WAPAKONETA — The city of Wapakoneta has always been proud of its heritage, and at this year’s Summer Moon Festival, the community was even more mindful of its place in history.
“This is the 45th anniversary of the moon landing, so it’s a big milestone for us,” Josh Hines, director of the Wapakoneta Area Chamber of Commerce, said. “But every year is a big year for us.”
From the Armstrong Air and Space Museum prominently displayed off Interstate 75 to the space theme inside the local McDonald’s, Wapakoneta is proud of its most famous native son, Neil Armstrong, whose walk on the moon inspired the beginning of the Summer Moon Festival.
“He’s our most famous citizen, so it’s a big deal,” Hines said. “There’s only ever going to be one person who was the first to set foot on the moon, and we’re proud to have him here.”
In keeping with that theme, the festival’s activities are spread between downtown Wapakoneta and the museum, which will host a variety of space-themed events today and Sunday, including the Run to the Moon 5K/10K run, space-themed inflatables and appearances by two of NASA’s finest.
“Sunita Williams is the one who ran the Boston Marathon on the International Space Station, and she’s running our 10K with us this year, so that’s pretty big. Also, Greg Johnson has been here for the past three years now, and he’s coming back. We have a great relationship with NASA. They bring down some exhibits every year that will be at the museum this year.”
Friday saw thousands of people fill the city’s downtown, with performances by The Staples along with rides, food and the largest car show in the festival’s history.
“We had 323 entries this year,” car show organizer Debbie McElroy said. “Starting at Blackhoof Street, we even went over the railroad tracks, and we’ve never done that before.”
While the public was able to enjoy a wide range of vehicles, including classic cars, trucks and motorcycles, they could also take pleasure in knowing that all the money raised from the show went to support the work of Shriner’s Hospitals for Children.
“For the Shriners and the Children’s Hospital, this is almost mind-boggling,” McElroy said. “Everything is paid for already with donations. That’s all our shirts, the music, everything. So all the money goes to the Shriners.”
Along with some of the traditional events and attractions, such as the 5K/10K run, the canoe float starting at 9 a.m. in Belcher Park and the wiener races set to run at 6 p.m. downtown, organizers at the Chamber have worked to expand what the festival has to offer.
“Probably the newest thing is the tethered balloon rides,” Hines said. “We did those here tonight and we’ll do them tomorrow morning at the Armstrong Museum during the run to the moon, part of that theme of space and flight.”
Hines and the Chamber look to continue the festival’s positive momentum throughout the weekend, with entertainment from Nashville Crush and the Lima Area Concert Band scheduled for today and Sunday, respectively.
“It is the biggest event we have here,” Hines said. “We draw thousands of people here over the three days and we have great entertainment downtown, along with great food and rides. We keep trying to find new ways to make it bigger and better.”