Nearly 25 years have passed since that July 17, 1994, afternoon in New Knoxville.
There were whispers that day about Neil Armstrong possibly attending the air show that was taking place at the newly built airport which bore his name. Few people believed it would happen, though. As one man put it, the odds of Armstrong showing up were about as good as someone on this patch of Earth walking on the moon.
Folks knew of Armstrong’s penchant to stay out of the spotlight. And there were many events at that time to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Armstrong walking on the moon, just as there are this week for Saturday’s 50th anniversary.
So those in a crowd of 8,000 were pleasantly stunned when a man dressed casually in white pants, a blue short-sleeved shirt and mirrored sunglasses started making his way through the crowd.
It was Neil Armstrong.
A bit nervous, America’s most famous astronaut addressed his admirers, took time to shake hands with children and adults and signed autographs.
“It’s always great to be home,” Armstrong told the crowd. “This is a special place for me.”
He had driven to Wapakoneta from his home near Lebanon, south of Dayton, where he met state Rep. Charles Brading. The two then drove to the airport.
That afternoon also marked one of the few times Armstrong ever took questions from the media. Lorraine Whetstone, the reporter who covered the event for The Lima News, described Armstrong as cordial as he humbly answered questions.
“I thought it was pretty spectacular at the time,” Armstrong said of the moonwalk. “We thought it was a great challenge. Fortunately, we’d been given extremely good equipment to do the job. Fortunately, our training was up to the test. We had the tools we needed, the support we needed.
“We were always a little apprehensive because you know the little things are going to go wrong. We were able to handle these, fortunately.”
He talked about his biggest concern and surprisingly played down the moonwalk itself.
“For me, the final descent and landing were far and away the most difficult and challenging parts of the flight. Pilots take no special joy in walking,” he said, cracking a smile. “Pilots like flying.”
Armstrong glanced at the air show as he spoke, comparing the stunt pilots to astronauts and saying he wished he could be in the air with them. No one doubted his sincerity.
“The advantage that we had over these stunt pilots is that in space, there was no crosswind to worry about,” he explained.
Reporters hung on Armstrong’s every word, knowing they had just been granted a rare opportunity. But as quickly as the interview began, Whetstone said, it seemed to end.
Gary Katterheinrich, the airport manager, said at that time he wasn’t surprised by Armstrong’s visit. Armstrong was invited by the owner of a drugstore in Wapakoneta where he used to work as a teenager, Katterheinrich explained. Four days before the show, Armstrong agreed to attend. His only request, true to form, was that things be kept quiet.
Years after that 25th anniversary celebration, Katterheinrich said Armstrong ended up flying into the New Knoxville airport many times.
“When Neil’s parents were still alive, I would get a call from him about every other month saying he was flying in to meet his folks. His dad would come out and meet him, and they would go see Mom. Neil may be reserved, but he was never one to forget his family or hometown roots.”
ROSES AND THORNS: The rose garden pays tribute to a couple of long-time Ford employees.
Rose: To David Dean Augsburger, of Bluffton, who passed away July 2 at age 83. Augsburger was one of the last two people to retire from the group of employees who were hired at the Lima Ford Engine Plant when it opened in 1957. He was on the job 51 years and 8 months. His first job at Ford was sweeping floors for $1.46 an hour. Later he became an electrician and proclaimed “he worked with the greatest people at the greatest company.” David Benny is now the last person alive to retire among the original workers. His 51 years and 7 months at Ford allowed him to buy 45 new cars and pay off his home at age 41.
Rose: To Joe Hartman, for enduring one of the fears faced by all firefighters. The 30-year veteran of the American Township Fire Department drove a firetruck to a blaze at his own residence on West State Road, where his woodworking shop was on fire.
Rose: To Drew Hubbard, 15, of Lima. He ate 11 Kewpee hamburgers in 10 minutes to be crowned the champion of the Star Spangled Spectacular’s Kewpee Hamburger Eating Contest.
Rose: To Delphos native Duane Pohlman. He was named Ohio’s Best Television Reporter for the second consecutive year by the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists. In May, Pohlman also was named Ohio’s Best TV Reporter by the Associated Press. Both awards centered on Pohlman’s investigative reporting at WKRC-TV in Cincinnati. The 1982 graduate of Delphos St. John’s High School became interested in journalism when he took a TV programming class in high school taught by John Gunder.
Rose: To Norma and Edgar Vance of Vaughnsville, who will celebrate 65 years of marriage on July 28.
Thorn: To Sue Barnett, 76, of Lima. The former deputy clerk of the Lima Municipal Clerk of Courts office pleaded guilty to stealing more than $7,500 from the city between 1997 and 2012.
PARTING SHOT: “Mystery creates wonder, and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” — Neil Armstrong
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.