Wapakoneta says goodbye to Neil Armstrong
WAPAKONETA, Ohio — Charlie Brading, a slender man in his late 70s, approached the front entrance of the Charmé Hair Salon.
Sandra Brading, his wife of 50 years, followed close behind.
The Bradings were the last owners of Rhine and Brading Drug Store before it closed and became the salon.
In the 1940s, a young man named Neil Armstrong worked in the Rhine and Brading Drug Store, too.
He was saving money for flying lessons.
“Just the idea that I grew up here,” Charlie Brading said, wide-eyed as he reminisced of decades come and gone. “I don’t even want to look.”
Armstrong died Friday from “complications from cardiovascular procedures,” his family said in a statement. He was 82.
Long before Armstrong set foot on what fellow astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin would describe as the “magnificent desolation” of the moon, he walked the streets of Wapakoneta, Ohio.
Armstrong was born outside Wapakoneta, but as a child his family moved often. They settled back in the area when Armstrong was in his early teens.
Charlie Brading grew up a close family friend of Armstrong and his younger brother. He said though Neil came from humble beginnings working as a stock boy in the drug store, the space adventurer to be had a plan of his own.
“He had other things on his mind,” Charlie Brading said with a smirk.
Armstrong worked in the store before and after school for 40 cents an hour. He earned his pilot’s license at 15, before he learned to drive.
Though the original facilities where Armstrong first learned to fly are no longer there, the county airport is now named for him.
Armstrong graduated from Blume High School in Wapakoneta in 1947, but locals know the former high school building as Sunrise Apartments.
Signs of Armstrong’s alma mater linger, though. The cement terrace that canopies the front of the complex still reads “Blume High School.”
Upon graduation, he attended Purdue University, where he earned a degree in aeronautical engineering. He later completed graduate studies at the University of Southern California.
Armstrong flew more than 200 different models of aircraft throughout his career, including gliders, helicopters, jets and rockets, according to NASA.
Wapakoneta is forever bound with Armstrong’s “one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The Wapakoneta Area Chamber of Commerce features an image of Aldrin on the surface of the moon in its promotional material, and an astronaut defines the banner image of The Wapakoneta Daily News website.
The majority of Armstrong’s professional accolades and accomplishments are highlighted and showcased at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta. Most of the features were dedicated by Armstrong and his family.
Sandra Brading described Wapakoneta just before the lunar landing as a melting pot of residents, visitors and reporters from around the world.
After returning to Earth, the astronauts of Apollo 11 pursued an international tour, visiting 24 countries and 27 cities in 45 days.
Along the way, Armstrong stopped in Wapakoneta.
Charlie Brading was appointed as the chair for Armstrong’s homecoming committee.
“A very proud moment,” Charlie Brading said. “The greatest thing that had happened to Wapakoneta. The phone (at the shop) rang constantly for months. A lot of great memories. It was a thriving downtown at one point, years ago.”
The Bradings mentioned they emailed Armstrong last week to touch base and were glad to hear of his seemingly good condition. Armstrong was in surgery for a blocked coronary artery earlier this month.
The couple described Wapakoneta as the quintessential Midwestern town, a thriving and plentiful community ideal for raising children. In the case of the Armstrongs, an astronaut.
“It was a great ride,” Charlie Brading said.
“He took Wapakoneta with him, in a way,” Sandra Brading said.
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