It’s a Saturday afternoon and the Pierce Planetarium is full of 5-year-olds running around enjoying their peer’s birthday party.
Amid all of the chaos is Donna Pierce, the planetarium director, wearing a makeshift NASA spacesuit. Three of the 5-year-olds make their way into the planetarium’s main room with their lightsabers. Pierce offers to turn out all the lights so the kids can see them glow.
Highland Park ISD turned its old science wing into the planetarium in 1969. Ten years later, Pierce joined as its director.
A native of Pampa who graduated in 1952, Pierce moved to Dallas with her husband and immediately became involved with the Junior League of Dallas. She began her volunteer work at Fair Park’s Hall of State and then was transferred to Dallas Health and Science Museum’s (now Perot Museum of Nature and Science) planetarium.
[pullquote-left]“And you’re supposed to move on from a Junior League job after three years, but I had found my niche.” — Donna Pierce[/pullquote-left]
“I liked it so much,” Pierce said. “And you’re supposed to move on from a Junior League job after three years, but I had found my niche.”
She stayed at the Dallas Health and Science Museum for 15 years and then Highland Park ISD hired her in 1979 as its planetarium director.
But unlike other planetariums in the state, Pierce makes it a point that hers is different.
“The planetarium is an extension of the classroom,” she said. “The planetarium was never meant to be a field trip.”
In 1991, Highland Park was hit with House Bill 7, or the Robin Hood Bill, as it was nicknamed, and had to donate 79 percent of its money. However, the planetarium was protected because it was sold first.
The family that bought the planetarium did not want any publicity, Pierce said. One day during a board meeting, someone walked in and said the planetarium should be named after Pierce. They then quickly walked out.
In 2011, HPISD’s planetarium was officially named Pierce Planetarium.
“I think you’re supposed to be dead when that happens,” Pierce said. “I’m so blessed. I’m so blessed.”
After more than 35 years as the planetarium’s director, Pierce is mother of four, grandmother of 12 and great-grandmother of seven — but teacher and influencer of hundreds throughout the years.
As she sits in her office and reflects, the same three kids wander into her office, including Lawson, the birthday boy. Pierce turns out the lights again so their lightsabers can shine.
Trace and Jana Bell, Lawson’s parents, said they did not pay to have the birthday party there. Pierce does it for free depending on her schedule.
“She’s just great,” Trace Bell said. “She’s awesome. This has been awesome.”
Pierce said she is recognized almost everywhere she goes in the neighborhood and told how much her teachings meant to a former student.
“I got kids everywhere — all over.”