Bill and Lucy Boss: A Hands-on Family

by | Jan 2024

DEFINING SCIENCE isn’t always easy, but ask Bill Boss to define it, and he will point you to Tullahoma’s Hands-On Science Center. Science is a big, fun adventure where we try to understand how things work. It’s how we learn new things and figure out how to improve our lives. It’s like being a detective, looking for clues to solve mysteries. It’s a way of life for the Boss family. 

Bill found school boring, but as a 10-year-old, talks with his cousin about the marvels of space and how FM and AM radio worked tuned Bill’s mind to the wonders of science. Later, his time in the ROTC attracted him to the U.S. Air Force, forming a two-lane highway to a lifetime of learning. 

In high school, Bill wrangled young campers at the Akron area Camp Y-Noah, where he met a pretty counselor, Lucy Hoppstock, another teacher at heart. He soon graduated from Akron University with a bachelor’s degree in education, was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force simultaneously, and married Lucy shortly after. Life was about to get interesting. 

A military family who lived in eight states, Bill and Lucy had four children. Bill acquired his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Aerospace Engineering at the Air Force Institute of Technology to avoid a lifetime career as a ground-controlled interception controller. Combining his degrees, he taught for three years at the Air Force Academy in Colorado but was tired of it and requested a transfer to the Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC). 

His transfer to AEDC was approved, subject to serving a last stint in ground-controlled interception in Alaska. Training in Florida to refresh his radar skills before going to Alaska allowed him to check out AEDC on the drive from Colorado to Florida. 

While Bill worked and studied, Lucy kept everything running at home. Her nurturing spirit and ability to seamlessly manage household affairs while raising four children under challenging circumstances showcase her resilience and adaptability. The couple positively shaped the lives of their children and stirred a love of learning that continues with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Lucy, a lifetime swimmer, located the community pool with each move, was a lifeguard, and taught swimming and water aerobics. She did the same in Tullahoma and recently retired from overseeing the senior citizens’ water program. She recorded the history of the South Jackson Civic Center and Hands-On Science Center and was the longtime pianist at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tullahoma. 

“Dad’s greatest gift was showing enthusiasm for anything any family member showed an interest in. Tammy was interested in horses. Poof! We moved to Tennessee and bought horses. Randy showed interest in wrestling. Poof! All of us got excited to watch and cheer him on. Danny showed interest in music. Poof! Dad got him an electric guitar, and Danny still plays guitar today. I showed an interest in having an exchange student. Poof! We hosted Mónica Julio from Chile, whom we still love and adore today,” said daughter Annie Clements.

Her brother, Randy Boss, agrees. “We had science in our lives and did many experiments, science fair projects, and biology. He would bring home liquid nitrogen, tarantulas, fossils, and all kinds of examples of science and nature.”

Lucy equally passed on skills and a passion for learning to their children.

Randy said, “She nurtured the interests I have in many of the hobbies I have now. She taught me to sew (I dabble with upholstery) and cook (I love to cook).”

His sister, Tammy Hall, chose a career utilizing skills her parents taught her.

“My mother taught me bookkeeping at a younger age,” said Tammy. “My father taught me to invest my funds, save, and be debt-free. I have been a bookkeeper for 40-plus years now.”

Daniel Boss, their brother, said, “My parents hosted a lot of exchange students, and my experiences in that international community helped prepare me for work in international environments.”

They also influenced him musically, agreeing to buy him an electric guitar if he learned to play the classic acoustic guitar already in the house. Everyone held up their end of the agreement, and Danny plays two or three times a week with his wife and son. 

Twenty and a half years and eight states later, the road and Bill’s U.S. Air Force active duty culminated in Tullahoma. Although he was beginning to fear he’d never want to settle down, Tullahoma eased his concern. 

“I like the size of the town, the schools, the climate, our house, plus I like the name ‘Tullahoma,’ and it’s where I want to stay,” Bill said. 

Late in his career, Bill was assigned to work at the University of Tennessee Space Institute. He noticed the number of students passing through on field trips but found little to stir their curiosity. Bill suspected they might need the same spark he did, and he learned he could entertain children more quickly than he could instruct them. 

“I started giving the groups a liquid nitrogen show, and soon I was giving them at area schools. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics invited me to join them in creating a science center. As a result, in 1990, I became one of the founders of the Hands-On Science Center,” Bill wrote in his autobiography, “Babblings: My First 85 Years.” 

Today, the center has welcomed an estimated half a million visitors to explore science apart from a textbook. Over 100 exhibits invite an up-close look at the science behind aerodynamics, sound and light, geology, electricity, and more. Bill is responsible for creating many exhibits and has led countless programs and demonstrations. 

“I’ve spent a third of my life hoping to get kids interested in science as my way of hoping to leave the world a little better place,” said Bill. 

After 65 years of marriage and giving back to the community, it looks like the couple’s on the road to precisely that! GN 

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