Recalling her early scrutiny of the man who became her first husband, Heronen says, “When he told me his thoughts about the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, that was when I knew he was a keeper.”
From the Beginning
Heronen’s captivation with outer space dates to childhood and a passion she shared with her father. It was a fascination, Heronen points out, that didn’t require any formal education. “My father was a machinist and never went to college,” she says. “He left to fight in World War II and didn’t even finish high school.”
Although Heronen graduated from high school with high marks, she never set her sights on college. “You could say I was unencumbered by ambition,” she jokes.
Even so, Heronen had great, albeit nonacademic, ambition to live a life of adventure. She and her first husband were world travelers who navigated rivers, seas, and oceans in a sailboat. In 1985, as they planned their first big excursion down the Pacific Coast to Central America, traveling through the Panama Canal into the Caribbean and up the East Coast of the United States via the Intracoastal Waterway, Heronen considered the risks involved and decided that this would be a fine time to draw up her will.
Heronen told her lawyer she wanted to leave her money to the first agency or institution to send a colony of humans into space. When he balked at the likelihood of such a thing happening, they discussed how to account for an unforeseeable future. The resulting document stipulated that if an organization were to accomplish this feat during Heronen’s lifetime, it would be the beneficiary of her estate. Otherwise, the money would go to Caltech. “But,” she points out, “that was only because my lawyer told me that my bequest could not go directly to JPL.”
Over the years, Heronen’s affinity for Caltech has grown, and she no longer thinks of the Institute as a middleman for funding JPL research. Additionally, like Caltech itself, her interests now span many disciplines, including environmental, medical, and earthquake science.
Earlier this year, Heronen augmented her support for Caltech through a charitable gift annuity, which offers a payout that exceeds the return she would get from investing in CDs. She is gratified to know that this guaranteed source of income for herself is also an investment in scientific breakthroughs.
Point of Pride
“I didn’t attend Caltech, so can I call it pride?” Heronen wonders. “Because when I read the weekly newsletters to keep up with all of Caltech’s essential research and important discoveries, I experience something that feels a lot like pride.”
Caltech’s Torchbearers Legacy Society has helped propel decades of discovery and myriad science and engineering breakthroughs. So, to answer Heronen’s question: Yes, what she’s feeling is Torchbearer pride!