Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon on July 20th, 1969. In the 34 years that followed, Neil has given very few interviews and lived an extremely private life. Famous writers such as Stephen Ambrose and James Mitchner have vied for the privilege of writing Neil Armstrong’s biography but the task has fallen to former Waynedale resident Jim Hansen.
Jim Hansen grew up in Waynedale, just down the street from The Waynedale News. His old house is located between Wells Accounting and H&R Block and now houses The Hair Company Beauty Salon. Hansen has an older brother Larry who is now retired and an older sister Carol who resides in Fort Wayne.
Jim grew up in Waynedale in the sixties. He went to Waynedale Elementary, Kekionga, Elmhurst, and IPFW.
While Jim was growing up in Waynedale he accumulated some impressive accomplishments in bowling, baseball, basketball and golf. He won 2 Bantam National Championships (one team and one double) at Smittys Lanes. His Elmhurst Little League team, Evans Products, won four straight league championships, and his 12-year-old AllStar team won City. At Kekionga Junior High his basketball team won three straight city championships. I decided to track Jim down for an interview with The Waynedale News. I caught up with Jim via E-mail and he agreed to talk with us.
WN: How old were you when you started bowling at Smittys Lanes here in Waynedale?
Hansen: I started very early. I was bowling in the Bantam League when I was eight. That same year, Dale Meyers and I won the National Doubles Title. I know the old Waynedaler ran a picture of us captioned, The National Title Team from Smitty’s. Other members were: Jim Bradow, Alan Fleek, Danny Abbot, and one other boy I can’t remember.
WN: Did you know Bob Schmidt, who used to run Smitty’s with his brother Richard, passed away three years ago?
Hansen: I didn’t know that Bob had passed away. I am sorry to hear that. I was very close to his brother Richard as a boy, especially after my dad died. He always handled all the kid’s bowling leagues. After we won the National Championship in 1964, Richard took us all out to a Komets game and made sure we were all introduced to the crowd.
WN: Elmhurst Little League AllStars just went to state in the Little League World Series. What position did you play when you played for Evans Products?
Hansen: I was a second baseman and hit leadoff. On the 12-year-old AllStar team that won the city championship, Steve Tobias pitched and played first, Roger Bellis and Brett Able caught, Ron Caldwell (a Fort Wayne orthopedic surgeon) played first, Rick Seitz played SS, Steve Spitler played third, and in the outfield were Steve Stiffler, Dan Ransbottom, and Glen Hunt. Another of the pitchers was Jim Cox. Heck of a team! We could have gone a lot farther if we had had an opportunity, which we didn’t. Nobody came close to beating us in the City Tournament.
WN: What position did you play on the Kekionga basketball team?
Hansen: I was a second string guard, so I didn’t really play much. The star on our three championship teams, was Brett Able, who I think has to be one of the greatest junior high athletes in Fort Wayne history. He was fully developed by the time he was 13-14 and then didn’t grow any more. He played three years of varsity at EHS, but was not nearly as dominant at that level. Our coach in 7th grade was Carl Moser, 8th was Chuck Hoffman, and 9th was Dan Howe. The starting lineup was Rick Seitz and Ron Caldwell at guard, Steve Stiffler and Steve Tobias at forward and Brett Able at center. If there had been a three-point line back then, I might have played more because I could bomb pretty good. You might remember that my brother Larry was a really good player at Kekionga. He should have played at EHS but things didn’t work out for him.
WN: What got you started in golf? Did you caddie at Orchard Ridge Country Club?
Hansen: I never caddied at The Ridge, but I did caddy a number of tournaments in the area. I was Pat McGary’s regular caddy. She won a number of Women’s City Tournaments. I started to play at Fairview a lot after my dad died in 1961. My mom had to go to work and she needed to do something with me in the summers. She packed me a lunch, dropped me off at ‘The View’ early in the morning, and picked me up after work. It was great. I loved being outdoors. When I was 12, I started mowing grass out there and worked there through college. My favorite all-time person out there was Dave Foreman, who was head pro there after coming out of the Marine Corps and Vietnam sometime in the late 60’s. I wish I had been able to stay in touch with him. You may remember that he was a great athlete at EHS. I have never seen anyone that could hit the golf ball like Dave.
WN: Have you ever been offered The Red Jacket for the Mad Anthony?
Hansen: Red Jacket? I’ve never considered the possibility! I did go out to many of the Mad Anthony events. I especially remember Ben Hogan playing a young Jack Nicklaus in a match when I was a boy about 1961.
Hansen earned a B.A. Degree with High Honors from Indiana University (1974) and a Ph.D. from Ohio State University (1981). He served as historian for NASA Langley Research in Hampton, Virginia from 1981 to 1993 and as a professor at the University of Maine in 1984-85. He has taught in the Auburn University History Department since 1986.
Jim has been married for 26 years to Peggy Miller-Hansen, a nurse at the Auburn University Student Health Center. Together they have two children; Nathaniel, a 2001 graduate of Duke University, who is currently in medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Jennifer, who is a junior at Vanderbilt University, double-majoring in French and Art History.
Hansen is taking a two-year leave to write the Neil Armstrong biography tentatively titled “First Man.” Clint Eastwood and Warner Brothers have recently picked up the movie rights to “First Man.” Jim made a trip out to Carmel, California where he played golf with Eastwood and Armstrong at Clint’s private Tehama Golf Club. Jim’s first biography is scheduled to appear in late 2004.
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