Neil Armstrong- An American Hero

One of my favorite things to do when I get to spend time with older relatives is to listen to their stories. I love hearing about all the great tales (mostly true, I think) and cool experiences from their past. I think they also like sharing almost forgotten stories of their past. Once I was sitting with my wife’s grandparents and they were telling me about their college days at Purdue. They were in college in the 1950s when a few future astronauts were also at Purdue.

When I heard Neil Armstrong died, I immediately thought about some of those past conversations. I emailed my kids’ GiGi and asked her if she would like to share any of her memories about Neil for the blog. Ten minutes later here’s what she sent.

“His first wife, Jan, was my roommate when they started dated at Purdue in 1955. He had graduated

and was a test pilot so only showed up for short weekend visits. During the 50’s there were a lot of house rules…dorms and sorority’s. I was the cover story person for a roommate that sometimes did not get back before HOURS! I also thought she, Jan, was wasting her time on this guy who wasn’t even around very much. She had just been crowned yearbook queen and could have dated anyone she chose. So many men and so little time was the motto in those days when Purdue had a 5 to l ratio, men to women!”

“Then there was the wedding in Evanston. Beautiful and tons of Alpha Chis and Phi Deltas. A big party…great fun. Jan and Neil moved to California, I believe, and he continued with the test pilot program. They lived in the desert somewhere, very isolated. I remember one note when Jan told me she had to order all her clothes and things for the children from Sears Catalog. Catastrophic! So, fifty years later women in the know order all of their things from catalogs.”

“When they moved to Houston they had three children, two boys and a girl. The first night in their new home it burned to the ground. They lost all of their belongings. He was in the space program by that time and, I have heard, these guys had almost zero time away from the program AND when they were away they only thought about the program. Bad things for a successful marriage. The divorce percentages for marriages in the program are very very high. The last time I saw Jan was about 4 years ago when she was in Naples for FIRST wives reunion…a large group. During this period of their lives they lost their little girl, 2 years old to brain cancer. There were so many things that were sad for them…including divorce.”

“Your father-in-law can tell you about his impressions of watching the moon walk and our celebration trip to Wapakpneta, Ohio for a celebration for a hometown guy Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon! His brother Dean, was a good friend of ours when we all lived in Anderson. We had a caravan of people from Anderson who went for the day. The boys were 6, 7, and 8 so they remember a lot, I am sure. Every time we go by the exit for Wapakoneta we talk about that day. I think we all felt the impact of something really special for the entire world and we had a tiny piece of it in our lives.”

“I remember one time Jan and Neil came by our house in Clarendon Hills, during their dating days. Grandma, being grandma, always said she wished she had saved the cup he drank out of!”

“Just in the last couple of years my friend’s granddaughter sent Neil a note asking for help in a project she was doing for school…she is a sophomore in high school now so she was probably in 8th grade in Anderson then. He not only replied but continued to be in touch with her and wanted to see a copy of the report.”

Thanks GiGi! I can’t wait to see you, and listen to your stories again someday soon.


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