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Thursday, July 1st, 2010

New site manager discusses Armstrong museum updates

By Janie Southard
ST. MARYS - There's a lot more to the Armstrong Air and Space Museum than just Neil, according to the new site manager.
The museum in Wapakoneta is now operated by a local committee after the state withdrew funding on all its historic sites last year. First on the local agenda was to hire new site manager Chris Burton, who spoke to St. Marys Rotarians on Wednesday at their weekly luncheon meeting at the Eagles Lodge.
"I doubt anyone outside Ohio or Michigan has a lot of interest in the War of 1812. But we have right here an historic site of international significance in the only hometown of the only first man to walk on the moon," Burton said, adding Fort Meigs has been restored and is a great historic spot to visit.
Named for the first man on the moon, the museum, its grounds and collections are still owned by the state, but the day-to-day operation is handled exclusively by the local committee of about 16 board members.
"We were closed for over two months making quite a few changes. We have a new (space journey) simulator and collections," he said. The main change was the restrooms, which are now compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.
The museum opened to the public in early April and much of Burton's time has been spent in hiring and acquiring new items for the gift shop.
The Armstrong collection contains numerous items from the astronaut's boyhood in Auglaize County, such as his Boy Scout scarf, Navy uniform, flight jacket, parachute, his camera and pieces of some of his science projects.
"Actually, most of these things were donated by his mother. He is not involved in the museum although he has come in. ... He's not into promoting himself," Burton said. "But the museum is about all the contributions to air and space made by Ohioans, including the Wright brothers. Also, as you know, 24 astronauts are from Ohio."
Burton told Rotarians that visitor numbers at the museum are climbing, with 40,000 so far this year. The most visitors recorded in one year was 150,000, and Burton's goal is to exceed that. Burton talked about a new display of large maps with small stars for visitors to mark their hometowns.
"So far we have 27 foreign countries and 41 states with stars," he said.
He highlighted the upcoming Summer Moon Festival held in downtown Wapakoneta and at the museum July 15-18. There will be a series of events on the museum grounds including an old fashioned baseball game between the Ohio Village Muffins and a local team.
"I am personally involved in vintage baseball. And, it's the true vintage - no gloves," he said.
Burton said there are some "exciting plans," coming to the museum which he is keeping "under wraps" until autumn. The two new projects will promote the entire area. He said future plans include putting the museum's 10 acres to better use. The focus now is to raise money for expansion.
Luncheon visitor Toby Elsass of Columbus, brother of Rotarian Randy Elsass, was friends with the Armstrongs' neighbor. He related a story from the first Thanksgiving after Neil's walk on the moon.
"My best friend lived across the street from the Armstrongs and I went to play basketball. Neil's kids were over there too and after a while Neil himself came over," he said.
It was a chilly afternoon and everyone was wearing (a knit sipple cap). The group was busy with the impromptu game when a car drove up and asked if anyone knew where the Armstrongs lived and if Neil was ever in town.
"They weren't local and we pointed them way down the street. Neil pulled his cap way down and walked the other way," Toby Elsass said.
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