In nonmetro areas such as ours, there are certainly benefits. Among the myriad benefits, we in our little slice of the Midwest can hop in our cars and pretty much get with celerity to our destinations without sitting in gridlock, the way that Chicagoans often do, say, on the Dan Ryan Expressway, or Los Angelinos do on the perennially bottlenecked 405.
Yet, for all the benefits of living in a place where we can clearly see through smog-free air to revel in the kind of blue moon that shone Aug. 29, the day there was a public service for Neil Armstrong at his space museum in Wapak, I think there is the perception by some of us that, when it comes to changing the world, well, we just don’t really matter all that much.
The passing in recent weeks of Lima’s Phyllis Diller and Wapakoneta’s Armstrong, however, has reminded us all who call Limaland home that we, indeed, have those whose footprints can be clearly seen both on this Earth and above it.
Sometimes, when it comes to claiming our own famous natives, perhaps we tend to embellish a tad. For instance, in the city of Wapakoneta’s official website, if you click on the tab for city history, you’ll see a reference to famous natives, one of whom is George “Long Bob” Ewing, an early 20th century pitcher for the Cincinnati Redlegs.
While the site goes on to say Ewing compiled an earned run average of 1.73 in 1907, which is true, it also says that the mark is a record that stands to this very day, which is certainly not. Actually that 1.73 was only the sixth best earned run average of the 1907 season back when pitchers dominated during what is known as the Dead Ball Era of Major League Baseball. Additionally, the site says that Ewing won the Cy Young Award in 1905. The award, given to the league’s best pitcher, didn’t even exist until after Young's death in 1955. As a matter of fact, Ohio native Denton “Cyclone” Young was actually a contemporary of Long Bob and didn’t even retire until 1911.
But, you get the idea. We small-town Midwesterners really like our famous folks. But, when it comes to Diller and Armstrong, no embellishment was ever necessary. Both left their footprints that truly distinguish them as pioneers in their chosen fields.
With Diller, her legacy in the entertainment field is undeniable. She proved during a decade, the 1950s, when standup comedy was a male-dominated field, that women could indeed be funny and make a living doing it.
Diller, at 37, was nothing more than the chief cook and bottle washer for her family of six. By 38, she was standing on stage at the iconic comedy club The Purple Onion in Frisco, and what started as a two-week engagement turned into a year. And, before all was said and done, the comic with the funny laugh and the ability to take self-deprecation to new plateaus was on the couches of the most famous of talk shows, starring in movies, and standing on stage beside Bob Hope.
And, with one-liners such as, “I spent seven hours at the beauty parlor today; hell, that was just for the estimate,” she provided a template for future comediennes, from Joan Rivers to Roseanne Barr to Kathy Griffin.
When asked how she wanted to be remembered, the down-to-earth Diller said just a year before her passing, “Just to be a kind person. That’s all. Really, isn’t that enough?”
As for Armstrong, as the nation’s first civilian astronaut who climbed to such unimaginable heights at a time when the men of Apollo were such rock stars that I remember buying trading cards of the Glenns and the Shepards and the Armstrongs along with my beloved baseball cards, his role as a pioneer is indisputable.
About two months shy of when I would first set foot on the campus of Miami University to begin my collegiate life in Oxford, on July 20, 1969, the 39-year-old Armstrong put his sized 9 1/2 medium down on the moon’s surface, becoming the first man to ever do so.
It was Armstrong who said in 2000 at the dawn of a new century when talk inevitably was on the most momentous events of the last, “I am, and ever will be, a white-sock, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer.”
Despite such humility, I can’t help but ponder when you do something so wonderfully lunar, how do you not brag? Say, he was in a social setting and had to listen to some pompous type bragging about some achievements of, say, his 35 years in the corporate world, what stopped him from saying something like, “Well, I suppose I could have gone into corporate America, but, oh, that’s right, I decided to set my sights on becoming the first ever to walk on the moon!”
But, for folks such as Diller and Armstrong, bragging just wasn’t in their DNA. They simply took a leap in their fields at 37 and 39 respectively, and let others chronicle their accomplishments.
And, in doing so, they showed all of us in the Limaland area that embellishment really isn’t necessary when it comes to the most famous of our native daughters and sons.