller stars farther from Earth.

While Mosele believes the International Star Registry has worked diligently to master the cataloging of stars, she thinks the staff excels at helping people find the right spot in the universe. This is where the real fun begins.

Of course, you’ve got to know the heavens.

A California couple, for example, decided to name two stars in honor of their wedding. They wanted the bride’s star to be seen in the east at sunrise and to view the bridegroom’s star in the west at sunset. Not possible, Mosele had to advise them, because it simply would be too light on the horizons for available stars to be seen. So she counseled them to look elsewhere in the heavens.

Her recommendation was to consider selecting stars in the Northern Cross constellation. “It’s known as the constellation of the swan, and we know that swans mate for life,” she said. “We think that’s a nice place for wedding couples.”

Other ideal constellations for special gifts include Cassiopeia, known as queen on her throne, for Mother’s Day; Ophiuchus, considered the first physician, for doctors; the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper for children because they’re so easily visible; Orion, popular during the winter holidays because of its high visibility; and the constellation of Cepheus the king, for Father’s Day.

Stars also have been named in special tribute. When the seven astronauts of the Challenger shuttle were killed, the city of Daytona Beach named seven stars in the Aguila (eagle) constellation after them. The International Star Registry donated its services for the memorial tribute.

Celebrities, particularly those associated with science fiction, are regular customers. Steven Spielberg, director of “E.T.,” bought several stars in Christmas 1991 for gifts, and William Shatner, the fictional captain of the starship Enterprise, also has ordered stars for his crew.

It’s not a bit unusual for someone at the registry to pick up the phone and hear the voice of Brooke Shields, Jamie Lee Curtis or Dyan Canon out on a star-shopping expedition. Friends and well-wishers also name stars after celebrities. Elizabeth Taylor has had several stars named after her; likewise Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Prince Charles and Diana on their wedding.

One of the most recent star customers was actress Winona Ryder, calling to have a star named for boyfriend Johnny Depp.

Corporations such as Walt Disney, Westinghouse, Coca-Cola and RCA are becoming active star donors, too. These are part of a growing list of companies that are rewarding employees or acknowledging important business customers with special stars.

Charitable organizations have also found that their fundraising efforts take on a new sparkle by providing stars as incentives.

Tom Hanson of Lake Forest got one from his colleagues in the furniture business when he retired about 10 years ago, and he sees it as a lasting gift. But more than that, “It lifts your spirits. I don’t know why. You really don’t know that much about it. They give you a map that shows you what star it is and where it is.”

Of course, there will always be detractors who would say that the $40 spent is $40 blown.

Richard Dreiser, public information officer at the Yerkes Observatory, operated by the University of Chicago at Lake Geneva, Wis., said: “It has absolutely no validity as far as astronomers are concerned. I’m not going to start looking at that star and start calling it Joe Smith. . . . Some people like the idea of a certificate. . . . We really think it’s kind of a waste of money. It’s far better to donate to charity-or chocolate.”

But Stolpe responds to critics this way: “It appeals to the type of person who is looking for something really special. There are always those people who can’t see the fun quality in something. But this is about as romantic as you can get.”

For the record, the $40 fee covers research, mapping and consulting services. The International Star Registry then provides customers with a four-color certificate of ownership, which includes the owner’s name and the star’s galactic coordinates inscribed in calligraphy. A constellation map is included, plus an astronomical chart showing the exact location of the star.

For a piece of immortality in the heavens, write to the International Star Registry, 34523 Wilson Rd., Ingleside, Ill. 50041, or phone 708-546-5533.

Read more at: USA REACHING FOR THE STARS