By the spring of 1978, I had been a Star Trek fan about five years. Having cut my teeth on the animated Star Trek series during its first run in 1973, I had at that point graduated to syndicated reruns of The Original Series as well as the prose volumes of script adaptions by James Blish and Alan Dean Foster. I eagerly grabbed up anything relating to the show I could find —posters, magazines, Mego dolls (pardon me, action figures) — treasures usually uncovered on shopping excursions outside of my central Kansas hometown of 6,000 people.

So, it’s not hard imagine how I responded to the news that an actual Star Trek convention, just like the ones I had read about in Starlog magazine, was planned only 90 miles away that very weekend. Yeah, I pretty much flipped out.

My mom agreed to drive me on a rainy Sunday to the Star Trek Festival, the first such event at Municipal Auditorium in Topeka, Kan. The whole show was scheduled noon to 4 p.m. but those four hours were packed with stuff the likes of which I’d never experienced. Dealers hawking posters, glossy photos and other collectibles planned to attend. Scheduled screenings included several episodes at their original length rather than cut for syndication, the now-classic Star Wars parody short Hardware Wars, and the mythic blooper reels filled with dialogue flubs, outtakes and set pranks caught on film. Best of all, the show promised a real-live performer from The Original Series as its guest of honor. I never imagined I might meet and speak with someone actually responsible for the creation of Star Trek. But it all was coming true for me then.

We arrived pretty late owing to the weather, but my enthusiasm was hardly dampened. I rushed in the door, paid my $2.50 and went inside. There were the promised merchandise dealers, one of whom was selling poster-sized photos of scenes from Star Trek and Star Wars. There were the fans, all watching an episode of the show on a 16mm movie projector so noisy that its operation competed with its sole speaker turned up so high as to bounce the sound off the auditorium walls. And there I stood realizing in that moment that I had nothing with which to collect an autograph from the promised star in attendance.
I panicked. I rushed out of the auditorium and onto the sidewalk, alone in an unfamiliar town, with no idea where I could get just a simple pad and pen. I raced around and spotted a drug store that happened to be open (not the most common occurrence on a Sunday afternoon back then), so I sprinted over and purchased a small wire-bound notepad with lined paper, and a ballpoint pen, then made my way back to the auditorium.

On my return to the auditorium, I learned that I not only had missed the guest’s talk earlier in the day, but I had lost my shot at getting an autograph. The signing table was being cleared and no fans remained. The episode’s tinny sound accompanied me in the empty hallway, my thoughts dwelling on my missed opportunity simply to shake a hand and maybe get a signature on my somewhat dampened pad—when a side door opened in the hall and out came, unaccompanied, the guest of honor in person.

Somehow, I mustered the courage to call the guest out by name — I still can hear my voice echoing in that empty hallway — and that was enough. The TV star turned around, smiled at me and walked my way. For a few precious minutes that seemed like hours to my 13-year-old self, we laughed and chatted like real people. As we finished, I offered up my notepad and pen, which she used to sign graciously, "To Kevin, w/love." All these years later, I still have that leaf of paper -- and I still treasure it.
Thank you, Grace Lee Whitney, for setting the standard by which I've measured every one of my fanboy moments ever since. Thanks for the interviews you gave me in subsequent years when I was a contributing writer for the great and greatly missed Star Trek Communicator magazine. Thanks for signing my copy of your memoir, The Longest Trek: My Tour of the Galaxy, when we met again maybe 30 years later at a convention in Tulsa, Okla. Most of all, thank you for being one of the inspirations for my doing what I am pretty blessed to do all these years later. I'm so glad you took the time to make such a great impression on a geeky little kid’s life.

I’m thankful that in your later years you found the peace you sought for so long. I’m saddened by your passing but also confident you're at even greater peace today.

_________

As a journalist for more than 25 years, KEVIN DILMORE has contributed to publications including the Village Voice, Amazing Stories, Hallmark and Star Trek Communicator magazines as well as web sites including Hallmark.com and Star Trek.com. Kevin has teamed with author Dayton Ward for 15 years on novels, shorter fiction and other writings chiefly within the Star Trek universe, including their latest novel in the Star Trek: Seekers series, All That’s Left, to be published by Pocket Books this fall.

 

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