History of the Armstrong Air and Space Museum Association
After Neil Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969, the attention of the nation and the world focused in part on Wapakoneta, Ohio. Members of the news media (television and radio) flocked to Wapakoneta to the home of Neil’s parents to interview them as the Apollo 11 mission unfolded. Upon his return, his hometown treated Neil to a parade and a huge celebration where thousands (including celebrities) gathered. The parade culminated at the Auglaize County Fairgrounds. At that time James A. Rhodes, Governor of Ohio, was in attendance and soon thereafter suggested that a museum be constructed in Wapakoneta honoring Neil and his accomplishments as well as the achievements of the US Space Program.
The State committed $500,000.00. Local individuals and organizations matched that pledge. The plaque on the museum wall indicates such support. The Museum was formally dedicated on July 20, 1972.
The real estate where the museum sits and most of the exhibits are owned by the State of Ohio under the auspices of what was then known as the Ohio Historical Society (now Ohio History Connection/OHC). Until 2009 OHC operated the museum, employing the staff as State employees.
Initial enthusiasm for the museum was significant with annual attendance of more than 100,000. OHC continued to operate the museum although attendance declined significantly. The museum typically would not be open during the winter months. In 2009, because of the State budget crisis, the legislature dramatically reduced the appropriations to the OHC resulting in a decision to close the historical sites located outside Columbus area (approximately 60 locations in all) or turn them over to local organizations. The Armstrong museum staff started making phone calls in an attempt to keep the museum open. As a result, a group of citizens in the county gathered and met to discuss the situation. It was soon decided to form a new non profit organization, ultimately the Armstrong Air and Space Museum Association, an Ohio not for profit corporation, to work out an arrangement with OHC.
Discussions ensued between the Association and OHC resulting in execution of a contract which turned over operations of the museum to the Association. Included in the arrangement is an annual stipend of approximately $60,000.00 paid by OHC to the Association in quarterly payments. This amount has increased slightly over the years. The contract continues to remain in effect.
The Board of Directors of the Association meets on a monthly basis and oversees the conduct of the museum. The Association, rather than the state, employs the staff. The Association made application of the Internal Revenue Code and the IRS has officially designated the Association as a not for profit 501(c)(3) corporation. The Association files an annual tax return to maintain this status. All contributions to the museum are therefore tax deductible.
The real estate and the exhibits remain the property of the OHC. There has been close cooperation between OHC and the Association in the maintenance of the museum.
Upon its formation, the Association moved to hire a staff. Interviews were conducted and in March 2010 the Association employed Christopher A. Burton was the first Executive Director. Other staff was soon in place. The Association’s early goal was to increase attendance and to improve the operation of the museum store.
The Association believes this increase had been directly attributable to the efforts to increase public awareness of the museum. A small capital campaign resulted in the construction of a large sign facing Interstate 75. Significant sums have been devoted to the advertising and public relations budget.
The staff has worked diligently to extend the outreach of the museum which has included, among other things, working with local school districts to provide gifted and STEAM education, conducting astronaut camps, and bringing the story of Neil Armstrong and the space program to libraries throughout Ohio and even some nearby states.
The staff of the Association has worked to improve the exhibits, maintain them in working order, and to catalog the holdings of the museum. The Association has reached out to similar museums and other entities telling the history of the space program and ongoing space exploration efforts. After starting with a zero bank account as of the date of this history the Association now has a reserve in excess of $200,000.00.
The constitution provides representation from different entities and stake holders in Auglaize County such as county government, the various municipalities and school districts. There are also representatives for persons who have a strong interest in the mission of the museum.