To former Barrington resident, famed astronaut 'was simply Uncle Neil'
Mike Trude was about 12 years old, living at his childhood home in Barrington, when his uncle made history.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," said Trude, who now lives in downstate Marion and works as an admissions counselor for Southern Illinois University. "We watched it in the living room. We were glued to the television."
"It" was the moment American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon.
Trude's mother and Armstrong's first wife, Jan, were sisters.
Trude said the event brought his family "our 15 minutes of fame at that time," with write-ups in several newspapers and even a brief appearance on television.
The funny thing, though, was that those photos were of Trude and his family watching a replay of the landing, because he and his brother, Jack, were actually playing baseball games on adjacent fields at the time Armstrong took what he termed "one small step for man ... one giant leap for mankind."
"My brother tells the story that he hit a home run just moments after Uncle Neil stepped on the moon," Trude said with a grin. "I'm sure he told that to Uncle Neil, who probably gave that wink and chuckle .. 'Sure you did, Jack, sure you did'. I don't think my brother ever hit a home run, especially at 11 years old."
Trude said his family spent a lot of time with Armstrong, despite living far apart. Both Armstrong and Trude's grandfather were avid muskie fishermen who liked to hole up in the family cabin in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
He recalled Armstrong's visit Barrington just before he was chosen to fill a slot for the Apollo 11 mission.
"The whole family came to our house in Barrington," he said. "Uncle Neil was so much fun to be around. He had a tremendous ability to laugh and laugh with people."
Trude said that visit lasted for about five days -- days that were spent swimming in the family pool, playing baseball and tossing a football.
"We set up a tent in the backyard and the boys (Trude, his brother, and cousins Mark and Rick Armstrong) slept in it at night," Trude said. "I'm sure Uncle Neil did something to try to scare us because that's what he did -- without fail."
It was during this visit that Armstrong accompanied Trude and his mother, Carolyn, on a shopping trip. Trude said they dropped his mother at the local Jewel and Armstrong suggested the two walk around the shopping center.
"I knew most of the people in that area," he said. "A lady I didn't know kept looking at us. Finally, she looked at Uncle Neil and told him he looked like the astronaut."
Trude said Armstrong replied, "That's what they tell me."
He then winked at Trude and the two continued their walk.
"Neil Armstrong was my uncle," Trude said. "He was not the astronaut, he was simply Uncle Neil."
Trude said he came to work on Wednesday morning to see an email from a childhood friend, Bill Fitzgerald.
"Just finished watching the documentary 'Man on the Moon,'" wrote Fitzgerald. "It was a great tribute to your uncle. I've been thinking about that moment when a photographer caught you surrounded by your 12-year-old teammates in the baseball dugout. I'm sure that none of us recognized the magnitude of the accomplishment occurring 230,000 miles about our heads … crazy! Your uncle was a total stud. I loved the humility with which he lived his life and final mission … just a pilot who loved to fly and teach others about it. Never sought the limelight. You should be proud of him."
Trude smiled, his eyes telling the emotion.
"I am proud," he said. "If could see him tomorrow it would be amazing to have him back in my life again. He was just so much fun."