The front page of the Wapakoneta Daily News, dated Sept. 6, 1969, is shown at the Auglaize County Public Library archives in Wapakoneta. Neil Armstrong put Wapakoneta on the map in July 1969 when he became the first human to walk on the moon. (JOHN MINCHILLO / Associated Press)

By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF

Staff Writer

President Richard Nixon proposed a national holiday in honor of man’s first landing on the moon, giving federal workers a day off that Monday (“Moonday”), July 21, 1969.

Then-Mayor Calvin Thatcher announced that Findlay would follow suit and granted a holiday to city employees, with the exception of the necessary law enforcement and firefighting operations.

Summer school classes were canceled for the day, and the post office was closed.

Thatcher also asked that all businesses, industries and homes fly the American flag, in line with Findlay’s title of “Flag City, U.S.A.,” in tribute to the astronauts and their history-making feat.

Camp Fire girls who spent that week at Camp Glen in Tiffin watched via television as Neil Armstrong took that historic first step on the moon 50 years ago.

In keeping with the event, space was the theme for the week at camp. An interplanetary banquet was held, with each unit representing a different planet and dressing accordingly.

The girls also competed in space games, then met at the pool for the “splashdown.”

Bob France, then a reporter for The Republican-Courier newspaper, interviewed several of Findlay’s oldest citizens after the moon walk. Reactions, he found, were mixed.

Florence D. Zerkel, 104, a resident of the Hancock County Home at the time, called the moon landing “simply wonderful.” But then she added, “I really don’t think I’d like to have gone along.”

Centenarian Louise Bogard had other ideas. The Marlesta Nursing Home resident said she would like to have been invited, adding that she thought it would have been fun to “bounce around like the astronauts. But to be honest, I just don’t believe it … it seems impossible,” she said.

Grace Carr, 99, who resided at Manley Manor Nursing Home, said she didn’t miss a thing by not going to the moon.

“We have so many people worthy and in need of help that the moon shot seems a waste of money,” she said, adding that she would have been afraid to go anyway. Instead, she was content to have the Bible read to her and continue “doing what God wants me to.”

Winebrenner Haven resident Percy Rowe, 98, was a bit more adamant, declaring, “They’ve got their nerve. If the good Lord placed us here, that’s where we should stay.”

Flora Naw seemed to agree. The 97-year-old Marlesta Nursing Home resident said, “The whole idea is crazy. What’s up there?”

One good thing about the moon shot, she said, is that “we beat Russia.”

But “what exactly is up there? Nothing but gravel,” she added.

Wapakoneta celebrated its hometown hero’s return on Sept. 6, 1969. The town of normally 7,500 swelled to over 100,000 for the observance.

Ohio Gov. James A. Rhodes proposed a museum as a monument to the achievements of not only Armstrong, but “all Ohioans who have attempted to defy gravity,” as well as to the history of the space program itself, according to information provided by the Armstrong Air & Space Museum website.

After the state pledged $500,000 for the museum, Rhodes challenged Wapakoneta to match the funds to build the facility.

“Neil Armstrong is the man of the century and we want to perpetuate his achievements here in Ohio,” Rhodes said.

Wapakoneta residents met the challenge, with businesses and individuals donating to the cause. Even schoolchildren saved their pennies and nickels in order to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime project, the website reports.

When Rhodes later returned to Wapakoneta, he was presented with a check for $528,313.55. The citizens had raised over half of the total cost of the museum.

Hancock County residents also donated to the cause under the direction of Richard B. Jackson, who served as chairman for the local collection.

The Armstrong Air & Space Museum opened July 20, 1972, three years to the day after Armstrong’s walk on the moon. Armstrong was present to help open the facility, and Tricia Nixon Cox, standing in for her father, presented moon rocks brought back to Earth from the Apollo 11 mission.

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