OSA | Living History

Jarus Quinn Memoir: Up and Out

The Up refers to the move of the Optical Society of America (OSA) moving to a new headquarters in Washington. The Out refers to the OSA divesting itself of its executive director.

The OSA executive office staff expanded dramatically in the 1980’s, reflecting the growth in the number of published journals and sponsored meetings, as well as the membership growth. The rental tenants at the office at 1816 Jefferson Place had long ago been evicted, and OSA rented space in two of the nearby townhouses on the block. The real estate market in the city seemed relatively stable, so in 1988 the board of directors sent me looking for a new headquarters. There were few boundary conditions attached, so I went searching all over the metropolitan area. There was undoubtedly a bit of prejudice involved, since I lived about seven blocks north of the office and was delighted with being able to walk to and from work. Suburban Maryland and Virginia were on the list as well as the District of Columbia, but the failure of women to pursue proper careers finally saved the day.

Teaching and home economics were the stars on many women’s horizon until the rise of women’s rights after the 60’s. The failure of the stars to remain bright led to a dramatic decline in the number of women pursuing careers in home economics and a consequence was a dramatic decrease in the membership of the American Home Economics Society. How were they to survive in their modern, six story building at 2010 Massachusetts Avenue? As they reduced staff, they rented out more and more of the building. Finally, reality gripped them, and they put the building on the market. For once I was at the right place at the right time. Not all members of the OSA board of directors shared my joy. Several said the building reminded them of a Howard Johnson motel from the 1950’s. I promised to spruce it up, and the deal was approved.

Back on Jefferson Place, another deal was brewing. One of my neighbors, a DC developer, realized that the ground on Jefferson Place was higher than that of M Street at its rear. Consequently, a high rise building on the site could have its “main entrance” on Jefferson Place and its “basement entrance” on M Street. This was a scam to add one more floor than the District of Columbia permitted. A very profitable contract was signed between OSA and the developer with a lease back agreement until the refurbishing of 2010 Massachusetts Avenue was complete. Settlement was scheduled in sixty days. What happened in the next sixty days? The commercial office market bubble collapsed, and the buyer defaulted. I went running to the bank for a bigger mortgage for the new headquarters. The bank had plenty of money to lend since the commercial market had dried up. It came up with seven million, but they wanted three million back when Jefferson Place was sold. I shall be forever grateful to American Security Bank, now Bank of America.

Refurbishing the inside and outside of the building took a year with lots of up and downs. The area is under the aegis of the DuPont Circle Historical Society, and its approval was required before securing a building permit. A new facing of concrete and a new entrance on the front of the building convinced them, and we were off. As with the occupancy of Jefferson Place, the existing tenants were not enthused with the rehabilitation. An excellent architect, Jeff Stoiber, did the redesign and oversaw the construction. Jefferson Place was rented to tenants and the OSA moved to 2010 Massachusetts Avenue during the summer of 1990. At times during the process, we thought it might be 2010 before we made it. The OSA occupied about half of the 60,000 square feet of the new building. Today, it occupies eighty percent. A bit of expansion has taken place.

Other items required that I devote some time to problems other than construction during the year. A committee of the OSA recommended to the board of directors that the name of the Optical Society of America be changed to the Optics and Photonics Society. The recommendation was based on the fact that the technical scope of the society increasingly overlapped with the field of electronics. Four hours of the board’s 1990 spring meeting were devoted to the debate. The leaders of the debate were Emil Wolf of the University of Rochester and Herwig Kogelnik of Bell Laboratories. Emil claimed that the roots of OSA were in the name, and he was not about to cut our roots. Herwig invented the word photonics, so guess what side he was on. Finally Emil’s threat to leave the Optics and Photonics Society and form an Optical Society of America were enough to sink the proposal, even though there were enough votes to carry the motion. The year ended with a balance sheet showing fixed assets of fifteen million and a mortgage of five million.

With the end of the real estate trauma, it was back to concentrating on the technical aspects of OSA. The next two years were busy ones, both for me and my wife. Peggy was employed at the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Her major responsibility was the accreditation of day-care and pre-school programs. Her primary focus was on training educators to carry out the accreditation process, in addition to doing some of the accreditation herself. Travel for her and for me was frequent, as were meetings that ran into the evening hours. We were having dinner at home in March of 1992 and the discussion turned to how long it had been since we had dinner together. The number turned out to be seven weeks. The discussion then turned to the question of whether there was an alternate in site or would we roll into retirement from a seat on an airplane. We decided that it was time to look for other options.

I tendered my resignation to the OSA Board of Directors at its spring 1992 meeting and suggested that I move out in the fall of 1993. The board set up a search committee which hired a head hunter. By the fall meeting in 1993 they had found a new executive director. David Hennage took the job and held it for several years. I packed up my things after the fall meeting in Toronto. My last gasp was to take all of the OSA employees who had made the move from Jefferson Place to Massachusetts Avenue out to lunch. Back to Jefferson Place and the restaurant, Trattu, all twenty-four of us went.

Milton Chang, a long time OSA member and friend had approached me with a proposal when he heard about the retirement. Milton was a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, and he thought that we might team up to form a business consulting venture. I agreed to try it and made the move to the west. Stellar Focus was formed in 1994. Milton was busy running a high tech firm, so I moved into his Mountain View headquarters. We met daily while I attempted to make Stellar Focus profitable. I came close, but uncovered a serious problem with my personality. It could be briefly described as “take charge.” Tendering advice was not my thing. Giving direction was more like it, and such behavior makes for a lousy consultant. Peggy had delayed her retirement until 1994, so when she finally stopped and came to California, we spent many hours discussing our next adventure. We decided that we would leave California, drive across the country, and decide where our next stop would be. As attractive as living in downtown Washington had been, we decided that it wasn’t made for cripply, old, gray hairs that could barely cross Connecticut Avenue with two red light changes.

Asheville, North Carolina, was our first choice, one that involved a great deal of compromise on both of our parts. The senior’s program at UNC Asheville was the biggest draw. A small problem stood in the way. With Washington’s real estate sales at rock bottom, we sat and waited. Finally, after three months on the market we received an offer for our condominium. It wasn’t great, but it was a way out. Unfortunately, the buyer demanded occupancy in sixty days. It was February of 1995. We jumped in the car and headed for Asheville. We stopped in Greensboro for the night to visit with a former employee at OSA, who was back in school for an MBA. As we got up to leave her home after dinner, she mentioned that should we decide that eastern North Carolina was a possibility, she had heard of a very desirable community south of Chapel Hill called Fearrington Village. The next morning we turned on the television news in a Greensboro motel. The big news story was that US 40 to Asheville was closed because of ice on the road.

We chose to head east and postpone our visit to Asheville for a day. We visited Duke University and collected all of the information on its Institute for Learning in Retirement, checked on housing in Durham, and then did a housing check in Chapel Hill. The possibilities for rentals in both places were a bit clouded by the possibility of ending up with a mini student dormitory next door. Late in the afternoon we went south to Fearrington Village, found a very nice townhouse for rent for six months, for $500/month. We figured that it was a win/win situation. We would be able to vacate our DC quarters, check out the Triangle area, and move on to Asheville in the summer if our expectations were not met.

Early in the summer of 1995, two doors away from the rental property, a long suffering gentleman went to join his creator and his wife to her daughter’s in Virginia. How could we pass it up for $140,000? We went to settlement, hired an architect and builder to turn the storage area on the second floor into a den, and moved to our new quarters in September. There we remained until May of 2004 when we joined the residents at the Durham gulag which goes by the name of The Forest at Duke. Acclimation has not always been a smooth process, but one tale will illustrate, better than any other, why our expectations for a great life here were not mistaken.

Shortly after our arrival in Fearrington, I went exploring in the wilds of Chatham County, and found the former mill town of Bynum. On one of its back streets of mill cottages, we came across a yard filled with objects carved from logs, clearly the work of a chain saw fanatic bent on becoming the folk art king of the world. I parked the car and went to the front fence to peer some more. A gentleman came out of the house and invited me into the yard. We toured the front, back, and sides and an explanation for each piece was delivered. I was then invited into the house to sign the guest book (and see more art). My host, Clyde Jones, wanted to know more about my background and he proffered his story of working in the forest cutting lumber for the paper mills, suffering a severe cut on his arm, and deciding to pick up the chain saw again in an effort to overcome his fear and dread of the incident. He called me back over to the guest book and pointed out a signature by one Mikhail Baryshnikov. Baryshnikov had come visiting unannounced as I did. When he left Clyde went down to the Bynum General Store for his morning coffee and told his companions about the visit from some Russian guy. One of his buddies recognized the name and told Clyde that he was a famous dancer. Clyde responded that he must be famous also, because he never heard of Baryshnikov, but Baryshnikov heard of him.

How could I ever leave North Carolina with neighbors like this?


Jarus Quinn served as OSA's Executive Director from 1969-1994.