Monday, August 31, 2009

Neil Armstrong Is His Uncle. Really.

I am thrilled and delighted to interview Mike Trude. Mike's mom's sister, Janet Shearon, was Neil Armstrong's wife at the time of the Apollo mission. That makes Mike Neil Armstrong's nephew.

Mike is an accomplished guy. For the past twenty years, he's worked as a marketing specialist at a large university in the midwest. Prior to that, he spent twelve years as a television sports anchor. Mike is happily married and has three children ranging in ages from 8 to 22.

Welcome to Ramble Street, Mike. Glad you could stop by for an interview. Let's start.

Where were you and who were you with on July 20th 1969?

I grew up in Barrington, Illinois, a northwestern suburb of Chicago, and was at home during the Apollo mission. My sister's Sherry and Patty and my brother Jack were all at home. My mom and dad were in Houston and then Florida for the launch. I was 12 years old at the time, enjoying the summer and getting ready to go into eighth grade.

Did you know how dangerous the mission was? What about the rest of your family? Were they excited? Nervous?

We all knew the dangers of the mission and that while the crew might land on the moon, there was no guarantee they would get back to earth. We were all extremely excited about the mission, but also really anxious for Neil and the rest of the crew. No one truly knew if the mission would be successful, and I remember my sisters and me talking the entire week about the dangers.

Were there a lot of reporters at your house that day? Can you tell the story about your brother telling the reporters about his home run?

There is a saying that everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame and the week of the Apollo 11 mission was probably the Trude kids' time. There were Chicago newspaper reporters and photographers at our house every day and television crews and it was really kind of special. After all, we didn't do anything; it was our uncle that was doing the hard work while we were basking in the glory. My brother told one of the reporters that while Neil was landing on the moon, he was playing a little league baseball game and hit a home run to celebrate the landing. While the story makes for good copy, my brother could not hit a home run if you moved the fences in 50 feet. He just wanted to get the attention of the reporters and it worked. To this day, he denies ever saying that to the reporters, but we remember reading it.

So your brother bragged about something that might not have happened. I heard there was a lot of that going around that summer.

Did you ever want to be an astronaut?

I did at one time want to be an astronaut, but when I got into high school and the Apollo Space Mission was dwindling, it did not appear that being an astronaut was going to get you into space any time soon. So that quickly went away to another interest.

Those cuts they made to the space program are frequent topics of conversation here at the Marino house.

Did Neil Armstrong ever talk about the mission?

Neil did talk about the mission when asked questions. It was fascinating to talk to him about it. I remember asking him about the dangers and he said he was prepared for any type of emergency and never felt like things would go wrong at all.

What was Uncle Neil like when you were a kid?

Neil has two boys, Rick and Mark. Rick is my age and Mark is probably three or four years younger so when we got together, it was all baseball and football and anything having to do with sports. Neil would play anything and everything with us. He was a lot of fun and would take the time to play. We did not see him often, probably once or twice a year, but he always managed to take time to do things with the kids.

Playing sports with Neil Armstrong. That is so very cool.

How did you handle having a famous uncle? Did you tell the world or did you keep it quiet?

Having Neil as my uncle was neat. I did not go out of my way to tell people, but if it happened to come up in a conversation, I would mention it. When I married my first wife, I was working at a radio station and getting ready to move into television. My co-workers all knew that Neil was my uncle, and they all wanted to know if he was coming to the wedding. I made the fatal mistake of saying that he was indeed coming, but I didn't want there to be any fuss because it was supposed to be my wedding day. They all said they would behave and foolishly I believed them. At the wedding itself things were fine. There was definite buzz when Neil and his family walked into the church, but everyone behaved.
The reception was a different story. I arrived a little late because of pictures and when I got there, Neil was cornered by one of the DJ's at the radio station. He had a life-sized poster of Neil that he wanted an autograph on. And there were four or five more people behind him with cameras or something for Neil to sign. Neil was very polite and as I walked by I gave an evil glance at the people, but they acted like I did not exist... NEIL ARMSTRONG was right in front of them. Neil was very polite about signing and posing and anything people asked of him. He then came by our head table and whispered to me that he was going to go back to the hotel because he did not want to detract anymore from the reception and our day. I was able to catch up with him later and we had a nice talk.

Please tell us something about your uncle that only his nephew would know.

Neil did not smoke...but he enjoyed an occasional cigar, especially when he was fishing in Eagle River Wisconsin. And there was a time when my mom and Neil went to the grocery store at Barrington. Neil did not go into the store, but he went off on his own. When we finished we met him back at the car and he said he helped a woman with her car. It didn't start and he went under the hood and helped her get her car started.
After they were done, the woman thanked him and said, "You know you look a lot like Neil Armstrong." Neil said to the lady, "I have been told that a lot!" That's the kind of guy he is, very humble and never seeking out attention.

If that woman only knew...

Thanks Mike for taking the time to answer my questions and for giving us the inside scoop on what it's really like to be Neil Armstrong's nephew. Hope you'll stop by Ramble Street again soon.


Anonymous said...

What a cool interview!!! Thanks, Nan!

MG Higgins said...

Ditto. Very cool interview and what a great idea!

Christy Raedeke said...

Ha! Loved that you found Neil's nephew. I really enjoyed reading that Neil was so humble and polite--what a guy.

nanmarino said...

Thanks Stephanie, MG and Christy. These stories make me admire Neil Armstrong even more. And his nephew, Mike, was so generous about sharing his memories.

MJ Sullivan said...

Brilliant Nancy!!! Congrats on the great interview.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the interview very much....great idea!

Kelly Polark said...

That was such an interesting interview!

nanmarino said...

Thanks MJ, j14garnet and Kelly!

Anonymous said...

Wow!! What a neat interview, Nan!! It's so cool that Mike agreed to be interviewed. You did an amazing job!

Anonymous said...

It was nice of Mike to share his stories. I'm related to some famous families too. He's very lucky that Neil made the effort to get to know him. Sometimes, in famous families who have busy lives, "once or twice a year" seldom comes around. It says alot about Neil that he personally manages his life with such grace and nobility. Neil had some good parenting.