On Saturday, Sept. 6, 1969, the first man to walk on the moon was welcomed home to Wapakoneta. A little less than two months after this amazing feat, Neil Armstrong had come home to an amazing parade and festivities attended by somewhere between fifty and “well over” eighty thousand well wishers. Amid all of the excitement, crowd estimates varied widely.
I watched the parade on “live” television at our Sidney home and the scope of the processional was beyond belief. Legendary entertainer and Ohio native Bob Hope was the Grand Marshall accompanied by Governor James Rhodes. Other notables were Ohio born entertainers Phyllis Diller and Hugh Downs, along with Dr. Albert Sabin of Cincinnati who developed the polio vaccine. A seemingly endless array of high school bands populated the two-and-a half-mile tribute.
“Moon cheese,” special beverages, souvenirs, and commemorative publications were sold along the parade route. Business was brisk according to 1969 newspaper accounts.
I was a sophomore at Sidney High School and there was our band which had performed at our football game the night before. Anna, Botkins, Fort Loramie, Minster, and New Bremen also marched on a hot humid Auglaize County afternoon. This wasn’t just a Wapakoneta celebration as the boundaries of “Armstrong country” extended well beyond.
Sidney provided a special salute via the program cover when Wapak visited for varsity football on Friday, Sept. 12. Tributes from everywhere continued well past September. In retrospect, they’ve never ended.
Years later my dad got to know and enjoy Neil Armstrong through their membership on the Board of Directors of United Telephone of Ohio which met monthly in Mansfield. William Ross, Jr. represented Shelby County while Professor Neil Armstrong of the University of Cincinnati did the same for the area where he resided near Kings Island.
One day my father entered the board room and was greeted with a question from his fellow native of west central Ohio. “Hey Bill, what route did you take to get up here,” the lunar legend inquired. My dad began to answer but was overcome with laughter, causing shortness of breath. When he regained both his breath and composure, he responded to Armstrong’s question and concern for him.
“I’m fine Neil. I just think it’s great that a guy who’s been to the moon could possibly care how I got from Sidney to Mansfield.”
Next Friday: Memories of a retired umpire.
Sports Extra with Dave Ross appears each Friday. His first SDN byline was a 1975 interview with hockey great Gordie Howe.