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88 Counties: Auglaize County is out of this world, but still close to home

With the Armstrong Air and Space Museum, the tourism draw starts with the moon and often leads to the lake. County leaders see a silver lining in the pandemic.

WAPAKONETA, Ohio — We continue our 88 Counties in 88 Days with a trip down I-75 to Auglaize County and Wapakoneta. The county is the home of the Armstrong Air and Space Museum, but it offers so much more than just that.

"When people think about Auglaize County and they see Wapakoneta, they associate that with the hometown of Neil Armstrong. Now, the museum is open. We reopened after the shutdown in the state on June 23, and we've gradually added more days to our operation," said Dante Centuori, executive director of with the Armstrong Air and Space Museum. "As we saw the operation worked, we made um, various modifications. We changed our hours so that we could monitor our building capacity and also be able to disinfect in an efficient way."

Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta on Aug. 5, 1930. The museum serves not only as a repository of Ohio's aeronautical and aviation history but also is a tribute to Armstrong, who on July 20, 1969, became the first person to walk on the moon. 

Though he went as far as the moon, Armstrong returned to the Buckeye State and his roots grew deep. When he left NASA in 1971, he taught aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati until 1979. However, it's not just Ohioans who come to visit and learn more about the state's historic son and space history.

"It's very important for the county that the museum was open. It's drawing people in. It's a source of pride for the region. We draw people from outside the area," Centuori said. 

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Social distancing and one-way traffic is implemented inside the museum.

In addition to the history of the first person who touched the moon's surface, the museum is heralded for having artifacts like no other right here in Ohio.

"This is our Apollo 11 moon rock. This moon rock was collected on the Apollo 11 mission by Neil Armstrong himself to have it displayed like this here at the Armstrong museum in Wapakoneta in Neil Armstrong's hometown is just incredible, really awesome," Centuori said. "It's really awesome when you have artifacts like this, which are the real things, that were actually, you know, flown on these, these historic missions."

One family looked at the opportunity to find something out of this world so close to home as a bright point in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Families are finding day trips, such as one to the Armstrong Air and Space Museum, to be options during COVID-19 trips.

"Well we usually take trips every summer and due to all the lockdowns we didn't want to go very far," said Lara and Reiko Gollat. "We had the kids locked up and cooped up, so we'd be as safe as possible and come on out, you know, and live life a little bit. 

Once people are drawn to the Armstrong Air and Space Museum, it doesn't take them very long to discover the scenic treats Auglaize County has to offer. 

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Grand Lake St. Marys is a big attraction in Auglaize County, even during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Tourism is important. Like I said, the museum draws people from outside the area. (They visit) Grand Lake St. Mary's. That gets a lot of the summer business with the boats, just, you know, taking in the lake. It's a gorgeous area down there," Centuori said. 

The pandemic has actually helped visits to the lake, said Dave Faler, who is the state park manager. 

"The park is extremely important to the people that live here," Faler said. "I mean, it's a giant lake and lots of park area that boat activity is picked up due to COVID. Camper sales and boat sales of both went way up in the area. 

"Our campground is fuller than it's ever been. What I call the silver lining in the cloud for COVID is people are discovering their state parks that they hadn't been to in many years," he said.