While the whole world was glued to their televisions one 1969 midsummer evening, one Wapakoneta resident was as close as she could be to the presence of Neil Armstrong.
Jean Geren Dietz was 8 years old and was at Neil Armstrong’s parents’ home with her parents for a Splash Down Party on July 20, 1969, experiencing the first steps on the moon by a local hometown hero with approximately 20 to 30 other people.
“I remember all the men went into the living room with the TV, and all the women were in the kitchen and I could see into the living room,” Dietz told the Wapakoneta Daily News at the Wink at the Moon memorial service Wednesday evening at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum. “I remember Steve (Armstrong) handed out cigars with the words written on it ‘It’s A Boy Returns.’”
While she noted she was too young to remember much of the evening, she does remember her father receiving one of the cigars — which she has today in a glass case.
With being a witness to the first steps on the moon, Dietz knew she wanted to attend the local memorial in honor of Neil Armstrong, as she felt it was important — not only for herself, but also for her late father, Bill Geren, former owner of Geren’s IGA in Wapakoneta.
“This is just wonderful,” Dietz said of the memorial Wednesday. “It shows hometown Wapakoneta.”
Dietz noted that her father had a passion for flying, as he also was a pilot and looked up to Neil Armstrong as one of his heroes.
Dietz said her family moved to Wapakoneta in 1958 and lived in a house on Barbara Lane, and Neil Armstrong and her father were the same age.
Dietz’s sister, Nancy Carter, also attended the memorial service and noted she was in high school during Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon.
Carter was not at the Splash Down Party because she was in another country, Europe, on a class trip with her Spanish teacher and 17 other students.
“It was 2 a.m. their time, and I remember going to each room and waking everyone up,” Carter said.
Carter watched the first steps with a group of students from Wapakoneta — and just the other day, former classmates were coming up to her and telling her that they remember that evening, and especially how she woke them up to watch the media coverage.
“I think this is an inspiring story for children who have an interest,” Carter said.
One can do anything they set their mind to, Carter said.
“Being from here, he (Neil Armstrong) rode his bike to work and at 15 years old he had his pilot’s license already,” Carter said. “He was our dad’s hero.”
Carter said she enjoys the fact the lawn at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum was packed as everyone came together to honor Neil Armstrong in his hometown community of Wapakoneta.
“I know my dad is celebrating in heaven, too,” Carter said.
With several media outlets flooding their neighborhood on that historical evening of 1969, Dietz and Carter remember seeing and hearing about the interviews.
“I had a good friend from down the road, and they saw all the cameras from NBC, and as they interviewed his parents they were also showing it live on TV,” Carter said.
Shortly after the first steps on the moon, Carter read an article in Life Magazine that quoted Neil’s mother saying, “We just live each age with our children.”
“I still remember her words, and I just enjoy each age with my children,” Carter said.
With Armstrong’s homecoming, Carter remembered vividly of the welcome home parade in Neil Armstrong’s honor.
“I marched in the band, and it was probably 92 degrees that day and we were in full uniform,” Carter said. “You can’t even believe what it was like. Bob Hope and Ed McMahon were there. There were just crowds and crowds of people lining the streets.”
As each sister witnessed the first steps on the moon by a local hometown hero, they knew right away they wanted to attend his hometown memorial service Wednesday, in which hundreds of people showed for the occasion.
Also in attendance Wednesday was Wapakoneta resident Ron Gasior.
“I came to pay tribute to Neil and support the community,” Gasior said.
Gasior, who is originally from New Jersey moved to Wapakoneta approximately six years ago.
“I’ve been to the museum many times and I have been involved with the chamber (Wapakoneta Area Chamber of Commerce),” Gasior said. “I learned a lot about him.”
Gasior said Neil Armstrong’s accomplishments had a true significance to American history.
“It’s just something to be proud of for the community,” Gasior said. “He’s a true pioneer.”
Wapakoneta Mayor Rodney Metz noted it was great that the community has come together for the memorial service.
“It’s a wonderful event and great recognition for a wonderful man,” Metz said. “He was a legend for the community. He has done a tremendous amount of achievements not just for Wapak, but for the whole world.”
Wapakoneta High School eighth-grader Nolan Benny also was in attendance paying tribute to a great man.
“I came to honor Neil and what he did for our country,” Benny said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.”
Benny noted Armstrong played a key role for the nation, and he is someone to look up to, and he was glad to be a part of a historical event to honor the astronaut at the memorial service. He said this is a memory he will pass down to future generations to carry on his legacy — so no one will forget.
“He showed that you can do whatever you want to do if you put your mind to it,” Benny said. “I consider him my role model.”