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November 23, 2014

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November 23, 2014

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This Guest Book will remain online until 10/29/2015 courtesy of Merritt Helfferich.
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Belon Pages (18)
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October 24, 2013
I shared an office with Al and Jerry Romick for the better part of ten years, following my arrival as a fresh graduate student in 1958. It was a turbulent time at GI and in organized research in general, with IGY, the race to the moon, and a University of Alaska unprepared for notoriety. Fred Rees was my academic advisor, but Al and Jerry were senior graduate students and mentors to whom I could relate. There were many adventures, including the solar eclipse expedition, nights at the observatory and the everyday process of figuring out what to do in a system that, at that time, had few rules and regulations. In this environment, we all looked to Al because he seemed to know the right thing to do in any given situation.
Al read all of our publications for scientific content and English composition, which was remarkable enough, considering that it was a second language for him. I still remember most of the grammatical rules that he imparted in a very kindly and understanding manner. Beside the ordinary rules of grammar, his intent was to remove as many sources of ambiguity as possible: use “approximately” instead of “about”, “because” instead of “since” etc. His contribution in this effort was extraordinary also because of the magnitude of the production. Neil Davis surveyed the literature in the 60's and found that yearly number of publications out of the Geophysical Institute exceeded that of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
Another impression is the great good humor that Al both radiated and reflected. It is true that Jerry was more easily heard, and we depended on him to laugh us out of desperate trouble. Al, however, made us see ourselves as a team possessed of strengths and foibles, the sum of which was a source of great good humor. This did not go unnoticed at Geophys. One day, Director Keith Mather wandered to our office, leaned against the counter, puffed his pipe and said “I hear gales of laughter coming from this office most of the time, and I just dropped by to find out what makes geophysics so much fun!”
The last publication we worked on together was in 2004. By that time, I had sufficient command of English to pass muster, but Al had significant comments on the scientific content, as did the other authors, Jerry, Fred and Dirk Lummerzheim. We had a great last laugh when it was pointed out that we were using data we took forty years earlier to correct a mistake we made thirty years ago. The biggest laugh came when Fred said he was not an author on the publication with the mistake in it, and we looked to find that he had forgotten that he had been one of the two reviewers. The word “data”, by the way, is a plural noun, and deserves a corresponding plural verb. Thanks, Al.
Chuck (& Tone) Deehr
October 24, 2013
I shared an office with Al and Jerry Romick for the better part of ten years, following my arrival as a fresh graduate student in 1958. It was a turbulent time at GI and in organized research in general, with IGY, the race to the moon, and a University of Alaska unprepared for notoriety. Fred Rees was my academic advisor, but Al and Jerry were senior graduate students and mentors to whom I could relate. There were many adventures, including the solar eclipse expedition, nights at the observatory and the everyday process of figuring out what to do in a system that, at that time, had few rules and regulations. In this environment, we all looked to Al because he seemed to know the right thing to do in any given situation.
Al read all of our publications for scientific content and English composition, which was remarkable enough, considering that it was a second language for him. I still remember most of the grammatical rules that he imparted in a very kindly and understanding manner. Beside the ordinary rules of grammar, his intent was to remove as many sources of ambiguity as possible: use “approximately” instead of “about”, “because” instead of “since” etc. His contribution in this effort was extraordinary also because of the magnitude of the production. Neil Davis surveyed the literature in the 60's and found that yearly number of publications out of the Geophysical Institute exceeded that of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
Another impression is the great good humor that Al both radiated and reflected. It is true that Jerry was more easily heard, and we depended on him to laugh us out of desperate trouble. Al, however, made us see ourselves as a team possessed of strengths and foibles, the sum of which was a source of great good humor. This did not go unnoticed at Geophys. One day, Director Keith Mather wandered to our office, leaned against the counter, puffed his pipe and said “I hear gales of laughter coming from this office most of the time, and I just dropped by to find out what makes geophysics so much fun!”
The last publication we worked on together was in 2004. By that time, I had sufficient command of English to pass muster, but Al had significant comments on the scientific content, as did the other authors, Jerry, Fred and Dirk Lummerzheim. We had a great last laugh when it was pointed out that we were using data we took forty years earlier to correct a mistake we made thirty years ago. The biggest laugh came when Fred said he was not an author on the publication with the mistake in it, and we looked to find that he had forgotten that he had been one of the two reviewers. The word “data”, by the way, is a plural noun, and deserves a corresponding plural verb. Thanks, Al.
Chuck (& Tone) Deehr
October 19, 2013
As I recall, Albert (Al) Belon arrived in Fairbanks from Die, France at the invitation of his uncle who was working for some mining company in rural Alaska. Al was to arrive at Fairbanks, but his plane could not land there for some reason one evening and landed at Ladd Field. He was then brought to Fairbanks by bus and dropped off on 2nd Ave. not speaking English very well and totally lost without contact with his uncle. He not only survived this unfortunate and perplexing entry to Alaska he seemed to thrive on it with good humor. I met Al at the end of the International Geophysical Year at the Geophysical institute when he was working on height determinations and spectrophotometry of the aurora and later Al became Associate Director of the Geophysical Institute. Al was a careful and skillful mediator and with a sense of humor always lurking behind his decision-making. He was a supportive administrator and a careful decision maker. Mostly I remember interactions directly affecting me. One time the Institute had a picnic on one of the patios around the Elvey Building. As part of the event Eugene Wescott was to perform some American Indian Dances for the group including a rain dance. Al came into my office and remarked on this event and simply said to me with a twinkle in his eye, "Wouldn't it be interesting if it rained..." and left the office without further comment. Yes, sir, Al. So I grabbed my wastebasket, went to the 8th floor roof with it filled with water, and as Gene danced, magically it rained!

Gene was mad at me for a week and then calmed down. Al laughed later and no one knew he had been involved. I'd never tell. There were several other such events instigated by Al that were funny. The one that always clearly illustrates both his humor and his restraint was where one of the seismologists at GI, perhaps Paul Perrault, told me he needed to put a seismograph on an island in the Aleutian islands and so needed permission from whomever owned it.
Armed with the location I went through the process of gaining the name of the landowner and proceeded over some time bring the process to its last phase. After I was done Al entered my office and just left a note on my desk and walked out. He said in his note, this Aleutian Island land business has taken up a great deal of your time and that of others, it had to go to the State and to the University Lands office and be put on the Regents agenda and get voted on by the Regents! Now after all this time, work and messing about I discover we don't need the land anyway! "Merritt, some day I'm going to kill you, and perhaps today is the day!"

I greatly respected Al and felt he was an essential and very important element of the Geophysical Institute and the advancement of research. He was nice, skillful and caring person not only at the University, but also in the community. His work as a researcher, his collaborations and his work as an administrator advanced the operations of the Geophysical Institute, scientific research and the acquisition of information about the world. I enjoyed knowing him, learned from him and respected him greatly. I will miss him.
October 1, 2013
Thank you for all the comments about Al. As his wife, I did not fully appreciate the impact he had through his profession life at the Geophysical Institute. As a family man, he was very supportive and knowledgable about so many things. I learned so much from him and he enriched our lives in so many ways. We'll all miss him, but are comforted to know that he is now in a much better place -- heaven is his home!
Shirley and family
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