Published: July 19, 2019

Neil Armstrong in space suit

John KiesEveryone living in 1969 remembers where they were when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. But how many can say they were in Neil Armstrong’s parents’ garage?

On the 50th anniversary of “one giant leap,” CU Engineering alumnus John Kies (MSTelecom’74) shares his memories.

“I recall the day quite well. Neil Armstrong grew up at 601 W. Benton St., Wapakoneta, Ohio. I grew up at 604 W. Benton St. I did not really know Neil; he was quite a bit older than I. However, I do have vague memories of Armstrong helping my father and a friend put up one of the first television antennas in our little town. Supposedly, part of his motive was an early telecast of a Cincinnati baseball game later in the afternoon. Did this influence my education in any way? Not certain, but I did write my master’s thesis on the use of cable television countywide by the Boulder County public schools.

On occasion, I had to fill in for Armstrong. His father was very active in all the civic associations, and with no son in town, I was often invited to join him on the father/son night events. Nice of him to do so; my father passed away when I was very young. I had an ongoing contract with Viola, Mrs. Armstrong, to pick the cherry trees in their backyard. The deal was a 50/50 split of the harvest. She and my mother were good friends, so keeping up with Armstrong's flying career was pretty natural for small town boy. I knew all the experimental planes right up until Apollo.

By the way, the last aircraft Armstrong flew on a regular basis was a sail plane. He said it was the perfect form of flying: as close as man can ever really to being a bird. (In Ohio, the day you turned 16 you could get your drivers license. On his 16th birthday, Neil rode his bicycle out to the local grass strip airport and got his pilot's license.)

The night of the moon landing, I watched it in the Armstrongs’ garage (they had moved across town by then) on the biggest television I had ever seen, surrounded by reporters and cameras from all over the country. Being there, so close to where he grew up and first learned to fly, made it all the more special.”

Read more about CU Boulder's lunar connections