WAPAKONETA, Ohio — Dennis Walston was 21 when Neil Armstrong — the first man to walk on the moon — returned to Wapakoneta for the big homecoming parade Sept. 6, 1969. Walston captured, on film, a magic moment when he and a buddy found a special viewing spot for the parade.
“We each had some old press passes we got from somewhere, and we used it to get into the second floor of this parking garage,” Walston said. “We were the only ones up there. We saw the parade coming down the street, and we were taking pictures, but when Armstrong got in front of us, my friend put his camera down and goes ‘Hey Neil.’ He looked right up at me, and I kept on taking pictures.”
That picture and many others sent to sculptor Mike Tizzano helped form the ultimate bronze statue that now sits at the entrance to Heritage Parkway in downtown Wapakoneta. The unveiling of the statue was Wednesday night.
“There were a lot of people who contributed a lot of photos as reference. Hopefully, I pulled it off,” Tizzano said. “It was almost impossible to find really decent photos of him, especially with a broad smile that they wanted from that little newspaper photo.”
It took Tizzano about 250 hours to complete the statue, about twice that amount for making the mold and casting the statue.
“The parade was actually here on Auglaize Street, so this is a proper setting for him and his statue,” said Dan Graf, vice president of the Armstrong Air & Space Museum Association. “It really represents the first time that we had a permanent structure here acknowledging Neil’s accomplishments here in downtown Wapakoneta.”
Selecting Tizzano came with an added educational bonus.
“He would come to Wapakoneta three different times during the year as he put the statue together and meet with the students at the middle school and explain how statues are made and how this particular one is made, the steps of it, how they’re cast in bronze and the history of bronze statues, which goes back 2000 years. It’s the same method,” Graf said.
On Sunday, two other statues of Armstrong were dedicated at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum. Those were done by sculptor Chas Fagan, who also created a statue of Armstrong for Purdue University, where Armstrong went to college.